By Tim McLaughlin, Senior Vice President, Weichert Financial
The Federal Reserve said it will buy $45 billion a month of Treasury securities starting in January, expanding its asset purchase program, and it linked the outlook for its main interest rate to unemployment and inflation.
“The committee remains concerned that, without sufficient policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor-market conditions,” the Federal Open Market Committee said Wednesday at the conclusion of a two day meeting in Washington.
The Fed said interest rates will stay low “at least as long” as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 percent and if inflation “between one and two years ahead” is projected to be no more than 2.5 percent. The committee “views these thresholds as consistent with its earlier date-based guidance.”
Chairman Ben Bernanke is using his unlimited authority to buy Treasuries in an unprecedented effort to stoke growth and reduce 7.7 percent unemployment. The Fed acted in its last regular meeting of the year as lawmakers and the Obama administration continue talks to avert more than $600 billion of automatic spending cuts and tax increases that threaten to throw the country into a recession.
The buying announced today will be in addition to $40 billion a month of mortgage debt purchases. The FOMC said asset buying will continue “if the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially.”
The latest move will follow the expiration at the end of this year of Operation Twist, in which the central bank each month has swapped about $45 billion in short term Treasuries for an equal amount of long term debt. That program kept the total size of the balance sheet unchanged, while the new purchases will expand the Fed’s holdings.
The infusion of $458 a month of Treasury purchases combined with the continued purchases of $408 a month in Mortgage Backed Securities, in addition to a prescribed timeline of “until employment reaches a level of below 6.5%”, all equate to continued historically low interest rates into the first quarter of 2013.