Despite recent improvement in the job market, the Federal Reserve needs to continue its stimulus efforts to avoid endangering the recovery, Fed chairman Ben S. Bernanke told Congress on Wednesday (May 22).
The New York Times reported that while acknowledging the risks of historically low interest rates and the Fed’s aggressive policy of buying government bonds to help stimulate the economy, Bernanke said in testimony that “a premature tightening of monetary policy could lead interest rates to rise temporarily but also would carry a substantial risk of slowing or ending the economic recovery.”
After his opening statement, however, Bernanke seemingly opened the door a bit wider to tapering down.
Under questioning by Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican who chairs the Joint Economic Committee, Bernanke said the Fed could prepare to “take a step down” in the next few meetings if the outlook for the labor market improved.
“It’s dependent on the data,” he said. “If the outlook for the labor market improves, we would respond to that.”
Brady asked if the tapering could begin before Labor Day, prompting Mr. Bernanke to say, “I don’t know.”
“We are buying a certain amount of assets each month,” he continued. “We are looking for increased confidence and in steps respond to that.”
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Automatic budget cuts set to go into effect this week will slow the already sluggish U.S. economy even further, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned senators Tuesday (Feb. 26).
According to a report by CNN Money, the recovery is already moderate as it is, and upcoming cuts add an additional “significant” burden, Bernanke said in prepared testimony.
Forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office suggest that deficit-reduction policies — including the automatic cuts taking effect Friday — will slow the U.S. economy by 1.5 percentage points this year. Bernanke cited those figures in his testimony, a semi-annual report to Congress.
“Besides having adverse effects on jobs and incomes, a slower recovery would lead to less actual deficit reduction in the short run for any given set of fiscal actions,” he said in prepared testimony.
Bernanke has long warned lawmakers that monetary policy, which the Federal Reserve oversees, can only do so much to boost the U.S. economy. He said Congress needs to reduce the deficit over the long term without threatening short-term economic growth.
“The sizes of deficits and debt matter, of course, but not all tax and spending programs are created equal with respect to their effects on the economy,” he said.
Bernanke urged Congress to consider tax and spending policies “that increase incentives to work and save, encourage investments in workforce skills, advance private capital formation, promote research and development, and provide necessary and productive public infrastructure.”
“Although economic growth alone cannot eliminate federal budget imbalances, in either the short or longer term, a more rapidly expanding economic pie will ease the difficult choices we face,” he said.
Bernanke also came to the hearing prepared to defend the Fed’s stimulus efforts against its critics.
Under more normal circumstances prior to the Great Recession, the Fed typically operates by lowering interest rates to spur economic growth, or vice versa.
But with short-term rates already parked near zero, the Fed has turned to alternative policies that include purchasing mortgage-backed securities and long-term Treasury bonds.
Those bond purchases are intended to lower interest rates even further. But they worry many observers who wonder if the Fed will be able to pull back the policy when the economy eventually gets going again at a stronger pace.
Responding to those criticisms, Bernanke said Tuesday that he “remains confident that it (the Fed) has the tools necessary to tighten monetary policy when the time comes to do so.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered a robust defense of the effectiveness of the central bank’s easy-money policies in his speech Friday at the Fed conference here, and left little doubt that he is looking toward doing more to give the economy a lift at the Fed’s next policy meeting in September.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Bernanke also flagged deep worries about the pace of the economic recovery, calling it “far from satisfactory” and cited concerns about the jobs market’s weak growth in his speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Some market participants have been wondering if a run of moderately better economic data of late has changed the Fed’s thinking about the economy. Bernanke left little doubt that he is still deeply dissatisfied with the outlook
He dwelled on stagnation in the labor market, describing high unemployment as a “grave concern not only because of the enormous suffering and waste of human talent it entails, but also because persistently high levels of unemployment will wreak structural damage on our economy that could last for years.” Moreover, he said, “it is important to achieve further progress, particularly in the labor market.”
Importantly, the Fed chairman also said the job market’s weakness, to date at least, is the result of cyclical problems in the economy—that is, a lack of demand—and not structural ones, such as a mismatch between the skills people have and the skills employers are looking for.
The Fed feels it can help on cyclical problems, but not structural ones. In other words, this is a situation where the Fed feels it can do something. Bernanke also included his “no panacea” caveat: He would love fiscal policy makers to take actions to support the economy and address long-run deficits. But he doesn’t seem to see that as justification for inaction on his front.
The focus on labor-market stagnation is critical. The Fed has a dual mandate imposed by Congress to achieve price stability and maximum sustainable employment. Bernanke played down inflation risks, saying inflation has remained near 2%, “despite repeated warnings that excessive policy accommodation would ignite inflation.” With inflation stable and unemployment unsatisfactorily high, Bernanke in effect laid out his legal argument for pressing harder on the monetary gas pedal.
