* If Fed acts, communications step preferable-Lockhart
* Fed could improve clarity of policy message
* Lockhart - Fed should set high bar for any further easing
By Luciana Lopez
SAO PAULO, Nov 21 (Reuters) - A top Federal Reserve official said on Monday that given recent improvements in the U.S. economy, any further central bank actions to boost growth should be through clearer communications about policy, rather than expanded bond buying.
“In light of the somewhat better performance of the economy, notwithstanding the slow pace of reduction of unemployment... if we’re looking at options, I would prefer communications,” Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart told reporters after a speech to business students.
The U.S. central bank cut benchmark borrowing costs to near zero almost three years ago and has bought $2.3 trillion in bonds to spur economic activity.
More recently, it has shifted its portfolio to hold more longer-term bonds to lower mortgage interest rates and has announced it is unlikely to raise rates before the middle of 2013, a proclamation aimed at reassuring markets it won’t budge from easy money policies at the first sign the recovery has gotten stronger.
Many in financial markets believe that a persistently high unemployment rate will prompt the Fed to take further steps to boost growth next year.
Lockhart repeated his view that the Fed should set a high bar for any further bond buying, also referred to as quantitative easing.
“For me the conditions that would make another round of quantitative easing would be entering clear recessionary conditions, the worsening of the unemployment rate and the conceivable prospect of deflation,” he said.
However, the Fed could provide more clarity to the public about where policy is likely to go and how it might respond to various conditions, Lockhart said.
“Short of another round of large-scale asset purchases, there are various ways we could try to communicate with the broad public and markets,” he said in response to questions after his speech.
“I certainly think it’s conceivable that we could improve our communications,” he said.
Lockhart will be a voter on the Fed’s policy-setting panel in 2012.
The economy, while not terribly strong, has exceeded recent expectations and could log a growth rate above 3 percent in the last three months of the year, he said.
“Given that the United States is an advanced economy... the growth rate is respectable,” Lockhart said.
Reports over the last two months, including about retail sales, consumer confidence, and exports, have been encouraging, he said.