By Ann Saphir
REUTERS - The U.S. central bank may have jumped the gun in deciding to reduce its bond-buying stimulus given too-high unemployment and too-low inflation, a top Federal Reserve official who opposed the move said on Friday.
In comments posted on his website less than 48 hours after he cast his lone dissent against the decision, Boston Federal Reserve Bank President Eric Rosengren said he expects the U.S. economy to continue to strengthen and for growth to be close to 3 percent next year.
But, he said, "I do not yet have sufficient confidence in this outlook to risk the removal of any monetary accommodation at this time."
With the jury still out on the sustainability of the recovery, he said, "My decision to cast a dissenting vote was focused on counseling patience in removing monetary accommodation."
The Fed on Wednesday began dialing down an unprecedented era of easy money, saying the U.S. economy was finally strong enough for it to start to trim the pace of its monthly asset purchases, by $10 billion to $75 billion.
The program, aimed at boosting hiring and growth, is the third such effort since the financial crisis that have cumulatively swollen the Fed's balance sheet to nearly $4 trillion.
Nearly all economists polled by Reuters now expect the Fed to continue to pare its bond-buying throughout 2014, until it is completely wound down before the start of 2015.
But Rosengren, long one of the Fed's most dovish officials, expressed discomfort with what he called a "premature" start to the wind-down.
"I would prefer to wait until the economic improvement that I am forecasting is clearly evident in the data before reducing the size of the asset-purchase program," Rosengren said. "In my view, a highly accommodative policy remains both necessary and appropriate."
Rosengren's comments came as Janet Yellen, an unwavering advocate of the Fed's aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy, clinched a key procedural vote in the Senate that clears the way for her to take the reins from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke when his term ends early next year.
In language that Yellen helped craft, the Fed this week tempered its decision to reduce bond-buying with assurances that borrowing costs would stay low even longer than previously promised.
The Fed has held overnight interest rates near zero since late 2008, and on Wednesday said they would stay there "well past the time" that the jobless rate falls below 6.5 percent, especially if inflation expectations remain below the Fed's 2-percent target
Rosengren said Friday he strongly supports the new forward guidance on low rates.
Rosengren last dissented in 2007, arguing at the Fed's final meeting of that year that the central bank should cut rates more aggressively than the quarter of a percentage point it ultimately did.
The following year the U.S. economy entered its worst recession in decades, and from which it is still struggling to recover.
U.S. unemployment registered 7 percent in November, down from the 10-percent high in the recession, but still above the 5.2 percent to 6 percent that Fed officials see as a level the economy can sustain without sparking inflation.
Inflation has lingered well below target for much of the recovery.
Though stronger growth should move it back up next year, Rosengren said Friday, the turnaround is not yet evident in the data.
"Given the remaining shortfalls from our targets, I think patience remains appropriate at this time."
(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by James Dalgleish)