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Bernanke Seen Buying $1.14 Trillion in Assets in 2014

29 Jan 2013

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke

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(Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s latest round of bond buying will reach $1.14 trillion before he ends the program in the first quarter of 2014, according to median estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Bernanke will push on with purchases of $40 billion a month of mortgage bonds and $45 billion a month of Treasuries, according to the survey of 44 economists, even as some Fed officials warn his unprecedented balance-sheet expansion will impair efforts to tighten policy when necessary.

“To get to the point where Bernanke would be comfortable letting up, you have to have a good solid string of economic reports that you’re just not going to get” this year, said Eric Green, global head of rates and FX research at TD Securities Inc. in New York and a former New York Fed economist.

The Federal Open Market Committee will renew its commitment to asset buying during a two-day meeting starting today after determining the benefits from the program exceed any risk of inflation or financial instability, according to economists surveyed Jan. 24-25. Bernanke has said the policy will continue until there are “substantial” gains in employment, Bloomberg reports.

Fed officials have a brighter outlook for the economy than many private economists. FOMC participants forecast growth this year ranging from 2.3 percent to 3 percent, while economists in a separate Bloomberg survey have a median estimate of 2 percent.

“The economy is not going to be able to generate growth above 2 percent” as it faces headwinds from federal tax increases and a weak global expansion, Green said.

Job Creation
Fed asset purchases will probably do little to help reduce 7.8 percent unemployment, economists said, with 57 percent of them predicting the program won’t help boost the number of jobs created this year.
Economists who expect gains from so-called quantitative easing say it will account for an increase of 250,000 jobs during 2013. Last year, the economy added 1.8 million jobs.

Employers probably hired 160,000 workers in January, after a 155,000 increase in December, based on Bloomberg News survey of economists before the Labor Department reports the figures on Feb. 1.
In the first round of purchases, begun in 2008, the Fed bought $1.4 trillion of housing debt and $300 billion of Treasuries. In the second round, beginning in November 2010, the Fed bought $600 billion of Treasuries.

Mortgage Bonds
In the current round, the Fed’s total purchases will be split between $600 billion of mortgage-backed securities and $540 billion of Treasuries, according to the median estimates of economists in the survey.

Asked what would prompt the Fed to halt its bond buying, 63 percent of economists said the central bank will act in response to substantial improvement in the labor market.

Only 13 percent said the Fed will end its purchases because of accelerating inflation or a rise in inflation expectations.
Inflation for the 12 months ending in November was 1.4 percent, according to the Fed’s preferred gauge. That’s below the central bank’s longer-run target of 2 percent. Investors expect inflation of 2.24 percent over the next five years, compared with 2.1 percent when the FOMC met Dec. 11-12, as measured by the spread between Treasury Inflation Protected Securities and nominal bonds.

At the FOMC’s meeting last month, participants differed over how long the bond purchases should last. Fed officials who provided estimates were “approximately evenly divided” between those who said it would be appropriate to end the purchases around mid-2013 and those who said they should continue beyond that date, according to minutes of the gathering.

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