Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I come to praise Bernanke

by Bill McBride on 2/09/2011 12:58:00 PM

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has come under fire recently from many directions.

Of course I've been a frequent critic of Ben Bernanke over the years. I thought he missed the housing and credit bubble when he was a member of the Fed Board of Governors from 2002 to 2005. And I frequently ridiculed his comments when he was Chairman of the President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from June 2005 to January 2006.

And we can't forget Bernanke's "contained" to subprime comments in March 2007. That became a running joke.

But I've also noted that once Bernanke started to understand the financial problems, he was very effective at providing liquidity for the markets. And there is no question that the short-term liquidity facilities were very effective and successful.

And I think Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke deserves praise today. His speech was very clear and he made several key points during the Q&A:

• QE is an extension of conventional monetary policy at the zero bound. As Bernanke noted

[T]he two types of policies affect the economy in similar ways. ... Conventional monetary policy easing works by lowering market expectations for the future path of short-term interest rates ... By comparison, the Federal Reserve's purchases of longer-term securities do not affect very short-term interest rates, which remain close to zero, but instead put downward pressure directly on longer-term interest rates.
With the Fed funds rate at the zero bound, the Fed had to resort to unconventional policy to provide further accommodation.
And with the unemployment rate near 10% (when QE2 started), and inflation well below the target rate, the Fed had no choice but to provide additional accommodation.

• Inflation in emerging markets is the responsibility of emerging market countries. The Fed is focused on inflation in the U.S., and the key measures of inflation show that inflation is below the Fed’s target of around 2%. For more on inflation, see Dr. Altig at Macroblog: Inflation confusion

• The U.S. needs a credible plan to reduce the long term deficit, but this doesn’t mean cutting the deficit in the short term since the U.S. economy still needs fiscal support.

• The debt and deficit are serious issues, but the debt ceiling debate is just political grandstanding. (I’ve made fun of both parties on this issue).

Right now I think the Fed is doing an excellent job with monetary policy, and I was very pleased that Bernanke stayed away from specifics on the deficit (not his responsibility).

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