Federal Reserve bank exec calls for tapering

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

Esther George disagrees with a decision by the Federal Reserve to continue an economic stimulus program despite signals the Fed would begin tapering off that program.

George, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said she was a holdout on the Federal Open Market Committee when that group voted in September to continue monthly purchases of

$85 billion in U.S. Treasury and mortgage-backed bonds in a program dubbed quantitative easing III (QE3).

“Fed communications that had supported the market’s expectations of a modest taper, likely starting in September, and then the decision to make no adjustments in the pace of its bond buying surprised many and disappointed some, including me,” George said during a forum in Denver, one of four the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City hosted in Colorado.

George, a frequent dissenter on the FOMC Board, said she believes conditions don’t warrant continuation of the program. “I view the data as being sufficiently positive to continue with the plan the chairman presented in June, which called for the pace of purchases to moderate this year and gradually decline for several months until they come to an end around mid-2014.”

“My preferred course of action would have been to begin tapering asset purchases,” she added.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cited weaker than expected unemployment numbers and pending economic uncertainty as reasons for continuing bond purchases.

But George said the U.S. economy continues to slowly recover and that waiting for further evidence before scaling back the program “discounts the potential costs of a policy tool with which we have limited experience.”

She also raised concerns about possible damage to the reliability and integrity of the Federal Reserve. She said the decision to continue the stimulus program “also has the potential to threaten the credibility and the predictability of future monetary policy actions.”

The Fed was widely criticized by market analysts following the surprise September announcement for sending mixed signals to the market, which puts a great deal of store on the predictability of Fed policy.

George said aggressive Fed actions have helped to ease financial problems, provide needed liquidity and support economic recovery.

But she added: “It is now time to acknowledge the progress and turn to a focus on the long-term prospects of the economy.”

By scaling back monthly bond purchases, “the central bank would be providing time for markets to adjust as smoothly as possible and to resume their critical role in pricing risk and allocating credit in our economy,” George said.