Bernanke Says Fed on `Pretty Good Track' as It Readies Rate Rise

  • Former Fed chief sees balance-sheet reduction starting in 2018
  • Bernanke cautions against too much optimism about Trump plans

The Federal Reserve is on “a pretty good track” as it prepares to raise interest rates next week and gradually thereafter, former Chairman Ben Bernanke said.

“They want to move enough to make sure that inflation does remain under control, which it is giving every indication of being,” Bernanke told investors Thursday at a gathering in Washington organized by broker Charles Schwab Corp.

He said Fed officials “are communicating that they intend to move next week and intend to continue to gradually normalize interest rates” afterward so long as the economic outlook remains strong, unemployment keeps falling and wage increases pick up.

“So far it seems they’re on a pretty good path,” he said.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues meet on March 14-15 to map monetary strategy. They’ve raised their target for the inter-bank federal funds rate twice in the last two years after holding it near zero for seven years.

“The Fed is being very cautious,” Bernanke said. “I think that’s appropriate.”

He said he expects the Fed to begin reducing its $4.5 trillion balance sheet “about another year or so from now” after it has raised rates further away from the so-called zero lower bound. He endorsed Yellen’s strategy of shrinking the balance sheet by allowing the Fed’s bond holdings to roll off as they mature and not using it as an active tool of monetary policy.

‘Very Predictable’

That “means that very gradually and passively and in a very predictable way the balance sheet will run down over the next five to seven years to get back” to a more normal level, he said.

Bernanke, whom Yellen succeeded as Fed chief in 2014, advised investors against being overly optimistic about President Donald Trump’s economic plans.

“I would advocate a little bit of caution,” he said “A number of the elements of the Trump program are at least a little bit questionable in terms of their legislative prospects.”

The former Fed chief said he does expect “at some point both a reduction in the corporate tax rate and the income-tax rate."

He added he was “somewhat skeptical” that Congress would pass a big infrastructure program given the opposition of some Republican lawmakers to larger budget deficits.

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