Fed surprises, sticks to stimulus as it cuts growth outlook
By Pedro da Costa and Alister Bull, ReutersThe U.S. Federal Reserve defied investor expectations on Wednesday by postponing the start of the wind down of its massive monetary stimulus, saying it wanted to wait for more evidence of solid economic growth.
September 19, 2013, 2:24 pm TWN
Investors responded by propelling U.S. stocks to record highs and driving down bond yields. Yields on U.S. Treasury debt had risen over the summer on expectations the Fed would cut back its $85 billion a month in bond purchases that have been the cornerstone of its efforts to spur the economy.
Furthermore, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke refused to commit to reducing the bond purchases this year, and instead went out of his way to stress the program was "not on a preset course." In June he had said the Fed expected to cut back before year end.
"There is no fixed calendar schedule. I really have to emphasize that," he told a news conference. "If the data confirm our basic outlook, if we gain more confidence in that outlook ... then we could move later this year."
The reaction in markets was swift and sharp. The U.S. dollar fell to a seven-month low against major currencies and the price of gold, a traditional inflation hedge, soared more than 4.0 percent.
"The Federal Reserve remains quite concerned about the overall sluggishness of the economy, preferring to take the risk of being too loose for too long as opposed to tighten prematurely," said Mohamed El-Erian, co-chief investment officer at Pimco, which manages the world's largest mutual fund.
Some economists said it was possible the Fed might not begin to wind down its bond buying until after Bernanke's term as Fed chairman expires in January. That would leave the tricky task of unwinding the stimulus to his successor, quite likely Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, who was identified by a White House official on Wednesday as the front-runner for the job.
Bernanke declined to comment on his future, beyond saying he hoped to have more information soon.
A Reuters poll of 17 top Wall Street bond dealers found that nine were now looking for the U.S. central bank to trim its bond purchases at a meeting in December, but few held much confidence in their forecasts. One looked for a reduction in October, while two more said the Fed would wait until next year.
Earlier this month, 13 of 18 of these so-called primary dealers polled forecast a September tapering of the purchases.