Federal Reserve officials said on Thursday that while the recession-battered economy is on the mend, it will be weak for a while and the Fed is likely to keep its extensive support policies in place for a while.
The presidents of the Cleveland and the Atlanta Federal Reserve banks, in separate remarks, highlighted the economy's continued reliance on government stimulus programs in citing its fragile state.
Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto said she expects a gradual and bumpy recovery from the recession and is not worried that the Fed's extensive efforts to pump money into the economy risk igniting inflation.
I believe there is enough slack in the economy to keep inflation subdued for some time. In this environment, I believe that maintaining the current accommodative policy stance helps to foster both the continued recovery of our weakened economy and the stabilization of inflation rates at levels consistent with price stability, she told a conference sponsored by Market News International.
Both Pianalto and Dennis Lockhart, president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve, said they expected already-high unemployment rates to continue to climb.
The Fed at its policy-setting meeting last week moved toward phasing out some of its massive support for the economy, but pledged to keep interest rates exceptionally low for an extended period to support the fragile recovery.
In Washington, the debate continued over how to reform financial regulation in order to prevent the occurrence of another financial crisis in the future; some have faulted the Fed, saying it should have been more aggressive in spotting or preventing the deep crisis of the last year.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave his clearest endorsement yet on Thursday of giving authority to a council of regulators headed by the Treasury Department to oversee the health of the broad financial system.
SIGNS OF A REBOUND
There are early signs from credit and housing markets that the economy is rebounding from the downturn, said Pianalto, who will be a voter on the Fed's policy-making body next year, when many economists expect the central bank to begin raising rates.
I would not be surprised to find that when we look back a year from now, we will see that mid-summer marked the end of this recession, she said.
The Atlanta Fed's Lockhart said unemployment is likely to persist despite evidence the economy could grow by an annual rate of between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in the July-September period.
To bring people back to work, it's going to take a while, said Lockhart in response to questions after a speech at the Georgia State College School of Business in Macon.
Unemployment's going to be frustratingly high for some period of time, said Lockhart, who is currently a voter on the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee.
Asked by reporters how fast the Fed would remove its ultra-low rates and shrink its huge balance sheet, Lockhart said, I doubt we're going to go for years without the need to raise rates, but added that the U.S. economy would likely have to adapt to slower rates of growth than before the financial crisis.
Bernanke, who made no comment on the outlook for the economy or interest rates during his testimony before the House of Representatives Financial Services panel, endorsed the idea of a council of regulators to oversee financial system health while recommending the Fed retain authority to supervise systemically critical individual firms, whether they are banks or other types of institutions.
Bernanke denied that he or the administration had wanted to make the Fed some kind of untrammeled super-regulator with authority over the entire financial system. Lawmakers told him his clear support for a council to oversee systemic risks might help boost support for a financial overhaul bill.
Some critics have argued against giving the Fed any greater powers, arguing that failures by the Fed and other regulators to prevent risky lending and financial practices set the stage for the crisis.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh in Washington; writing by Mark Felsenthal; editing by Leslie Adler)