Earnings season is now in focus but "taper talk" won't go away quietly. This Wednesday may bring more insight into the Fed and, investors hope, the taper timeline when FOMC minutes are released. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke roiled financial markets last month when he announced the Fed may begin reducing asset purchases as early as this year and end them in 2014 if the economy continues to improve.
Stocks have since resumed their rally but Treasury rates haven’t retreated, and economists continue to debate the Fed’s next move.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says he has “a hard time understanding... the rush to taper.”
He tells The Daily Ticker: “We’re down somewhere about 8.5 million jobs from trend… six percentage points below potential GDP, inflation is nowhere to be seen and if anything we probably want a higher inflation rate, as Bernanke has indicated himself. “Given all that, Baker says he “would be quite surprised” if the Fed actually does start to reduce asset purchases before the end of 2013 and probably won’t “until well into 2014.”
But Martin Feldstein, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan, wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that the Fed should start tapering now because additional bond buying “will have little effect” on the economy and job growth, and it’s already “generating excessive risk-taking by banks and other financial investors.”
Baker disagrees. He admits that the Fed’s quantitative easing policy “hasn’t done great things for the economy” but says it would be in even worse shape without it. He would “love to see the Fed be more aggressive” and indicate it will maintain current easing policy for the “foreseeable future.”
The policy is already almost five years old. The Fed began its first of several round of asset purchases in November 2008 and currently buys $40 billion worth of Treasuries and $45 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities monthly. All these asset purchases have swelled the Fed’s balance sheet to over $3 trillion, and that worries some economists like Feldstein.
The Fed also slashed short-term interest rates in December 2008 to a range between zero and 0.25%, and has been maintaining that ever since. The Fed has repeatedly said it will keep rates near zero until the jobless rate falls below 6.5%.
Then the Fed chairman dropped a hint or two about scaling back QE as early as this year at his last post-FOMC press conference. Bernanke introduced a new marker for the Fed—tying the end of QE also to the unemployment rate: “In this scenario, when asset purchases ultimately come to an end, the unemployment rate would likely be in the vicinity of 7%, with solid economic growth supporting further job gains…"
The Fed will certainly be considering the implications of Friday's jobs report for June. For more on Dean Baker’s argument on why the Fed shouldn’t make any changes too soon, watch the video above.
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