The Federal Reserve has room to deliver additional monetary stimulus to boost the U.S. economy, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told a Congressional oversight panel in a letter.
“There is scope for further action by the Federal Reserve to ease financial conditions and strengthen the recovery,” Bernanke wrote to the committee’s chairman, Representative Darrell Issa, in a letter obtained by Reuters on Friday (Aug. 24).
Bernanke at the end of next week will give a closely watched speech at an annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo., which will be closely watched for clues into the prospect of further bond-buying from the Fed.
Asked if it was too soon to consider new monetary easing steps when the Fed’s Operation Twist program aimed at lowering long-term bond yields was still in effect, Bernanke said policymakers must invariably look beyond the immediate term.
“Because monetary policy actions operate with a lag, the stance of policy must necessarily be set in light of a forecast of future performance of the economy,” Bernanke said.
Fed officials sharply revised down their forecasts for U.S. economic growth in June, and another potential round of downward revisions could come at its September meeting.
U.S. gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 1.5% in the second quarter, a level seen too weak to lead to a sustained decline in unemployment, which rose to 8.3% in July.
In response to the financial crisis and recession of 2008-2009, the Fed cut rates to effectively zero and bought some $2.3 trillion in mortgage and Treasury bonds to put downward pressure on long-term borrowing costs.
The Federal Reserve stands ready to offer additional monetary support to a U.S. economy that has slowed significantly in recent months, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers on Tuesday (July 17).
Reuters reported that Bernanke told the Senate Banking Committee the recovery was being held back by tighter financial conditions due to Europe’s debt crisis and uncertainty surrounding U.S. fiscal policy.
Financial markets had looked forward to Bernanke’s testimony for any signs the central bank was moving closer to a third round of bond purchases to support the economy. But the Fed chief hewed closely to the message of watchful waiting that the central bank’s policy panel delivered in June, and yielded few new clues.
“Reflecting its concerns about the slow pace of progress in reducing unemployment and the downside risks to economic growth, the committee made clear at its June meeting that it is prepared to take further action,” Bernanke said in his prepared remarks on the Fed’s semi-annual monetary policy report.
The Fed has held overnight borrowing costs near zero since December 2008 and has bought $2.3 trillion in government and mortgage-related debt in an effort to push long-term interest rates lower.
As the recovery faltered, it has promised to hold rates at rock bottom levels until at least last 2014 and has extended the average maturity of bonds in its portfolio in a further effort to depress long-term borrowing costs.
Despite the Fed’s support, the economy is growing too slowly to lower unemployment. U.S. gross domestic product expanded at a tepid 1.9% annual rate in the first quarter, and economists think its second quarter performance was even weaker.
Bernanke told lawmakers recent deterioration in the labor market suggests the nation’s 8.2% jobless rate will come down all too gradually, admitting for the first time that the softness could not be explained away by purely seasonal factors.
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday (June 20) took another unconventional step to boost the economy, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank stood ready to take more action if needed.
MarketWatch reported that in the statement following its two-day meeting, the Fed said it would extend its holdings of long-term government bonds by $267 billion in another effort to bring down borrowing costs.
The Fed, which is selling an equal amount of short-term securities to hold steady the size of its $2.9 trillion balance sheet, is extending the “Operation Twist” program that was due to end in June through the end of the year.
Bernanke told reporters at his press conference that he was watching the labor market closely.
“We still do have considerable scope to do more and we are prepared to do more,” Bernanke said. “If we’re not seeing sustained improvement in the labor market that would require additional action.”
Keeping “Operation Twist” in place “should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative,” according to the central bank.
Recent economic data have been disappointing. At the moment, economists are forecasting a 2% growth rate in the second quarter. This would be the fourth quarter out of five where growth was at or below 2% — too slow a pace of growth to make a dent in the high unemployment rate.
In a statement, the Fed said that consumer spending has slowed, adding that it expected economic growth to pick up “very gradually.” “Consequently, the Fed anticipates that the unemployment rate will decline only slowly,” the statement said. The Fed’s now forecasting an unemployment rate between 8% and 8.2% this year — basically, no improvement from June’s level of 8.2%.
The Fed also noted that housing remained depressed. “Strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook.”
“The Fed is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions,” the Fed said in what amounts to adopting an easing bias.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed Tuesday at a five-week high, which indicates markets had priced in a good part of the Fed’s action already.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cited significant risks to the U.S. economic recovery but stopped short of signaling Fed action to combat them during testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday (June 7), according to an Associated Press report.
When asked whether the Fed is planning to take more measures to boost growth, Bernanke said he and his colleagues “are still working” on that question ahead of their June 19-20 meeting. The main question they need to answer, he said, is whether the economy will be strong enough to make material progress on bringing down unemployment.
