Bernanke Says Rising Wages Will Lift Spending
Source Michael Perelman
Date 10/08/04/09:20
Bernanke Says Rising Wages Will Lift Spending

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said rising wages would probably spur household spending in the next few quarters, even as weak job gains dragged down consumer confidence.

Separately, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said that the government would press ahead with its overhaul of financial regulation under a new law intended to strengthen supervision and prevent future crises.

Mr. Geithner, who will lead a new committee of senior officials charged with guarding against systemic risks, said regulators would move swiftly to set new rules and provide clarity on their effect. The goal is to avoid the “glacial pace” of most oversight changes and cut through layers of ineffective past efforts, he said.

Investors and the public have been closely watching signals about the economy and the Fed’s possible policy moves to address problems.

While the United States has “a considerable way to go” for a full recovery, “rising demand from households and businesses should help sustain growth,” Mr. Bernanke said on Monday in a speech in Charleston, S.C. “We are maintaining strong monetary policy support for the recovery,” he said in response to an audience question, without discussing any further action the Fed could take to aid growth.

The remarks signal that Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues, when they meet in Washington next week, will stop short of making major changes in their policy statement or taking new steps to lower interest rates and reduce unemployment, said John Ryding, a former Fed researcher. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, “seems likely to pick up in coming quarters from its recent modest pace,” Mr. Bernanke said.

“Further action still has a pretty high hurdle to get over,” said Mr. Ryding, chief economist and a founder at RDQ Economics in New York. “The status quo on policy remains.”

Fed policy makers are now starting to consider how to bolster the recovery and reduce unemployment after a year of developing tools to remove record monetary stimulus.

A report last week showed that the American economy, recovering from the worst recession since the 1930s, slowed to a 2.4 percent annual rate in the second quarter, less than forecast, as a scarcity of jobs eroded consumer spending.

The economy “is now expanding at a moderate pace,” Mr. Bernanke said at the Southern Legislative Conference, a group of lawmakers from 15 states. “To be sure, notable restraints on the recovery persist,” including housing, commercial real estate and the labor market, he said.

A lesson from the Great Depression is that “we need to make sure that monetary policy continues to provide the support the economy needs until we begin to see sustained growth and particularly growth in jobs,” Mr. Bernanke said in response to a question.

The Fed chief devoted most of the speech to current and long-term budget problems for state and local governments. States are cutting spending to close a combined $84 billion of budget deficits. The reductions are “weighing on economic activity,” Mr. Bernanke said.

Mr. Bernanke and the Federal Open Market Committee will meet on Aug. 10 in Washington to discuss interest rates and the economy.

Options outlined last month by Mr. Bernanke to aid growth and keep rates low include using communication to convey the path of borrowing costs, reduce the rate the Fed pays on excess reserves deposited with the central bank and expand the balance sheet through asset purchases.

The Fed signaled in June that Europe’s debt crisis might harm American growth and repeated a pledge to keep interest rates near zero “for an extended period.”

The central bank cut the benchmark interest rate almost to zero in December 2008 and turned to purchases of Treasury, housing-agency and mortgage-backed securities as the main tool of monetary policy.

Alan Greenspan, Mr. Bernanke’s predecessor as Fed chief from 1987 to 2006, said in an NBC interview on Sunday that the slowing recovery felt like a “quasi-recession” and the economy might contract again if home prices declined.

Last week, James Bullard, the St. Louis Fed president, said that the central bank should resume purchases of Treasury securities if the economy slowed and prices fell rather than maintain a pledge to keep rates near zero. “The U.S. is closer to a Japanese-style outcome today than at any time in recent history,” Mr. Bullard said, warning about the possibility of deflation.

At a speech on Monday, however, Mr. Geithner said that the economy was “healing” and was in no danger of confronting a deflationary threat like the challenges that have faced the Japanese economy. The United States now faces the “core challenge” of increasing its savings, he said.

Investors have also been concerned about the impact of the financial overhaul that President Obama signed into law.

The rules give regulators new tools to dismantle a firm whose collapse could threaten global markets, in addition to the new council of regulators. It also accelerates efforts to standardize derivatives markets.

Mr. Geithner said in his speech at New York University on Monday that the new regulations should be set up in a way that helps the economy recover from the financial crisis and recession.

He also said that Americans needed to set aside a larger portion of their income and consider the risks that accompany investing and borrowing. He added that future growth required investor confidence that the United States would cut its deficits over time.

Mr. Geithner said banks were well positioned to adopt new international standards on how much capital banks would be required to hold.

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