US Federal Reserve waits for job growth before policies shift
By Alan Wheatley, ReutersLONDON--The Federal Reserve's ultra loose monetary policy is a root cause of the “currency wars” that some see as a looming threat to the world economy, but don't expect the U.S. central bank to signal a shift back to normal any time soon.
January 29, 2013, 12:38 am TWN
The Fed, that's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) concludes a two-day meeting on Wednesday, said just last month that it expects to keep short-term interest rates exceptionally low until the U.S. unemployment rate falls to 6.5 percent, inflation permitting.
That goal is still distant. Figures on Friday are likely to show that the jobless rate was unchanged in January at 7.8 percent, while the economy created 155,000 jobs, the same as in December, according to economists polled by Reuters.
So it would be a huge surprise if the Fed were to do anything other than reaffirm last month's decision to anchor short-term interest rates in a range of zero to 0.25 percent and to keep buying US$85 billion of bonds each month to hold down long-term rates.
The only question mark is whether the FOMC vote will be unanimous now that Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, who opposes the current round of bond buying, has rotated off the panel, said Harm Bandholz, an economist with UniCredit Bank in New York.
Most economists polled by Reuters expect the Fed to keep its open-ended bond-buying program in place well into next year, even though the economic news flow and market confidence are improving markedly.
True, Wednesday's preliminary report on fourth-quarter GDP is likely to show that growth slowed to an annualized rate of 1.2 percent from 3.1 percent in the July-September period.
And the current quarter will also be soft as the expiry of a 2-percent payroll tax cut is dampening consumer spending.
But then Bandholz expects an average growth rate of 2.8 percent over the rest of the year. That would be the strongest three-quarter period of the recovery so far, he said.
“The outlook has improved a lot in the U.S. I've been on the cautious side for the last three years, but this time I'm a bit more bullish,” he said.
The Fed Bides its Time
The recovery in housing would add at least half a percentage point to GDP growth in 2013, while capital spending was likely to revive now that uncertainty over budget talks in Washington had been largely allayed, Bandholz said.
“There's a lot of pent-up demand in the system. I don't think all these investments have been abandoned; they've just been postponed,” he said.
At some point, investors' exuberance over the super-easy stance of the world's major central banks will give way to worries that they are about to take away the punch bowl.
Gustavo Reis, an economist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York, said concerns about the costs of money-printing were likely to spread but would be offset by uncertainty over the impact on growth of fiscal tightening in the United States and Europe.