“We have a number of different options” for action if they decide to move, he told Congress’s Joint Economic Committee. “At this point I really can’t say anything is off the table.”
In his prepared testimony, he said the risks to the recovery included the financial turmoil in Europe and uncertain U.S. fiscal policy, and he said the Fed remained “prepared to take action” to protect the U.S. economy and financial system if stresses escalate.
In all, Bernanke’s comments were more restrained than those offered this week by some other Fed officials, including remarks Wednesday evening by Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen, who laid out detailed arguments for why the Fed might take new actions to bolster the economy and protect it from risks to growth. She said risks to the economic outlook may require the Federal Reserve to take additional steps to “insure against adverse shocks.”
Other Fed officials also have spoken openly about the possibility of taking further action in the wake of a stream of disappointing economic data, including last week’s disappointing May jobs report. They will update their forecasts for economic growth at the coming meeting and Bernanke will hold a press conference afterward.
The U.S. economy looks poised to continue growing at a “moderate” pace this year, the Fed chief said at the hearing. He pointed to headwinds constraining the recovery, including a weak housing market and concerns about the health of the European banking system. And he warned that the recovery may now be at a point where faster economic growth is needed to produce significant improvements in the job market.
Stocks rose on Monday (March 26), rebounding from last week’s decline, after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested the central bank would continue supportive monetary policies, even as the unemployment rate improves.
The U.S. economy needs to grow more quickly if it is to produce enough jobs to bring down the unemployment rate further, Bernanke told a gathering of the National Association for Business Economics.
“Further significant improvements in the unemployment rate will likely require a more rapid expansion of production and demand from consumers and businesses, a process that can be supported by continued accommodative policies,” he said.
Jim Russell, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati, said Bernanke’s comments reinforced investors’ perception that the Fed’s policy would remain accommodative and possibly include further quantitative easing, or QE3.
“The mandate of the Fed regarding unemployment has not been fulfilled, and Bernanke is looking under every rock to responsibly fulfill that portion of the mandate,” Russell said. “He continues to leave QE3 on the table, which will be used on an as-needed basis.”
The uneven U.S. economic recovery will have to pick up in order to quickly bring down an unacceptably high jobless rate, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday (Feb. 29).
“The job market is far from normal,” he said in comments prepared for delivery to the House of Representatives Financial Services committee.
MSNBC reported that Bernanke’s remarks suggested another round of Fed bond buying to stimulate growth is not off the table as policymakers assess whether job market gains will persist.
The drop in the unemployment rate, which fell to 8.3% in January, is more rapid than would be expected given the economy’s sluggish rate of growth, Bernanke said.
“Continued improvement in the job market is likely to require stronger growth in final demand and production,” he said.
Sustaining a highly accommodative monetary policy stance is consistent with the Fed’s goals of achieving full employment with low and steady inflation, he said. The Fed believes rates near zero will be appropriate through at least late 2014, he added.
A recent rise in oil prices due to geopolitical tensions may raise inflation for a time and curb consumption, Bernanke said.
“Gasoline prices have moved up … a development that is likely to push up inflation temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power,” he said.
At its last policy-setting meeting in late January, the Fed said it isn’t likely to raise benchmark interest rates – which have hovered near zero since December 2008 – until at least late 2014.
Bernanke, in a press conference following the meeting, left open the possibility the central bank could launch another round of bond buying if the weak recovery falters or if inflation begins to fall below the Fed’s 2% target.
Ben Bernanke today (Feb. 7) reiterated the Federal Reserve’s plan to hold interest rates near record lows until at least late 2014, according to an Associated Press report.
The Fed chairman stuck with the three-year time line at a Senate Budget Committee hearing, even after the government last week reported a surge in January hiring that drove the unemployment rate down to a three-year low.
None of the senators asked Bernanke whether the encouraging job figures were reason enough for the Fed to rethink holding interest rates low for that long. And Bernanke didn’t tout the hiring data during the two-hour hearing.
If anything, Bernanke maintained the Fed’s position: the economy is improving at a frustratingly slow pace and that low rates are necessary to boost growth.
The Fed has kept its benchmark interest rate near zero for the past three years. In its policy statement in January, the Fed said it would probably not increase that rate until late 2014 at the earliest — a year and a half later than it had previously said.
During the hearing, Republicans repeated familiar concerns. They said keeping rates down could raise the risk of inflation. And low rates punish traditional savers. Bernanke said Fed officials were aware of the risks and were closely monitoring inflation, which he said was low and falling.
The Fed last month set an annual inflation target of 2%. Inflation in October-December quarter was below that target.
“Given that inflation is close to target, I don’t think we would be doing radically different things at this point in time with a single mandate,” Bernanke said.