Keep on, or enough already? Fed officials spar over QE3

Little over a week after the Fed announced they will continue with their bond buying program, they are airing out their differences over their super-easy policy. Some policymakers believe QE3 had improved the labor market while others believe that it hasn't been very effective.

By Ann Saphir and Luciana Lopez
May 9, 2013
Yahoo! Finance

SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Little over a week after U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to keep buying bonds to spur economic growth and hiring, they are airing their differences over their super-easy policy.

"I think we should try as hard as we can" to turn things around, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans said in an interview on Bloomberg TV, in a forceful defense of the bond-buying program, known as QE3 because it is the Fed's third round of quantitative easing since the Great Recession.

Crediting QE3 for a "definitely" improved labor market, he said the Fed should not back away from the program. "I'd like to have confidence we can sustain that improvement in the labor market through this summer," he said.

Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, a policy hawk and unlike Evans not a voting member of the Fed's policy committee this year, took the opposite tack and called the effects of the bond-buying program "dubious."

"I've never felt that our asset purchases have been that effective in addressing what's the biggest problem we face in this country, which is the employment market and the labor market," he told Bloomberg television separately on Thursday.

"I'd like to stop but I would particularly like to see us begin to slow the pace down, gradually ease our way out of this if we possibly can.

Strong differences of opinion among policymakers at the U.S. central bank are not unusual, and Plosser and Evans in particular have long sparred from opposite ends of the policy spectrum.

Investors will be watching closely for any hints from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke about his policy outlook when he gives a speech at the Chicago Fed on Friday.

Unemployment fell to 7.5 percent last month, and the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest level in nearly 5-1/2 years last week.

But other economic signals have been less encouraging, including inflation that has dropped now to about half the Fed's 2-percent target.

Low inflation has in fact prompted one policymaker, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, to suggest the Fed may need to add to its stimulus to defend the economy against a possible sustained drop in prices.

But on Thursday Evans, whose views have been in step with those of Bernanke, said he believes the drop in inflation is temporary, and does not call for any immediate Fed policy response.

BANK CAPITAL

Evans, who is hosting the Chicago Fed's annual bank structure conference this week, also waded into the debate over capital standards for banks, saying he believes financial institutions should have better quality and more capital to buffer themselves against sudden losses.

The debate about "too-big-to-fail" banks, which are perceived as implicitly relying on taxpayers to bail them out no matter how risky their business conduct, has heated up in Washington in the last few weeks.

Some regulators and other critics of the Basel III international agreement to protect against another global financial crisis have said it is too easy on banks, and that it relies too much on letting banks use complex calculations to determine how much equity they should hold.

Speaking earlier on Thursday, Richmond Fed chief Jeffrey Lacker said that requiring banks to hold more debt that converts into equity when the firms get into trouble, an idea backed by Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo, is one way to ramp up capital though perhaps not the best.

He also said that broker dealers "deserve special attention" in this debate.

Some of his colleagues, including Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, have suggested requiring higher capital at such firms.

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