After months of talking about taking action – and widespread speculation that another round of quantitative easing was on the way – the Federal Reserve is officially taking steps to aid the ailing economy.
The news is apt to upset community bankers such as Wes Smith, the president and chief executive of Northwest Georgia Bank in Ringgold, who told American Banker earlier this week he was "hoping [Ben Bernanke] won't do anything."
Bernanke is doing lots, it turns out. Specifically, the central bank plans to purchase $85 billion in long-term bonds a month through the rest of the year and then add $40 billion of mortgage-backed debt per month in 2013 until the jobs outlook improves. It also pledged to keep interest rates near zero until at least mid-2015. The Fed says these efforts are necessary if the nation is ever to escape high levels of unemployment.
"The Committee is concerned that, without further policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor market conditions," the statement reads. "Furthermore, strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook."
Some individuals agree.
"We need to do whatever it takes to end the unemployment crisis, restore confidence in the American economy and allow millions of Americans looking for jobs to go back to work," one NPR reader commented. "This move is a crucial step towards restoring our economy and aiding so many Americans that are jobless."
But naysayers are quick to point out that quantitative easing – especially the unlimited kind – all too closely resembles money-printing and will further depreciate the U.S. dollar.
"Bernanke will go down in history as the Fed chairman who crashed the dollar," one Washington Post reader lamented.
Beyond that, others feel the offensive – which, at its core, resembles what the Fed has done in the past – may simply be a big waste of time. (There was more than one reference to Einstein’s definition of insanity in various news outlet comment streams.)
"In the past this bond buying or QE had done nothing," one New York Times commenter wrote. "The Fed is wrong to keep interest rates so low. It harms anyone with a saving account, saving bond etc. In short, it discourages any kind of savings."
What's your take on the Fed's big move? Will it help the economy and what effect is it likely to have on banks? Let us know in the comments section below.
Jeanine Skowronski is the deputy editor of BankThink.