Bernanke has "finger on trigger" for new bond buys

Thu Jan 26, 2012 12:41am EST
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By Ann Saphir and Jonathan Spicer

CHICAGO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve has moved closer to embarking on a new round of its controversial money-pumping after the central bank and its chairman Ben Bernanke highlighted a grim outlook for the U.S. economy.

Bernanke on Wednesday opened the door a bit wider for the Fed to return to buying securities in the months ahead to buttress a weak recovery and keep inflation from slipping too far below its newly adopted 2-percent target.

"It sounds like the finger is on the trigger," said Thomas Simons, a money market economist at Jefferies & Co.

The Fed's announcement that it was unlikely to raise interest rates until at least late 2014, more than a year beyond its previous guidance, immediately pushed down Treasury bond yields and Bernanke's comments to the media raised expectations of a further round of so-called quantitative easing, or QE3.

It remains to be seen if the potential political backlash proves too daunting.

The prospect of the Fed pumping yet more money into the U.S. economy was seized upon by Republican hopeful Newt Gingrich to slam President Barack Obama's record. That highlighted the political pitfalls for the Fed in an election year.

Barring an unexpected pick-up in inflation or the U.S. economy suddenly kicking into a higher gear, Bernanke said it was logical that the Fed should look at ways to do more to help.

"The framework makes very clear that we need to be thinking about ways to provide further stimulus if we don't get improvement in the pace of recovery and a normalization of inflation," he told a quarterly news conference.   Continued...

<p>U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gives testimony at a Joint Economic Committee hearing on the economic outlook, on Capitol Hill in Washington October 4, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst</p>