August 3, 2010 / 2:00 AM / 7 years ago

Fed to consider symbolic shift as economy wavers: report

TOKYO (Reuters) - Federal Reserve officials will consider a modest but symbolically important change in the management of its massive securities portfolio when they meet next week, amid signs the economy may be losing momentum, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Any change only four months after the central bank ended a massive bond-buying program would signal deepening concern about the U.S. economic outlook, the newspaper said in the report on its website on Tuesday.

Fed officials meeting on August 10 will consider whether to use cash the Fed receives when its mortgage-bond holdings mature to buy new mortgage or Treasury bonds, instead of allowing its portfolio to shrink gradually, as it is expected to do in the months ahead, the report said, without citing sources.

Buying more assets was one of several options Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke outlined in testimony to a congressional committee on July 21, when he was asked what additional steps the central bank could take to bolster economic growth if needed.

St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said last week that the Fed should consider buying more Treasury securities, instead of promising an extended period of low rates to support recovery, if inflation drifts lower.

Bullard said he was worried about the risks the United States could fall into a Japan-style quagmire of falling prices and investment that is hard to get out of.

Bernanke said on Monday that the economy was improving but has yet to recover fully, noting that U.S. monetary policy must remain accommodative. But he gave no clues on the Fed’s likely next move.

Whether the Fed makes any move next week depends in large part on economic data, particularly the jobless claims report this Friday, the newspaper said. New claims for unemployment benefits slipped in late July but remained at stubbornly high levels.

The central bank’s $2.3 trillion portfolio has nearly tripled in size since 2007.

Buying new bonds with cash from maturing bonds would show the public and markets that the Fed is seeking ways to support economic growth, the report said. It could also be a compromise that rival factions at the Fed support, as officials differ about whether and how to address a subpar recovery.

If the Fed’s forecast deteriorates significantly, it could also be a precursor to bigger efforts to pump money into the economy, the newspaper added.

Reporting by Masayuki Kitano and Kim Coghill; Editing by Kazunori Takada

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