The US Federal Reserve on Wednesday slashed its forecast for growth, raised projections for unemployment and said it was mulling the possibility of buying more mortgage debt to spur a struggling recovery.
While members of the Fed’s policy-setting panel voted 9 to 1 to hold a steady course, one official urged more stimulative action now and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Europe’s debt crisis posed major economic risks.
At a news conference after a two-day meeting, Bernanke said buying more mortgage-backed securities was an option to help the economy and added that the US central bank was still looking for ways to give clearer guidance on its policy path.
“While we still expect that -economic activity and labor market conditions will improve gradually over time, the pace of progress is likely to be frustratingly slow,” he said.
“Moreover, there are significant downside risks to the economic outlook,” Bernanke said. “Most notably, concerns about European fiscal and banking issues have contributed to strains in global financial markets, which have likely had adverse effects on confidence and growth.”
He said the Fed was “closely” monitoring developments in Europe.
G20 political leaders were schedule to meet in Cannes, France yesterday and today, with the eurozone debt crisis expected to dominate talks.
One analyst speculated that concern about potential instability in Europe — especially after a shock decision by Greece to hold a referendum on a bailout package that had been agreed to — likely played into the Fed’s decision.
“The Fed probably wanted to preserve its ammo until there was more clarity on how the European sovereign debt crisis unfolds,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist for The Economic Outlook Group, in Princeton, New Jersey.
The Fed’s decision had little impact on financial markets. US stocks held early gains, prices of 10-year Treasury notes were little changed on the day and prices for MBS tracked the larger debt market.
In fresh quarterly projections, the Fed lowered forecasts for growth and raised forecasts for unemployment for this year, next year and 2013. Policymakers do not see the jobless rate, now at 9.1 percent, falling to a level they consider consistent with full employment even by the outer edge of their forecasting horizon, the final quarter of 2014.
Officials now expect the world’s largest economy to grow 2.5 percent to 2.9 percent next year, down from the rosier 3.3 percent to 3.7 percent they were expecting in June, with inflation muted over the forecast horizon.
They see the unemployment rate going no lower than between 8.5 percent and 8.7 percent by the end of next year, up from the 7.8 percent to 8.2 percent range envisioned in June.
Fed officials believe the economy will have reached full employment when the jobless rate drops to between 5.2 percent and 6 percent, with a growing number seeing it at the top of that range. In their forecast, the unemployment rate would still be at 6.8 percent to 7.7 percent at the end of 2014.
Bernanke has called the lofty level of US unemployment a national crisis and some officials at the central bank have urged new steps to foster stronger growth.
Chicago Federal Reserve Bank president Charles Evans dissented on Wednesday because he wanted to ease policy, while the three officials who voted against an easing in September supported the consensus.