Friday, August 31, 2012

Analysis: Bernanke Clears the way for QE3 in September

by Bill McBride on 8/31/2012 12:33:00 PM

First from Jon Hilsenrath and Kristina Peterson at the WSJ: Bernanke Signals Readiness to Do More

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered a robust defense of the effectiveness of the central bank's easy-money policies in his speech Friday at the Fed conference here, and left little doubt that he is looking toward doing more to give the economy a lift at the Fed's next policy meeting in September.
As Hilsenrath notes, Bernanke argued: 1) QE has been effective, 2) Additional QE would be helpful, 3) the costs of additional QE "appear manageable", and 4) the economy is "far from satisfactory.

• In Bernanke's view, QE has been effective. From his speech:
How effective are balance sheet policies? After nearly four years of experience with large-scale asset purchases, a substantial body of empirical work on their effects has emerged. Generally, this research finds that the Federal Reserve's large-scale purchases have significantly lowered long-term Treasury yields. ... These effects are economically meaningful.

... a study using the Board's FRB/US model of the economy found that, as of 2012, the first two rounds of LSAPs may have raised the level of output by almost 3 percent and increased private payroll employment by more than 2 million jobs, relative to what otherwise would have occurred. The Bank of England has used LSAPs in a manner similar to that of the Federal Reserve, so it is of interest that researchers have found the financial and macroeconomic effects of the British programs to be qualitatively similar to those in the United States.

To be sure, these estimates of the macroeconomic effects of LSAPs should be treated with caution. ... Overall, however, a balanced reading of the evidence supports the conclusion that central bank securities purchases have provided meaningful support to the economic recovery while mitigating deflationary risks.
• The costs of additional QE are "manageable":
[T]he costs of nontraditional policies, when considered carefully, appear manageable, implying that we should not rule out the further use of such policies if economic conditions warrant.
• The economy is still very weak:
[T]he economic situation is obviously far from satisfactory ... The unemployment rate remains more than 2 percentage points above what most FOMC participants see as its longer-run normal value ... Further, the rate of improvement in the labor market has been painfully slow. I have noted on other occasions that the declines in unemployment we have seen would likely continue only if economic growth picked up to a rate above its longer-term trend. In fact, growth in recent quarters has been tepid, and so, not surprisingly, we have seen no net improvement in the unemployment rate since January.
Unless the economy begins to grow more quickly than it has recently, the unemployment rate is likely to remain far above levels consistent with maximum employment for some time.
Bernanke's comments suggest QE3 will be launched very soon, perhaps on September 13th following the next FOMC meeting.

I thought the odds of QE3 in August were high - and the minutes of the meeting indicated they were very very close. It is possible that the FOMC in September will announce an extension of the extended period until 2015 (from late 2014), and wait again for QE3, but that would seem at odds with Bernanke's comments today.

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