March 18, 2009 / 1:10 PM / 9 years ago

Fed resumes meeting, focus seen on existing plans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve resumed a two-day meeting on Wednesday that was expected to end with a vow to do whatever it takes to turn back the U.S. economy’s deep recession but no new concrete steps to do so.

Morning commuters drive past the Federal Reserve Bank building in Washington March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A Fed spokeswoman said the central bank’s policy-setting panel resumed its meeting at 9 a.m. EDT, as scheduled. The committee was expected to outline its views on the economy and monetary policy in a statement at around 2:15 p.m. EDT.

The central bank seems certain to keep its target range for the overnight federal funds rate at zero to 0.25 percent, the level reached in December.

With benchmark rates virtually at zero, the Fed has turned its focus to pumping money into stressed credit markets to try to get money flowing through the economy — a policy Fed chief Ben Bernanke has dubbed “credit easing.”

“We’ve seen some progress in the financial markets,” Bernanke said in an interview on CBS that aired on Sunday. “But until we get that stabilized and working normally, we’re not going to see recovery.”

Financial markets will eye the Fed’s statement closely for any clues on further steps officials might take to restart credit flows.

After its last meeting in January, the Fed said it was prepared to buy longer-term U.S. government debt if it believed that would help unjam private credit markets.

But with yields on U.S. Treasuries still extremely low, most analysts think the Fed will bide its time to see if other steps it is taking are effective.

“The Fed is not going to push the notion of buying U.S. Treasuries despite some expectations in the markets for that. If they were to do such thing, they would have done so already,” said Dustin Reid, director of foreign exchange strategy at RBS Greenwich Capital Markets in Chicago.

“If they do announce a significant quantitative easing program and using Treasuries instead of mortgage-backed securities, that would take the market by surprise.”

Instead, Fed officials are expected to focus on two marquee programs they have unveiled to spur the economy.

In one program that could grow to $1 trillion, the Fed will begin lending next week against securities backed by auto, credit card, student and small business loans.

In the other, the central bank has committed to buy $600 billion in debt and securities issued by the government-backed mortgage finance agencies, a program officials have already credited for driving down mortgage rates.

The U.S. economy shrank at a 6.2 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the deepest contraction since early 1982, and the unemployment rate has shot to a 25-year high of 8.1 percent.

However, there have been some signs recently that consumer spending is stabilizing after a big drop and that the battered housing sector is beginning to heal.

Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Neil Stempleman

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