Fed official mulls early end to bond-buying plan
WASHINGTON – A Federal Reserve official on Friday called on the central bank to consider ending its $600 billion Treasury bond-purchase program, fearing it could lead to higher inflation.
Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, told a group of business journalists in Dallas that the economy is stronger now and no longer needs the support of the stimulus program.
He also raised concerns that pumping billions into the economy through the bond-purchase program could lead to higher prices. Inflation is rising, mostly pushed up by higher costs for energy, food and other commodities.
"It may well be that we should consider curtailing what remains" of the program," Fisher said. The program is slated to end in June.
Fisher has been an outspoken critic of the program but has joined the other voting members in supporting it without changes. His recent comments suggest he may vote against maintaining the pace and size of the program at the Fed's next meeting April 26-27.
The Fed's bond-buying program was announced in early November, a time when the economy was fragile and some feared it was in danger of slipping back into recession. The program aims to invigorate the economy by spurring Americans to spend more.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has said the program has helped the economy by lowering rates on loans and raising prices on stocks. The Fed at its March meeting voted unanimously to stick with the program, even after declaring that the recovery is on "firmer footing." Unemployment has fallen to 8.8 percent, a two-year low.
Fisher argued that the Fed did its job. Continuing to provide economic stimulus through the bond-buying program poses "significant risks" to the economy, he said.
The recent run-up in oil prices has sparked fresh disagreements within the Fed about when it should reverse course and start tightening credit.
"Now, we at the Fed are nearing a tipping point," Fisher said.
Minutes of the Fed's March 15 meeting released earlier this week showed that a few members believed the Fed might have to start boosting interest rates this year to keep inflation in check. Those members weren't identified. But other Fed members said it is important to keep those rates near zero into next year to support the economy.
Taking questions after his speech, Fisher wouldn't say when the Fed should start boosting its key rate, which has been at a record low since December 2008. "Before you tighten, you put an end to accommodation, so let's get there first," he said, referring to the bond-buying program.
However, Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said the economy still needs the support of the bond-buying program. "There is still a halting and fragile quality to the economy," Lockhart said in a speech Friday to economists in Knoxville, Tenn.
AP Business Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.