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Pimco’s Gross: Weak Jobs Data Will Spur Fed to Stoke Economy

Friday, 31 Aug 2012 07:00 PM

The Federal Reserve will take action to stimulate the economy if monthly jobs reports don't show marked signs of improvement, said Bill Gross, founder of Pimco, the world's largest bond fund.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a speech at the U.S. central bank's annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he hinted that monetary authorities remained poised to act if the economy doesn't improve.

"The costs of nontraditional policies, when considered carefully, appear manageable, implying that we should not rule out the further use of such policies if economic conditions warrant," Bernanke said, according to a transcript of his speech.

Editor's Note: Economist Warns: 50% Unemployment, 100% Inflation Possible

A close look at his closing words provide a signal as to when the Fed may decide if the benefits of stimulating outweigh the risks of standing down.

"Over the past five years, the Federal Reserve has acted to support economic growth and foster job creation, and it is important to achieve further progress, particularly in the labor market," Bernanke said.

"Taking due account of the uncertainties and limits of its policy tools, the Federal Reserve will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability."

The labor market has been improving, but improvements have been anything but sustained.

The economy added a net 163,000 jobs in July, 64,000 jobs in June and 87,000 in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and unless those numbers pick up and stay up, expect the Federal Reserve to likely announce a third round of quantitative easing (QE), said Gross.

Under quantitative easing, the Fed buys bonds held by banks, pumping the economy full of liquidity to drive down interest rates to encourage investing and hiring.

The Fed has rolled two rounds of quantitative easing (QE1 and QE2) since the financial meltdown in 2008, though tepid jobs reports and weak growth rates, among other indicators, have stoked market talk that a QE3 is on the way despite the possible inflationary pressures such a move could apply.

"The last sentence basically said the Fed will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote sustained improvement in labor market conditions. And that's the key," Gross told CNBC.

"What he really wants to do and what the Fed is targeting in terms of QE is a sustained improvement in employment, a lowering of unemployment, and until you see several months, several quarters of, perhaps, 7 percent unemployment rates, then you're going to see QE."

The unemployment rate currently stands at 8.3 percent, according to the July jobs report, the most recent, and has not dipped below 8 percent since the downturn.

Past easing measures have probably lowered unemployment rates somewhat and could do so again in the future though Congress must take the lead with fiscal reforms, which are often politically unpopular, as Bernanke himself has said.

"Ben Bernanke, with his white hat, has basically suggested it's up to the fiscal authorities from this point forward. What does that mean? After November something has to be done in terms of fiscal cliff or something done in terms of improving the productivity of the country going forward," Gross said.

At the end of the year, the Bush-era tax cuts and other tax breaks expire at the same time automatic cuts to public spending kick in, a combination known as a fiscal cliff that could send the country back into recession next year if left unattended by Congress.

Lawmakers have appeared unwilling to address such tax and spending issues in an election year though some have suggested they may deal with the cliff after the elections or even early in 2013 on a retroactive basis.

"Monetary policy has really reached a dead end once you get to 0 percent in terms of interest rates," said  Gross, managing director and co-chief investment officer at Pacific Investment Management Co., also known as Pimco.

Other experts agree the Fed remains ready to intervene.

"This is really all he could say," says Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities, according to the Associated Press.

"He is not at liberty to promise anything without the (policy) committee's approval, and there seems to be various opinions on the committee about the best way forward."

Editor's Note: Economist Warns: 50% Unemployment, 100% Inflation Possible

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