WASHINGTON - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke Tuesday underlined his currently dovish credentials, saying in a rare television network interview that while encouraged by recent economic data, he remains "cautious" is against changing the Fed's highly accommodative stance "too quickly."
He also cautioned that if economic conditions should become stronger or weaker, the Fed's estimate that interest rates will remain low through late-2014 will have to change.
In the transcript of an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer to air at 6:30 p.m. ET, Bernanke warned that economy still has "a long way to go," adding "it's far too early to declare victory."
Bernanke's concern remains the nation's employment crisis, and he said despite more jobs being created, the 8.3% unemployment rate remains "too high," and it is important for to support the recovery and help people get back to work.
Also, "housing remains a big concern for us," he said, describing the market as "kinda still pretty flat."
"We're not really yet in a full-fledged housing recovery. And you know, that will be part of the full recovery of the economy," Bernanke added.
As a result, "I think as policymakers we need to be cautious and not change policy too quickly," the Fed chief said. "I think it's really important not to be complacent."
"We need to be cautious and make sure this is sustainable ... we haven't quite yet got to the point where we can be completely confident that we're on a track to full recovery," he said.
Going forward, Bernanke said he would like to see stronger growth that will guarantee progress in the labor market. "Unless we get faster growth than we've been seeing it is probably going to take a while still," he said.
Still, Bernanke said he is sleeping "a little better," noting for example that "some of the issues related to Europe where there's been a lot of financial stress have become a little bit less worrisome lately."
As for the expectation by the Fed's policymaking Federal Open Market Committee that interest rates will remain low at least through late-2014, Bernanke warned that the statement should not be taken as a guarantee.
"We've said very clearly that that's our best estimate ... . But of course if the economy looks different, if things get a lot stronger or a lot weaker we'll have to change our plans," he said.
"As things continue to improve, if they improve at the rate I hope that they will, we'll obviously change our forecast and communicate that we think that things are normalizing," he said.
As for whether the Fed would implement another round of quantitative easing, Bernanke said:
"We don't take any options off the table. We don't know what's going to happen in the future and we have to be prepared to respond to however the economy evolves."
With regard to the second leg of the Fed's dual mandate, price stability, Bernanke said he has 100% confidence the Fed will be able to unwind its massive balance sheet when the time comes, adding, "I'm not guaranteeing that the inflation will be exactly on target, but we're going to do our very, very best to make sure it is."
The current high level of gasoline prices is also weighing on the minds of consumers, and Bernanke acknowledged they are "a major problem," but -- from the economy's point of view -- they are a moderate risk.
"We'll see a little bit higher inflation the next few months because of the higher gas prices," he said. "And we'll see consumers with a little less income to spend. And that will also be a bit of a hit on growth. But at this level ... we don't think it's going to be anything that's going to stall the recovery," he said.
Some are of the opinion that the Fed will remain in a holding pattern until after the November elections in order to avoid becoming a target for politicians that are never shy about bashing the central bank.
Bernanke, however, reiterated the Fed's singular focus on helping the economy with no attention paid to political rhetoric.
"Our job is to do the right thing for the economy irrespective of politics. And we're not paying any attention to election calendars or political debates. We're looking at the economy. We want to make the right decision. We want to do it without political pressure, and that's what we're going to do," he said.
Bernanke also repeated his hope that before the administration and Congress will act before the end of the year when a sharp change in fiscal policy is set to take effect.
"Important thing is whether people can get together and do what's necessary for the country, and we're urging them to do that," he said.
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