Bernanke tells Congress Fed flexible on bond buying

Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:03am EDT
 
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By Alister Bull and Pedro da Costa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday the U.S. central bank still expects to start scaling back its massive bond purchase program later this year, but he left open the option of changing that plan if the economic outlook shifted.

While sticking closely to a time line to wind down the bond buying that he first outlined last month, Bernanke went out of his way in testimony to Congress to stress that nothing was set in stone.

"Our asset purchases depend on economic and financial developments, but they are by no means on a preset course," he said in remarks prepared for delivery to the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.

The remarks pushed up U.S. stock futures and government bond prices, while the dollar softened against the euro and the yen.

"There is something in these comments for everybody," said Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington. "Bernanke has done a good job of leaving himself plenty of maneuver room in terms of policy."

Bernanke's semi-annual testimony to Congress, which may be his last if the chairman steps down when his term ends in January, as many expect, will be followed by a lengthy question and answer session with the committee's members when the hearing begins at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT). He appears again before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

The Fed has held overnight interest rates near zero since December 2008, while more than tripling its balance sheet to about $3.46 trillion with a series of bond purchases. In its third and latest asset purchase program, it has been buying $85 billion in U.S. Treasury and mortgage-related bonds each month to drive down borrowing costs and spur investment and hiring.

Bernanke set off a brief but fierce global market sell-off last month when he outlined plans to reduce this quantitative easing program, and he has joined a slew of officials since then who have spelled out their intention to keep rates near zero well after the bond buying ends.   Continued...

 
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke attends a meeting of the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts in this July 10, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter/Files