Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fed's Lockhart: The Approaching Monetary Policy Decision Dilemma

by Bill McBride on 9/28/2010 05:44:00 PM

From Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart: The Approaching Monetary Policy Decision Dilemma

In the coming weeks monetary policymakers must come to grips with the question of whether there is anything they can do to improve the situation in the economy and, if so, what that action should be. The circumstances of weak recovery, persistent unemployment, dangerously low inflation, and the policy interest rate (the primary tool of modern monetary policy) at the zero lower bound present a tough analytical challenge.
If action is taken by the Fed, a clear option is to grow the size of the balance sheet since the policy interest rate, for all practical purposes, cannot go any lower. Growth of the balance sheet would be accomplished by a second round of asset purchases (probably Treasury bills and notes) paid for by newly created money. The technical term for this policy is "quantitative easing," and the prospect of more of this approach is being referred to as QE2.

Will it work? And, how much would be needed to make a difference? In my view, a consensus on these pivotal questions remains to come together, and I will not take a position here today. In the weeks ahead my staff and I will be tackling these and related questions to prepare for the important decisions coming.
I cannot tell you how the economic policy story will play out. I can assure you, however, that the Fed has scope for further action to influence the course of recovery. And, importantly, I believe the Fed and the committee have the will to act—or not—as demanded by economic conditions in the near term.
Lockhart is not a voting member of the FOMC this year, but I think a consensus is building for QE2 in early November.