Yellen says Fed stimulus must continue

15 november 2013, 14:44
Janet Yellen, the White House nominee to lead the Federal Reserve, said Thursday that the central bank's stimulus must remain in place to bolster an economy where growth remains fragile, AFP reports.

Staking out her support for policies crafted by current chairman Ben Bernanke, Yellen, the Fed vice chair, told senators reviewing her nomination that the Fed will do whatever is in its power to back a robust US economic recovery.

Growth is still too soft and unemployment at 7.3 percent too high to ease up on the stimulus throttle, she told the Senate Banking Committee.

"We have made good progress, but we have farther to go to regain the ground lost in the crisis and the recession."

"I consider it imperative to do what we can to promote a very strong recovery," she told the committee, which must approve her nomination before it goes to the full Senate.

She also denied that the easy-money policy, including near-zero interest rates and $85 billion a month in bond-buying stimulus, had generated fresh bubbles in property or stock markets.

A respected academic economist and Fed veteran who has focused some of her research on the social and economic impacts of joblessness, Yellen made clear that with inflation tame, unemployment was a priority issue.

But she stressed that the stimulus operations "cannot continue forever" and acknowledged the risks of the Fed piling up trillions of dollars' worth of bonds to help keep long-term interest rates down.

In two hours of questioning on her views of monetary policy, banking regulation and challenges for America's poor, there was little sign of hostility from the committee's Republican minority, almost ensuring that she will be approved in a vote.

If confirmed by the full Senate -- where two Republicans have threatened maneuvers to block her -- she would take over from Bernanke when his eight-year, two-term tenure ends on January 31.

She praised Bernanke, for whom she has been a close ally, saying the economic crisis of 2008 could have been "far worse" without his stewardship.

"Under the wise and skillful leadership of Chairman Bernanke, the Fed helped stabilize the financial system, arrest the steep fall in the economy, and restart growth."

No hint on taper timing

Yellen, 67, stuck closely to mainstream Fed policy positions as she was questioned on her views of how long the stimulus would remain in place.

She avoided any hint as to when the Federal Open Market Committee would begin to taper the asset purchases, a move that has been expected for months.

Instead, she insisted -- as Bernanke has repeatedly done -- that the decision will be "data-driven" and that so far the data suggests that economic growth remains fragile.

"It would be costly to withdraw accommodation" before growth strengthens, she said.

The program of bond purchases "have made a meaningful contribution" to helping the economy.

Republican lawmakers gently peppered her with questions on the impact of the stimulus, suggesting it had had little real effect on the recovery and, at the same time, was providing a surplus of "sugar" to markets that could be pumping up new property and stock bubbles.

Yellen replied that there was clear "meaningful" contribution to growth from the stimulus, and said US markets do not appear to be in a bubble despite strong gains this year.

Even after the Dow and S&P 500 set new records Wednesday, she said, based on traditional valuation measures, "you would not see stock prices in territory that suggest bubble-like conditions."

She meanwhile echoed a criticism of Congress's budget politics that Bernanke has repeatedly raised over the past year, that short-term budget-slashing efforts are restraining growth.

"Fiscal policy has been working at cross purposes to monetary policy," she told the panel.

Markets greeted her testimony positively, the Dow Jones Industrial Average adding 0.3 percent in the afternoon and the S&P 500 gaining 0.4 percent.

Bond prices also gained, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury falling to 2.71 percent from 2.73 percent late Wednesday.

Chris Low of FTN Financial said those modest gains "make sense" despite Yellen's outright policy dovishness.

"What Yellen said today at her confirmation hearing is likely to evolve into a more nuanced set of policy positions once she is approved," he said.

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