Wikinvest Wire

Ben Bernanke has a plan

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is with the House Financial Services Committee this morning talking about the prospects for the U.S. economy and a host of other related issues. It's still going on and you can watch it at CSPAN.

The prepared remarks can be found over at the Fed's website, highlighted by a few thoughts on the bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to audit the central bank. Recall that the General Accounting Office (GAO) has long maintained the authority to audit the Federal Reserve, but only in certain areas:

The Congress, however, purposefully–and for good reason–excluded from the scope of potential GAO reviews some highly sensitive areas, notably monetary policy deliberations and operations, including open market and discount window operations. In doing so, the Congress carefully balanced the need for public accountability with the strong public policy benefits that flow from maintaining an appropriate degree of independence for the central bank in the making and execution of monetary policy. Financial markets, in particular, likely would see a grant of review authority in these areas to the GAO as a serious weakening of monetary policy independence. Because GAO reviews may be initiated at the request of members of Congress, reviews or the threat of reviews in these areas could be seen as efforts to try to influence monetary policy decisions. A perceived loss of monetary policy independence could raise fears about future inflation, leading to higher long-term interest rates and reduced economic and financial stability. We will continue to work with the Congress to provide the information it needs to oversee our activities effectively, yet in a way that does not compromise monetary policy independence.
While most members of Congress who support the bill are more interested in finding out details about who the central bank is lending money to and how much, the Fed again redirects the discussion toward independence in setting monetary policy. No surprise there.

The 56-page Monetary Policy Report to Congress(.pdf) was also released today - that might make for some good bed-time reading.

It's been a relatively quiet few weeks for the Fed Chairman, so he found time to write this Wall Street Journal op-ed piece that appears in today's paper.
The Fed’s Exit Strategy

The depth and breadth of the global recession has required a highly accommodative monetary policy. Since the onset of the financial crisis nearly two years ago, the Federal Reserve has reduced the interest-rate target for overnight lending between banks (the federal-funds rate) nearly to zero. We have also greatly expanded the size of the Fed’s balance sheet through purchases of longer-term securities and through targeted lending programs aimed at restarting the flow of credit.

These actions have softened the economic impact of the financial crisis. They have also improved the functioning of key credit markets, including the markets for interbank lending, commercial paper, consumer and small-business credit, and residential mortgages.

My colleagues and I believe that accommodative policies will likely be warranted for an extended period. At some point, however, as economic recovery takes hold, we will need to tighten monetary policy to prevent the emergence of an inflation problem down the road. The Federal Open Market Committee, which is responsible for setting U.S. monetary policy, has devoted considerable time to issues relating to an exit strategy. We are confident we have the necessary tools to withdraw policy accommodation, when that becomes appropriate, in a smooth and timely manner.

IMAGE The exit strategy is closely tied to the management of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. When the Fed makes loans or acquires securities, the funds enter the banking system and ultimately appear in the reserve accounts held at the Fed by banks and other depository institutions. These reserve balances now total about $800 billion, much more than normal. And given the current economic conditions, banks have generally held their reserves as balances at the Fed.

But as the economy recovers, banks should find more opportunities to lend out their reserves. That would produce faster growth in broad money (for example, M1 or M2) and easier credit conditions, which could ultimately result in inflationary pressures—unless we adopt countervailing policy measures. When the time comes to tighten monetary policy, we must either eliminate these large reserve balances or, if they remain, neutralize any potential undesired effects on the economy.
He goes on to make it sound so easy...

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