Bernanke reiterated last week that the FOMC will buy bonds until seeing signs of substantial labor-market improvement.
“Job growth is strong,” said Thomas Costerg, an economist at Standard Chartered Plc in New York, who expects the FOMC in September to reduce monthly purchases to $75 billion. “If we continue to see some strong nonfarm payroll data and the housing market continues to be good they would probably go in September,” he said, referring to the FOMC’s first tapering.
The proportion of unemployed workers who have been without a job for six months or more has fallen to less than 37% from about 40% when Bernanke launched the current round of quantitative easing in September.
“September is about as long as they can wait” to taper, said Christopher Low, the chief economist at FTN Financial in New York, who expects the Fed to cut monthly purchases to $65 billion in September.
“Bernanke’s commitment to cut gradually in a series of measured steps implies that this isn’t the kind of thing they’ll do in three months,” he said. “It requires more time than that because they want to gauge the economic impact as they scale it back.”
Fifteen% of economists expect the FOMC to make its first cut in bond buying at its Oct. 29-30 meeting, while 28% forecast the move at the Dec. 17-18 gathering, the date of Bernanke’s final scheduled press conference for the year.
“Tapering doesn’t mean that they’re any closer to raising the funds rate,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc., referring to the benchmark interest rate.
Bernanke “is trying to say there’s a big difference between ending our QE and the time when we would raise the funds rate, which would be considerably after QE ends,” he said.