Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke is sick of sitting on the sidelines and on Thursday announced an aggressive new plan to boost the economic recovery by pushing down longer-term interest rates. Econ pundits have been awaiting today's announcement for weeks following Bernanke's warnings that the country's "grave" unemployment rate is untenable. But until now, nobody knew how much the Fed would be willing to spend on a new bond-buying program (the answer: $40 billion per month for an open-ended period of time). Does the new scheme have a shot at working? Here's what experts are saying:
This isn't going to make a difference, says Wilmer Stith, manager of the Wilmington Broad Market Bond Fund. "QE3, QE4 or QE5 may not do much to boost the economy. The bigger issues are concerns about the election, regulation and the fiscal cliff," he said, noting that congressional action is the only thing that can save the recovery. "If we fall off the fiscal cliff, we'd likely enter another recession."
Not true: It could instill much-need confidence, says Reuters blogger Felix Salmon. "The Fed is now trying to boost the economy by promising to continue buying bonds, in a zero-interest-rate environment, for many, many quarters to come. It’s the promise, rather than the purchases themselves, which is the main difference between QE3 and its predecessors," he says. "The Fed’s balance sheet is a powerful tool to use — but its vocal chords might be even more powerful still."
It's better than doing nothing, says CNN Money columnist Paul La Monica. "Bernanke seems to have learned his lesson and now realizes that the bigger risk is to sit and wait. It would be a mistake to assume that everything will work out okay in Congress," he writes. "If the Fed isn't there to reassure the markets and big foreign owners of our debt like China and Japan that it has a plan to keep rates low in the event the economy grinds to a complete standstill, bond yields could quickly shoot higher. And then the comparisons to the most debt-laden nations in Europe would quickly become more apt."
Any effect it has will be 'microscopic,' says Catherine Mann, a former Federal Reserve economist and current Brandeis University finance professor. "The Fed continues to want the economy to grow faster and specifically, to grow more jobs, but the ability of QE to do that is extraordinarily limited," she says. "We know that QE reduced interest rates, but we also know that has not led to more construction, more mortgages, more business investment, or more lending. Since it hasn't done any of that, it probably hasn't created jobs either."
It will likely do harm, says Ameriprise senior economist Russel Price. "I believe the Fed has already reached the point of diminishing returns on its bond-purchase programs and further action could do more economic harm than good," he says. "Most notably, the added liquidity being supplied by the Fed in its effort to create some demand-driven inflation is instead more-often-than-not generating the unwelcome result of supply-push inflation."