By Kristen Hays and Francesca Landini
HOUSTON/MILAN May 16 A trio of hawkish regional
Federal Reserve officials are calling for the U.S. central bank
to stop buying mortgage-backed bonds, citing recent improvement
in the housing market.
Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve
Bank, was the latest to point to the recent pick up in home
values and housing construction as signs the central bank's
purchases of mortgage-backed securities are no longer needed.
"We can rightly declare victory on the housing front and
(reduce) our purchases, with the aim of eliminating them
entirely as the year wears on," Fisher told the National
Association for Business Economics on Thursday in Houston. "I
believe the efficacy of continued purchases is questionable."
His thinking leaves him in a minority at the central bank.
Regional Fed presidents rotate into voting seats on the
policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee while board
members, who tend to be more sanguine about the effectiveness of
the Fed's bond-buying stimulus, are permanent voters.
That means Chairman Ben Bernanke generally leads the way,
and he still appears reluctant to take the foot off the
accelerator with the recovery still fragile and inflation now
Speaking in Milan, Philadelphia Fed President Charles
Plosser said the central bank should dial back its asset buying
starting next month given an improving economic backdrop.
"Things are better enough for the Fed to slow the pace of
purchasing, if we are really serious about the fact that (the
purchase program) is scalable," he said.
In a speech late on Wednesday, Richmond Fed President
Jeffrey Lacker offered much the same message.
"When you look at housing market conditions, I think you
could make the case that we should be getting out of
mortgage-backed securities," Lacker told reporters after a
Amid the barrage of hawkishness, the Boston Fed's dovish
president, Eric Rosengren, welcomed the brighter signals from
housing but said the central bank's aggressive monetary support
Fed Board Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin was more
non-committal, saying it was premature to judge the impact of
the Fed's latest actions to spur growth.
"The U.S. economy has continued to recover from the effects
of the financial crisis and deep recession, though at a pace
that has been disappointingly slow," she told the National
"The recovery does appear to have picked up steam in some
sectors, most notably in housing. ... However, federal fiscal
policy remains an important source of restraint," she said.
Washington raised taxes in January and initiated sweeping
budget cuts in March to bolster its finances but the fiscal
tightening is expected to crimp growth.
INFLATION DIP NOT A WORRY
Lacker and Fisher suggested the recent decline in inflation,
which is now running at around half the Fed's 2 percent target,
is benign and likely transitory.
The Fed is currently buying $85 billion per month in
mortgage and Treasury securities to stimulate investment.
Inflation hawks at the Fed worry the sharp expansion in bank
reserves could lead to future inflation, even if there are no
signs at all of any imminent price pressures. U.S. consumer
prices dropped 0.4 percent on falling gasoline prices, the
biggest drop since late 2008 during the disruptive aftermath of
the Lehman Brothers collapse.
"These numbers are likely to give pause to both hawks and
doves on the Fed, and keep the current (stimulus) pace in place
until signs of inflation returning to the Fed's long-run 2
percent target emerge," said Michael Hanson, senior U.S.
economist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.
U.S. economic growth rebounded to an annual rate of 2.5
percent in the first quarter following a dismal end to 2012.
Unemployment has come down to 7.5 percent from its crisis peak
of 10 percent, but remains very high by historical standards.