federal reserve

10 things to know about what Bernanke said

6. Asset purchase programs are not without cost or risk and can't be started willy-nilly.

"Each program has costs and risks, with respect to market forces and (the) exit process, and should not be launched lightly," Bernanke said. "In terms of the costs, I would list briefly: large asset purchases increase (the) size of (the) balance sheet and make exiting an extended process."

As well, if the Fed holds overly large shares of one type of security, "it may affect market functioning," he said.

But there is more that the Fed can do -- and they will do it."We do have considerable scope to do more and will stand by to do more, and looking primarily at the labor market in this respect. If we're not seeing sustained improvement, it will require further actions," Bernanke said. "Maturity extension. We have taken that as far as we can. So (we) would have to take other steps to add stimulus to the economy."

7. The Volcker rule could have helped prevent JPMorgan's $2 billion 'London Whale' loss.

"Compensation would not incentivize managers to take proprietary positions," Bernanke said. "The control and governance aspects of it might have potentially changed the outcome."

8. Actions by the Federal Reserve have helped everyone, even the people who don't qualify for credit, though the benefits are indirect.

"Access to credit is a major issue. Mortgage access is much tighter than it has been, and credit card access is more restricted than it has been in the past, which mutes the effectiveness of the Fed's actions.

"But many Americans are able to take advantage of lower interest rates … There has been an impact through lower interest rates, but more broadly, there are indirect effects. If a firm has a low cost of capital, (it) can borrow, expand to add products and (is) more likely to hire. The extent to which payrolls have increased in the last few years is disappointing. There has been hiring and some comes from Federal Reserve policy on spending and investment. It promotes hiring and demand for products that people are producing," Bernanke said.

9. Economic data are currently as clear as mud, but employment is definitely bad.

"Incoming data were somewhat disappointing, but it is not entirely clear how to read them. Europe has additional problems, and there is some case to be made for making additional judgments about where the economy is going," Bernanke said.

"Unemployment is still too high, but it is going down -- too slowly, but it is going down. Our sense is that people are finding jobs but not at the rate we would like to see. If we don't see continued improvement, we will be prepared to take additional steps," he said.

10. It's true, Fed policies have purposely pushed investors into riskier asset classes.

"Interest rates are quite low and are being pushed down by safe-haven flows and other factors, but we can lower interest rates more. Operation Twist and other asset purchases work through other channels. In particular, by acquiring securities in the market and bringing them onto the Fed balance sheet, we essentially induce investors to move into substantive securities," Bernanke said.

"For example, an investor who sells a security to the Fed may end up buying a corporate bond instead, and the effect will be to lower corporate bond rates and corporate spreads. Or, a bank having sold a Treasury security may decide to make a loan. It's not just the effect on long-term interest rates, but it feeds through other interest rates and other spreads," he said.


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