More help needed to boost U.S. economy: Fed's Evans
BEIJING (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve should do more to boost the United States economy as the most recent uptick in employment data is still not good enough, Chicago Fed President, Charles Evans, told a news briefing in China on Thursday.
"The (July) employment data was a little better than expected," said Evans, one of the Fed's most dovish policymakers and who has led the most recent calls for active easing of monetary policy.
"It is still not nearly good enough," he added. "We need 300,000 to 400,000 (new jobs) a month to get to where we should be."
U.S. employers hired the most workers in five months in July - 163,000 and ahead of market forecasts of 100,000 - but an increase in the jobless rate to 8.3 percent kept prospects of further monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve on the table.
Investor expectations of imminent Fed action on more quantitative easing - so called QE3 - are now at fever pitch after the Wednesday publication of minutes from the U.S. central bank's last policy meeting of July 31-August 1.
The minutes said many policymakers thought more monetary accommodation would be needed "fairly soon" without a substantial and sustainable strengthening in the pace of economic recovery.
Evans said the Fed had room to act to boost the economy and increase employment given the backdrop of moderate inflation.
Asked what the key issues under discussion at the Fed were to evaluate the need for QE3, Evans said the U.S. central bank was still trying to work out the seasonal impacts on labor markets and economic activity.
Evans reiterated that he thought current economic conditions already warranted action, adding that this was the third successive summer slowdown seen in the United States, and that as the Fed had acted to boost activity in the previous two downturns, there was every reason to be prepared to act this time.
The Fed has kept U.S. benchmark short-term interest rates near zero since December 2008 and signaled it will keep them there until late 2014 to bolster a weak recovery.
U.S. economic growth slowed to 1.5 percent in the second quarter as consumer spending faltered, and unemployment remains far too high for the comfort of a central bank that has a dual mandate to keep inflation low and employment high. Job growth slowed sharply in the second quarter to just 75,000 jobs per month from 226,000 in the first quarter.
WATCHING FOR QE3
Financial markets have been watching carefully for signs of whether the Fed will launch a new round of bond buying at its next meeting, on September 12-13.
Evans has called for the Fed to keep interest rates low until the jobless rate falls below 7 percent or inflation threatens to top 3 percent. He does not have a vote on the Fed's policy-setting panel this year.
Other more hawkish regional heads have warned against more bond purchases, saying they would yield diminishing returns.
Two unprecedented rounds of so-called quantitative easing so far by the Fed have seen it buy $2.3 trillion in long-term securities to push down borrowing costs still further.
But China - which parks much of its $3.2 trillion of foreign reserves in U.S. Treasuries - has complained that America's loose monetary policy limits its returns and ultimately threatens the value of its investment.
During his trip, Evans has met with senior Chinese economic advisors. He travels to Hong Kong on Friday.
With ultra-low interest rates and a strengthening yuan currency eating into the value of its U.S. dollar holdings, China is also acutely conscious of U.S. fiscal finances.
Looming U.S. budget cuts and tax hikes, commonly known as the "fiscal cliff", were cited by Evans as a key risk.
"The fiscal cliff is something we need to be extremely wary of," he told reporters.
A failure by Congress to act to avoid the cliff would trigger a "significant recession" and the loss of some 2 million jobs, Congressional Budget Office director, Doug Elmendorf, said on Wednesday, adding that the economy was already being held back as firms put off investment and hiring.
The report from the nonpartisan agency should intensify pressure on Congress and the White House to resolve deep differences over cutting spending or extending tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration.
(Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Nick Edwards and Simon Cameron-Moore)
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