Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fed’s Bullard opposes tapering of QE amid slowing inflation

By Steve Matthews and Aki Ito

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard, who dissented for the first time last month over the issue of defending the Fed’s price goal, said the central bank shouldn’t trim its monthly bond purchases until inflation accelerates toward its 2% target.

“Pulling back on accommodation as inflation is sinking is not the right combination,” Bullard, who votes on monetary policy this year, said today in a Bloomberg Television interview with Michael McKee to air July 15. “I’d like to see us do more” to ensure inflation doesn’t continue to slow.

Bullard last month dissented against a pledge by the Federal Open Market Committee to maintain its $85 billion in monthly bond buying, saying the panel should “signal more strongly its willingness to defend its inflation goal in light of recent low inflation readings.”

Inflation as measured by the personal consumption expenditures price index rose 1% for the year ending May, below the central bank’s 2% goal.

Price gains have been “very low,” Bullard said today. “I’d at least like to see inflation tick up a little or get some kind of reassurance” that it “will come back toward our target.”

Bernanke’s Timetable

Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said on June 19 that the FOMC may taper bond purchases later this year and end the program around mid-2014 as long as the economy performs in line with the Fed’s forecasts. About half the 19 participants on the FOMC favor ending the program by year’s end, according to meeting minutes released this week.

Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, who has opposed the Fed’s current round of asset purchases, said today the central bank should begin trimming monthly bond buying in September and end the unorthodox stimulus by year-end.

“I don’t want to do it all at once, but I think we should begin to taper very soon and hopefully end it by the end of this year,” Plosser said today in a separate Bloomberg Television interview to air on July 15. “That would be a healthy thing for the economy. We can do it gradually,” Plosser said.

Plosser, who doesn’t vote on monetary policy this year, has repeatedly spoken out against additional easing by the Fed.

In a speech to the Global Interdependence Center in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Bullard said a recent surge in U.S. Treasury yields may stem from “increased optimism” about the economic outlook, adding that forecasts for growth have proven too optimistic during the past several years.

Improving Markets

Positive indicators include improving real-estate markets, rallying equity markets, a “subdued” European sovereign debt crisis, less U.S. “fiscal brinksmanship” and households improving their financial balance sheets, Bullard said in remarks prepared for the speech.

“However, given recent forecasting performance, we should be careful in using an optimistic forecast to justify current policy decisions,” he said. “A more prudent approach would be to wait to see if better macroeconomic outcomes materialize in the months and quarters ahead.”

In his interview, Bullard said during the June FOMC meeting “there was a little bit of slippage back to date-based guidance,” referring to setting a tentative end date for the bond buying.

Data Dependent

“To have it creep back in was something I found a little disturbing,” though Bernanke “did mitigate that” to “some extent” by highlighting that the schedule was contingent on economic reports, he said.

Bernanke said this week he favored maintaining stimulus “for the foreseeable future,” even as the FOMC has been split on how quickly it should reduce bond buying, or quantitative easing. He referred to “my good friend Jim Bullard” as he agreed the central bank should defend the inflation target when price gains slow too quickly.

U.S. stocks were little changed, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index falling less than 0.1% to 1,674.55 at 3:02 p.m., after a report today showed consumer confidence fell. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary sentiment index for July fell to 83.9 from 84.1 a month earlier. The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield rose to 2.6% from 2.57% yesterday.

“There’s a little bit of a mixed bag” on a broad set of labor market indicators, but the main employment indicators including payroll growth have improved since September 2012, Bullard said. The U.S. central bank began its third round of large-scale asset purchases in September.

Housing Strength

“The general sentiment in housing markets has turned positive,” Bullard said in the interview, prior to a planned speech to the Rocky Mountain Economic Summit. “That’s a psychological shift,” he said. “We’ll see an improving housing market going forward.”

Bullard said that the U.S. “could do better” if it had smaller and more innovative U.S. banks that regulators can allow to fail without disrupting the financial system.

“We could win the global competition if we had smaller institutions,” he said.

The St. Louis Fed president has been an outspoken supporter of open-ended quantitative easing, with no limit on the size or duration of the buying. Fed officials should vary the amount of bond purchases in response to fresh economic data, Bullard has said.

Since 2010, Bullard has expressed concern that slowing inflation could lead to deflation, or a sustained decline in prices, and Japanese-style economic stagnation. He has also said the FOMC needs to safeguard the credibility of its inflation target, defending the goal when price gains are either too high or too low.

Bullard, 52, joined the St. Louis Fed’s research department in 1990 and became president of the regional bank in 2008. His district includes all of Arkansas and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

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