Plosser Says QE3 Risks Fed Credibility

New round of bond buying not likely to boost hiring or growth, says Philadelphia Fed president.

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said new bond buying announced by the Fed this month probably won’t boost growth or hiring and may jeopardize the central bank’s credibility.

“We are unlikely to see much benefit to growth or to employment from further asset purchases,” Plosser said in a speech today at the district bank in Philadelphia. “Conveying the idea that such action will have a substantive impact on labor markets and the speed of the recovery risks the Fed’s credibility.”

The Federal Open Market Committee said Sept. 13 that it will undertake a third round of quantitative easing by purchasing mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month until labor markets “improve substantially.” Policy makers are using unconventional tools to attack a jobless rate stuck above 8 percent since February 2009.

Economic research indicates that additional asset purchases are “unlikely to reduce long-term interest rates by a significant amount” and that lowering rates “by a few more basis points” won’t spur growth and hiring, said Plosser, who doesn’t have a vote on policy this year. The U.S. economy is growing “at a moderate pace” and probably will expand by about 3 percent in 2013 and 2014, he said.

U.S. stocks sank, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its biggest loss in three months, amid concern that global stimulus measures won’t be enough to boost growth. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 1.1 percent to 1,441.59 at 4 p.m. in New York after climbing as much as 0.4 percent.

“I opposed the Committee’s actions in September because I believe that increasing monetary policy accommodation is neither appropriate nor likely to be effective in the current environment,” Plosser said. “Every monetary policy action has costs and benefits, and my assessment is that the potential costs and risks associated with these actions outweigh the potential meager benefits.”

The FOMC also said this month it will probably hold the federal funds rate near zero at least through mid-2015. The Fed had forecast since January that rates will stay low at least through late 2014.

In addition, the Fed said on Sept. 13 “a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens.” The S&P 500 rose to 1,465.77 on Sept. 14, the highest close since December 2007.

 

‘Hard Won’

The Fed’s “hard-won credibility” is crucial because if the public doesn’t have confidence in policy makers, their ability to set effective monetary policy will be harmed, hurting households and businesses, Plosser said. If people believe the central bank will delay raising rates, they may “infer that the Fed is willing to tolerate considerably higher inflation,” spurring an increase in inflation expectations that would require a response from the FOMC, Plosser said.

“The Fed’s most recent actions carry with them significant risks,” Plosser said. “I am not forecasting that those risks will necessarily materialize and I hope they will not. But if they do, they could prove quite costly to the economy.”

Before announcing QE3 this month, the Fed expanded its balance sheet with two prior rounds of bond purchases. In the first, starting in 2008, the Fed bought $1.25 trillion of mortgage-backed securities, $175 billion of federal agency debt and $300 billion of Treasuries. In the second round, announced in November 2010, the Fed bought $600 billion of Treasuries.

Plosser said in response to audience questions that he’s “worried that the actions we are taking to make our balance sheet bigger entail risks and those risks could be quite substantial.”

The central bank may “be forced into selling assets in the open market” when it needs to reduce stimulus, he said. Policy makers “must be aware of the consequences,” from their decisions.

Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, who doesn’t vote on policy this year, endorsed additional easing on Sept. 20, saying interest rates may need to stay close to zero for four years to cut unemployment.

As long as inflation doesn’t exceed 2.25 percent, the Fed “should keep the fed funds rate extraordinarily low until the unemployment rate has fallen below 5.5 percent,” he said in a speech. Last May he said borrowing costs may have to rise as soon as this year.

 

Guide Inflation

Plosser said today that central banks can’t effectively target employment levels the same way they can guide inflation rates because hiring also depends on variables unrelated to monetary policy, such as technology, education and tax rates.

“It doesn’t make sense to say that there is a particular unemployment rate that we can achieve,” Plosser told reporters after his speech. “The problem with the labor markets is there are many things that affect employment and unemployment that are beyond the control of the Fed.”

Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, who votes on the FOMC this year and was the only policy maker to dissent at the last meeting, said QE3 probably won’t do much to boost the labor market. “This is going to have a greater effect on inflation and a minimal impact on jobs,” Lacker said in a Sept. 15 interview on National Public Radio.

Similarly, Richard Fisher of Dallas, who doesn’t vote on monetary policy this year, opposed the third round of purchases, which he said led to an increase in market expectations for higher inflation without more job creation. “I do not see an overall argument for letting inflation rise to levels where we might scare the market,” Fisher said in a Bloomberg Radio interview.

Plosser, 64, became president of the Philadelphia Fed in August 2006. He was previously dean of the graduate school of business administration at the University of Rochester in New York State. The Philadelphia Fed will next have a vote on policy decisions in 2014.

 

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