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Exclusive-JPMorgan CEO says too early to declare victory against inflation

By Lananh Nguyen

MIAMI (Reuters) -The chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the biggest U.S. bank, cautioned against declaring victory against inflation too early, warning the Federal Reserve could raise interest rates above the 5% mark if higher prices ended up "sticky."

Dimon's warning came after Federal Reserve officials said more rate rises are on the cards, although none were ready to suggest that January's hot jobs report could push them back to a more aggressive monetary policy stance.

In reference to inflation, Dimon said "people should take a deep breath on this one before they declare victory because a month’s number looked good."

"It’s perfectly reasonable for the Fed to go to 5% and wait a while," Dimon said.

But if inflation comes down to 3.5% or 4% and stays there, "you may have to go higher than 5% and that could affect short rates, longer rates," he said.

From a peak of nearly 7% in June, the Fed's preferred measure of inflation stood at 5% in December - well above its 2% target but heading steadily downward.

In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters, Jamie Dimon warned stricter regulation of credit card fees could prompt lenders to extend less credit. He also said he planned to visit China, saying it was important to maintain relations there.

Dimon also said a default on U.S. debt - a prospect the country faces unless its debt ceiling is raised - would be potentially "catastrophic."

"We cannot have a default," Dimon said. It could cause permanent damage to America and "could destroy its future," he said.

President Joe Biden, in his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, urged Republicans to raise the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, which must be lifted in the coming months to avoid a default.

JPMorgan said earlier it plans to hire more than 500 bankers catering to small businesses through 2024, boosting the bank's workforce targeting the segment by 20% from more than 2,300 now.

Asked about JPMorgan's plans for jobs given cuts at other Wall Street banks, Dimon said the outlook for hiring remains up at the bank.

"We're still opening branches and in general around the world, we are still hiring bankers, consumer bankers, small business bankers, middle market bankers, folks overseas... we have more clients to cover," he said.

Wall Street giants, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley, have cut thousands of jobs as a worsening economic outlook depressed dealmaking, while mortgage lenders have also trimmed staff.

(Reporting by Lananh Nguyen; writing by Saeed Azhar; editing by Deepa Babington)