Business,Business News,Business Opportunities WASHINGTON — Slumping job growth has alarmed some economistswho fear the U.S. economy is in trouble. Ben Bernanke doesn't appear to be one of them. The Federal Reserve chief sketched a hopeful outlook in testimonyto a congressional panel Thursday and sent no signals that the Fedwill take further steps soon to aid the economy. Bernanke acknowledged that Europe's debt crisis poses risks to theU.S.
financial markets. He also noted that U.S. unemploymentremains high at 8.2 percent. And he said the Fed is prepared totake steps to boost the U.S.
economy if it weakens. But he said Fed officials still need to study the most recenteconomic trends, including job growth. For now, Bernanke said heforesees moderate growth this year. He said he's mindful that all that could change, if Europe's crisisquickly worsened or U.S. job growth stalled.
"As always, the Federal Reserve remains prepared to take action asneeded to protect the U.S. financial system and economy in theevent that financial stresses escalate," he told the Joint EconomicCommittee. The Fed could buy more bonds to try to further reduce long-terminterest rates, which might encourage more borrowing and spending.Or it could extend its plan to keep short-term rates near zerobeyond late 2014 until an even later date. But most economists don't expect a major announcement at the Fed'snext policy meeting June 19-20, despite signals this week from someother Fed members in favor of considering further action.
For one thing, long-term U.S. interest rates have already touchedrecord lows. Even if rates dropped further, analysts say they mightprovide little benefit for the economy. They say it's unlikely thatmany businesses and consumers who aren't borrowing now at super-lowrates would do so if rates declined a bit more. And Bernanke could face pressure not to pursue further stimulusbefore the November election because such steps could be perceivedas helping President Barack Obama win re-election.
"The Fed stimulative effects have really run their course," Obama'sRepublican opponent, Mitt Romney, argued in a television interviewlast week. John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros, economists at RDQ Economics, saidthere was nothing in the testimony to "tip Bernanke's hand" beforethe June meeting of the Fed's policy committee. "Yes, the Fed chairman said the Fed stands ready to act if Europeposes a threat to the U.S. financial system or the economy," theywrote in a note to clients. "However, he gave no specifics." An early rally on Wall Street faded after Bernanke signaled noimmediate further steps from the Fed to help the economy.
The DowJones industrial average had been up as much as 140 points. Itclosed up about 46 points, or 0.3 percent. Many analysts are worried that the U.S. economy is suffering amidyear slump just as in 2010 and 2011. They're concerned inparticular about the job market.
From December through February,the economy added an average 252,000 jobs a month. But since then,job growth has slowed to a lackluster 96,000 a month. In May, U.S.employers added just 69,000 jobs – the fewest in a year. Bernanke said the Fed is still assessing the most recent employmentdata. Like many economists, Bernanke suggested that a warm wintermight have prompted some hiring that normally would have occurredlater.
That could have weakened hiring temporarily in the spring.If that's true, hiring might bounce back. Still, Bernanke said some of the winter hiring might have made upfor excessive job cuts during the recession. If so, and if thosecompanies have completed such "catch-up" hiring, then strongereconomic growth might be needed to boost hiring, Bernanke said. "That is the essential question we will have to look at," he toldthe panel.
The government said last week that the economy grew at a sluggishannual rate of 1.9 percent in the first three months of 2012. Paul Edelstein, an economist at IHS Global Insight, said he thoughtBernanke didn't seem alarmed by the weak hiring in May. "His view is that it isn't a sign that the economy is fallingapart," Edelstein said. Bernanke's mesغير مجاز مي باشدe to financial markets, Edelstein said, was,"Don't expect anything drastic from the Fed at the June meeting." That said, if the Fed does announce some new action at its meetinglater this month, Edelstein said the most likely step would be toextend a program, known as Operation Twist, that will expire at theend of June.
Under Operation Twist, the Fed sells shorter-term securities andbuys longer-term bonds. As with other Fed bond purchases, the ideahas been to drive down long-term rates so that mortgages, autoloans and other consumer and business loans become more attractive. The Fed's policy committee has been split between those who favordoing everything possible to strengthen the economy and reduceunemployment, and those more concerned about inflation risks. On Wednesday, Janet Yellen, the vice chairman of the Fed, DennisLockhart, the head of the Atlanta regional Fed Bank, and JohnWilliams, Flat Head Screws Suppliers president of the San Francisco Fed bank, all suggestedthat the Fed might need to do more to provide support. But Rep.
Kevin Brady, R-Texas, warned at Thursday's hearing againstmore bond buying. He and other critics worry that ever-lowerborrowing rates could eventually ignite inflation. "It is my belief that the Fed has done all that it can do and hasperhaps done too much," said Brady, vice chairman of the committee.
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