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Fed Pares Bond Buying Program to $35B

JUN 18, 2014 4:03pm ET
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The Federal Reserve Board on Wednesday continued to shrink its stimulus program by yet another $10 billion clip.

With a rebound in economic growth in recent months along with further improvements in the labor market, policymakers agreed to stay the course in paring back the pace of the central bank’s monthly purchases of mortgage and Treasury bonds to $35 billion following its two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting.

"The committee currently judges that there is sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing improvement in the labor market conditions," according to the committee's policy statement.

Still, participants noted that the unemployment rate, while lower, still remains "elevated" and the housing recovery continues to be "slow." Fiscal policy has also continued to restrain growth, but headwinds seem to be diminishing.

"The committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and labor market conditions will continue to improve gradually, moving toward those the committee judges consistent with its dual mandate," according to the statement.

Policymakers had been expected to move forward with reducing its monthly bond buying program, while keeping rates steady. The meeting featured the appearance of two new board members, both recently confirmed: Stanley Fischer and Lael Brainard.

Starting in July, the Fed will begin to purchase $15 billion and $20 billion of mortgage-backed securities and longer-term Treasury securities, respectively.

Six months ago, the Fed took its first step in seeking to reduce its controversial bond buying program. The central bank has continued to reduce its purchases by $10 billion at each meeting in keeping with its plan to end the program by this fall.

Policymakers said they would continue to reduce the pace of their purchases in "measured steps at future meetings" as long as incoming data broadly supported expectations. The committee has been consistent in reiterating that asset purchases are not on a "preset course" and any policy decisions will be based on the committee's outlook for the labor market and inflation.

Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke established the unprecedented program as an additional tool to help the U.S. economy recover from the worst recession since the Depression. Policymakers had already exhausted their ability to reduce the federal funds rate any further, turning to long-term asset purchases as another way to aid the recovery. The benchmark rate has sat at a range of zero to 0.25% since December 2008.

There are a wide range of factors that policymakers will use in making a decision to lift the federal funds rate, including labor market conditions, inflation expectations and other financial developments. But until that point, policymakers have said it would "appropriate" to continue to maintain near zero interest rates for a "considerable time" after the asset purchase program winds down.

"In determining how long to maintain the current 0 to 0.25% target range for the federal funds rate, the committee will assess progress—both realized and expected—toward its objective of maximum employment and 2% inflation," according to the statement.

The majority of policymakers expect to begin to lift rates in 2015 based on the latest set of economic projections with a median interest rate of 1.125%. In the longer-run, policymakers expect the median interest rate to be 3.75%. (Brainard's forecast was not included in the committee’s updated June projections.)

Wednesday's decision was supported by every member of the FOMC.

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