Lockhart joins Evans clarifying goals for job-market gains

Two Federal Reserve officials said they need to see stronger job growth before backing a slower pace of bond purchases as they sought to clarify the level of improvement in the labor market they are seeking.

Several months of job creation exceeding 180,000 and declining unemployment would mean “in the second half of the year or in early 2014 it would be appropriate to consider the tapering off,” Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said today during a panel discussion in Dayton, Ohio. Chicago’s Charles Evans, speaking on the same panel, said he’d like to see payrolls at “200,000-a-month increases for like six months.”

The presidents’ numerical objectives help clarify a pledge by the Federal Open Market Committee to press on with record bond buying until the labor market improves “substantially.” While Fed officials set different goals, they agree they’ve fallen short of their mandate to ensure full employment. Evans is an FOMC voter this year, while Lockhart is not.

Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in December policy makers haven’t specified a numerical goal that would prompt the end of asset purchases because “we have a number of different things that we need to look at as we go forward.”

Bernanke’s deputy, Vice Chairman Janet Yellen, has said that in addition to the unemployment rate and pace of payrolls growth, she’ll track hiring, job loss and her forecasts for spending and economic growth.

Evans said to reporters after the panel he wants 200,000 payroll growth “month after month for at least six months, and a rising profile for that would be extremely welcome.”

‘Good Sign’

Some months with a 250,000 increase in payrolls “would be a good sign,” Evans said. “I don’t want to be complacent. I want to make sure I have enough confidence in the improvement in the labor market outlook.”

“I would hope that we can conclude these purchases as soon as possible because that would mean that the economy is ramping up in a very substantial way,” he said during the panel.

The Fed has expanded its balance sheet to a record $3.2 trillion by buying $85 billion a month in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to boost economic growth and reduce 7.7% unemployment.

Stocks were little changed and Treasuries advanced after a report from the Labor Department showed more Americans than forecast filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose less than 0.1% to 1,553.74 at 1:22 p.m. in New York. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.76% from 1.81% late yesterday.

The U.S. economy this year probably won’t exceed the modest growth of recent years, Lockhart said at the University of Dayton during a panel moderated by Kathleen Hays of Bloomberg Radio.

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