In a move that has been discussed and anticipated for months, the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee announced that it would slightly scale back its current quantitative easing program (QE3). Specifically, it would slow its purchases of longer-term Treasury and mortgage-backed securities by $5 billion per month each, reducing the total monthly purchase from $85 billion to $75 billion.
Beginning tomorrow, the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's interest rate setting and deliberative body that meets eight times a year -- will meet for two days to make decisions about the future path of U.S. monetary policy. In particular, many are looking to see whether the Fed will begin a "taper" and slow the rate of asset purchases, signaling the beginning of an unwind of the Fed's expanded balance sheet.
This morning, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the Joint Economic Committee regarding the current economic climate. He noted that the economy has begun to show signs of life, attributing the accelerating pace of GDP growth to gradual improvements in credit conditions and the housing market. He also argued that the Fed should continue its quantitative easing at its current pace until the labor market improves sufficiently.
In September, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced a third round of quantitative easing, consisting of purchases of mortgage-backed securities and long-term Treasuries. QE3 represented a break from previous rounds of easing because it did not involve an end date for the purchases. With that modification, there was some speculation that the FOMC would also set inflation and unemployment thresholds after which, if reached, the Fed would wind down its easing policy.
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke held a press conference yesterday following the conclusion of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Questions spanned a variety of topics including the Fed's current monetary policy stance, the economic outlook, the possible threat posed by European troubles, and Fed transparency. But one question did come up about the fiscal cliff and how the Fed would react if no action were taken. Here are his remarks:
Supporters of enacting a comprehensive deficit reduction plan got a boost yesterday from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. At a hearing with the House Budget Committee on the economic outlook, Bernanke responded to a question from Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) about the need for a large fiscal plan. He said the following (at the 58:45 mark of the video):
Yesterday, in the preliminary assessment of its 2011 balance sheet, the Federal Reserve reported that it would be sending $77 billion in 2011 profits back to the U.S. Treasury. While this is down slightly from the record high of $79 billion sent to Treasury in 2010, it is still a much larger return than in any other year in the 2000s, and more than double the average annual remittance of $36 billion over the 2000-2011 period ($28 billion average if 2010 and 2011 are excluded).