Is the Fed Prepping for Economic Intervention?

Some see hints of action

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The Federal Reserve may be moving toward new action to help the economy, according to several reporters' readings of newly released Fed meeting minutes. With joblessness and foreclosures still high more than 18 months after Congress enacted the stimulus, many economists and liberal pundits have long insisted that more intervention is needed. In September, President Barack Obama announced a plan for $150 billion in tax credits and infrastructure spending, which some observers termed a second stimulus. It's not clear what course of action the Fed would pursue if it ultimately decides on additional economic stimulus. Here's what we know and what Fed-watchers are saying.

  • The Fed's Likely Plan of Action  The New York Times' Sewell Chan reports, "Most Wall Street analysts expect the Fed to decide, at its meeting in early November, to resume the debt-buying strategy known as quantitative easing, in which the Federal Reserve would purchase Treasury securities to make borrowing cheaper. But while that outcome is possible, it is not certain, according to minutes of the Fed’s last policy meeting, which the central bank released Tuesday." Chan says that Fed officials are divided, but that the meeting minutes show "evidence" that there is a "critical mass" in favor of action.
  • Could Be 'Hundreds of Billions'  The Washington Post's Neil Irwin writes, "The discussion focused on the strategy of purchasing government debt, or Treasury securities, to boost growth. Fed officials could decide to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of bonds with newly created money at their next policy meeting, Nov 2-3. ... If consumers began expecting that inflation would rise, they would have greater incentive to spend money now, lest it become less valuable as time goes on. That could in turn quickly spark economic growth."
  • Action Looks Likely  The Economist's Ryan Avent writes, "It looks very likely that the Fed will take additional action before the end of the year. ... The minutes strike me as heartening, because the Fed is clearly looking at the right variables, because it therefore seems more willing to act, and because it seems more likely to focus on useful targets rather than on goals for purchases or interest rates."
  • Why the Fed Is Dropping Hints  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein appraises, "the Federal Reserve is inching closer and closer to further action to support the economy. Whether it'll be enough is anybody's guess. But their ongoing efforts to hint at a coming announcement suggest they're preparing the market for that coming an announcement."
  • Why It Might Not Happen  The Atlantic's Daniel Indiviglio warns, "Will the [Fed] really implement [further intervention] if 'several members' support doing so, while 'some members' do not? [The plan] is bound to be controversial, and the way the minutes read, we've got more than just one committee member against further expansionary action unless the economic data that comes in reflects clear deterioration. The September data thus far hasn't shown that, which might foreshadow a split at the November meeting. If the Fed wants to act in near-unison, and it often prefers to, then [more intervention] might not happen."
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