Tags: Bernanke | Fed | Jobs | economy

Fed’s Bernanke Predicts ‘Frustratingly Slow’ Progress on Unemployment

Tuesday, 17 Jul 2012 10:10 AM

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers that progress in reducing unemployment is likely to be “frustratingly slow” and repeated that the central bank is ready to take further action to boost the recovery, while refraining from pledging any new policies.

Bernanke, responding to questions during testimony to the Senate Banking Committee in Washington, said easing tools include further purchases of assets, such as mortgage-backed securities, reducing the interest rate that the Fed pays on reserves banks keep with the Fed, and altering its communications on the outlook for interest rates.

Bernanke and his colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee are considering whether the economy will need additional stimulus to reduce a jobless rate stuck above 8 percent since February 2009. Last month, they decided to extend to the end of the year their program, known as Operation Twist, to lengthen maturities of assets on the Fed’s balance sheet.

Editor's Note: Economist Unapologetically Calls Out Bernanke, Obama for Mishandling Economy. See What They Did

Operation Twist has been “effective in easing financial conditions and promoting strength in the economy,” Bernanke said. Large-scale asset purchases have “also contributed to economic growth.”

At the same time, there are also “questions about side effects and risks that may be associated,” with those programs, Bernanke said. “Therefore they should be not be used lightly.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.3 percent to 1,357.65 at 12:15 p.m. in New York after falling as much as 0.6 percent. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.49 percent from 1.47 percent late Monday.

“The bias continues to be toward easing,” although there was no “no smoking gun” in Bernanke’s comments, said Jay Bryson, senior global economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Bernanke said the unemployment rate is still elevated, which other things being equal, would lead to easing.”

Minutes of the June meeting of the FOMC show that a few participants believed the Fed will need to do more, while several others said new easing would be warranted if growth slows, risks intensify or inflation seems likely to fall persistently below the Fed’s 2 percent target.

There are “different types of purchase programs that could include Treasurys, or could include Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities,” Bernanke said in response to questions from Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican.

“The U.S. economy has continued to recover, but economic activity appears to have decelerated somewhat during the first half of this year,” Bernanke said in his prepared remarks. The Fed is “prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote a stronger economic recovery,” he said.

Bernanke said growth is slowing as business investment cools in response to the European crisis and the prospect of fiscal tightening in the U.S. At the same time, households are restraining spending as unemployment remains elevated and credit is hard to get.

“Given that growth is projected to be not much above the rate needed to absorb new entrants to the labor force, the reduction in the unemployment rate seems likely to be frustratingly slow,” Bernanke said.

Recent economic data have had a “generally disappointing tone,” Bernanke said in the first of two days testifying before Congress as part of the central bank’s semiannual monetary policy report. The economy probably expanded at less than a 2 percent annual rate in the second quarter, he said.

The Fed last month sought to hold down borrowing costs and spur economic growth by extending Operation Twist, which swaps shorter-term Treasury securities with longer-term debt.

Bernanke told lawmakers that U.S. fiscal policies are on an “unsustainable path” that must be corrected with a “credible” plan to control deficits, while avoiding damage to the recovery from spending cuts and tax increases that will take effect next year if Congress doesn’t act.

The so-called fiscal cliff would push the economy into a “shallow recession” early next year, Bernanke said, citing an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. “Additional negative effects” would result from public uncertainty about spending plans, including the debt ceiling, he told lawmakers.

Unless Congress acts, $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts are set to take effect automatically at the start of next year.

“Fiscal decisions should take into account the fragility of the recovery,” Bernanke, 58, said. “The most effective way that the Congress could help to support the economy right now would be to work to address the nation’s fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long-run sustainability and the fragility of the recovery.”

The Fed chairman said Europe’s financial markets and economy “remain under significant stress,” and that’s creating “spillover effects” in the rest of the world including the U.S.

“The possibility that the situation in Europe will worsen further remains a significant risk to the outlook,” Bernanke said.

He said European authorities have strong incentives to resolve the crisis, and U.S. financial firms continue to take steps to manage their risks.

“That said, European developments that resulted in a significant disruption in global financial markets would inevitably pose significant challenges for our financial system and our economy,” he said.

Bernanke is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee.

Editor's Note: Economist Unapologetically Calls Out Bernanke, Obama for Mishandling Economy. See What They Did

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2012-10-17
Tuesday, 17 Jul 2012 10:10 AM
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