And besides embarking on two rounds on QE, the Fed has sold short-term Treasurys and replaced them with long-term Treasurys. That shift is intended to push long-term rates down further.
Bernanke argued Friday that collectively, such measures have succeeded. He cited research showing that two rounds of QE had created 2 million jobs and accelerated U.S. economic growth.
Even if the Fed does act further, many analysts doubt it would make much difference. Interest rates, both short- and long-term, are near historic lows. Borrowing — for those who have the credit — has never been cheaper. Yet the economy remains in a rut.
Critics have also argued that besides escalating inflation later, the Fed’s easy-money policies could push individuals and institutions into riskier investments. That, in turn, could destabilize the financial system.
Bernanke conceded that nontraditional policies carry risks. But he argued that these risks are “manageable.” He noted that inflation remains around 2 percent despite “repeated warnings that excessive policy accommodation would ignite inflation.” And he said “we have seen little evidence thus far of unsafe buildups of risk or leverage.”
In his speech to the annual conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Bernanke seemed to embrace a dual mission: Rebut arguments against further Fed action — and build a case for it.
He echoed what the Fed had said in a statement after its last policy meeting July 31-Aug. 1: that it will act further, as needed, to stimulate economic growth and job creation.
In the weeks since then, somewhat better economic news had led some analysts to suggest that the Fed might now feel less urgency to act. But on Friday, Bernanke didn’t mention any recent economic improvements. And his reiteration of the Fed’s readiness to provide more help suggested that his view of the economy remains dim.
He called the weak job market “a grave concern” that causes “enormous suffering,” wastes talent and can inflict lasting damage on the economy.
Bernanke and other Fed officials are expected to closely review the August jobs report, which comes out Sept. 7, to see how urgently the economy needs help. The consensus forecast of economists is that employers added 135,000 jobs in August, according to a survey by FactSet.
“The Fed sounds about as close as they can get to taking action, short of sitting around the table in September and voting for it,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.
“It appears that only a big jobs report number, (200,000 or more new jobs in July) and a sharp decline in the unemployment rate next week could stop them from taking additional steps.”
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