Fed Holding Firm With Help to Slow-Growth Economy
CNBC.com Senior Writer
The Federal Reserve will continue its efforts to stimulate the economy, which the central bank said continues to suffer from slow growth and pressure from weak fiscal policy.
As it has done in recent meetings, the central bank's Open Market Committee said it stands at the ready to provide more stimulative measures beyond the $3 trillion in money-printing on which it has embarked since the financial crisis began in 2008.
"The Committee remains concerned that, without sufficient policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor market conditions," the FOMC said in its standard post-meeting statement. "Furthermore, strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook." (Read More: Fed Easing Has Little Impact So Far: Out of Bullets?)
Most of the statement featured language familiar to Fed-watchers — concern over the muddling economy which it said is not being helped by fiscal foot-dragging in Washington. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has implored policymakers to avoid what he calls a "fiscal cliff," a reference to the series of tax increases and spending cuts that will take place if Congress and the White House cannot agree on deficit-reduction measures by the end of the year.
The only differences in wording from recent statements entailed the observation that consumer spending has picked up, business investment has slowed, and a note that inflation "has recently picked up somewhat" due to increased energy prices.
The Fed said it intends to keep its target rate near zero "at least through mid-2015," a pledge aimed as much at interest rates as it is in assuring investors that it will be an active participant in helping generate economic progress.
Though critics charge the central bank is suppressing normal drivers of the economy and risking inflation in the process, it shows no signs of letting up.
"What the Fed has been trying to do for a long time now is to elevate asset prices," Bill Gross, CEO at Pimco, the Newport Beach, Calif.-based bond giant, told CNBC. "They pumped the stock market until 2000, then they pumped the housing market until 2007 and now they pumped the stock market again — doubled it over the past three or four years — and now they're working on housing. It's a fair question as to whether this is an appropriate policy."
The latest statement comes a little more than a month after the Fed responded to a stubbornly high unemployment rate and weak growth by launching the third round of its quantitative easing program, or QE3.
In this instance, the central bank is focusing on buying $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities a month in an effort to spur home buying and refinancing. Fed officials hope wealth in the housing market will spread through the economy and spur hiring. (Read More: Here's What's Really Holding Back the US Jobs Market)
But QE3 results have been lackluster, with the stock market stumbling through a poor earnings season and mortgage rates actually moving higher despite the Fed purchases.
In addition to QE3, the Fed also is engaged in what is known as Operation Twist, in which it sells short-dated debt and buys an equal amount of longer-dated securities in an effort to drive down borrowing rates.
That, too, has been less than successful, with the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond yield rising as investors continued to flee risk assets.