New Fed Purchases Unwarranted as Economy Quickens, Bullard Says

James Bullard
James Bullard, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

A new round of Federal Reserve bond purchases isn’t warranted because the U.S. job market and broader economy are strengthening faster than expected, according to St. Louis Fed President James Bullard.

“The economic news and economic data, including today’s data, has been surprising to the upside,” Bullard said yesterday, referring to employment gains. “I need to see significant deterioration in the economy and some threat of deflation or inflation moving significantly below our inflation target before” backing more bond buying by the Fed, he said in a Bloomberg News interview.

Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said on Jan. 25 the central bank is considering purchasing more bonds to reduce borrowing costs and spur growth. Two days later, New York Fed President William C. Dudley said the economy will probably slow this year due to “significant impediments,” and that the central bank “will continue to do its part in supporting the recovery.”

Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said on Feb. 2 that economists have suggested asset purchases of around $1 trillion, and he may favor a Fed program “more ambitious than most numbers being bandied about.”

Bullard, who doesn’t vote on monetary policy this year, was the first Fed official in 2010 to call for a second round of asset purchases. Unlike then, the U.S. isn’t at risk of a broad decline in prices similar to what beset Japan, he said.

“Inflation is coming down, but at least for now it is above our inflation target” of 2 percent, Bullard said. “We will see how things develop. But I am also more bullish on the economy as a whole. I do think we have momentum coming out of 2011.”

Optimistic Forecast

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent, the lowest since February 2009, Labor Department figures showed yesterday. Payrolls rose by 243,000, exceeding the most optimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey. Service industries grew by the most in a year, according to a separate report.

U.S. stocks and bond yields rose after the employment report. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index increased 1.5 percent to 1,344.90 yesterday in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note climbed to 1.92 percent from 1.82 percent.

Purchases of Treasuries or mortgage-backed securities are “much more” effective for influencing inflation than for reducing unemployment, which can remain high for reasons such as a mismatch of worker skills with job openings, Bullard said.

The decline in the jobless rate suggests Fed forecasts for unemployment at the end of the year are too high, Bullard said. The fall in unemployment will probably continue thanks to a decline in weekly jobless claims, he said.

‘Do Better’

“Surely you could get another half percent during the year and you might be able to do better than that,” Bullard said. “Sub-8 percent is a reasonable prediction” for the unemployment rate at the end of 2012, with a 7 percent rate possible by the end of next year, he said.

Fed policy makers forecast that the U.S. unemployment rate will be at 8.2 percent to 8.5 percent at the end of 2012, and 7.4 percent to 8.1 percent late next year.

“The continuing drop in the unemployment rate is inconsistent with the Fed’s forecast,” said Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital Inc. “My guess is that they will revise down their forecast for the unemployment rate,” he said.

The Federal Open Market Committee pledged Jan. 25 to keep the benchmark interest rate at a record low at least until late 2014. Bullard said he would have dissented from the decision because he opposes tying policy to a calendar date.

‘No Ability’

The committee has “almost no ability to forecast that far in the future,” he said. “My own guess is we will have to move before” late 2014 and begin removing accommodation, Bullard said. The FOMC will continue to debate the date over coming meetings, he said.

“When the economy does change, the economic outlook changes significantly, then the committee is going to come under pressure to change the date,” he said.

The Fed, aiming to spur economic growth, pushed down its target interest rate close to zero in December 2008 and has engaged in two rounds of asset purchases totaling $2.3 trillion.

The 2014 pledge by the FOMC “does send a very pessimistic signal about the U.S. economy,” he said. “The truth is, what basis do we have to send such a pessimistic signal?”

The Fed on Jan. 25, while making the 2014 pledge, released federal funds rate forecasts by policy makers for the first time. The central bank had previously promised to keep borrowing costs low at least until the middle of 2013.


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