CHICAGO — Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans said Tuesday he would welcome a few more meetings before deciding to begin to taper the asset purchase program in order to gain assurance that labor market improvements are sustainable.
"I'm not in a hurry, myself, to reduce the flow of purchase rate," Evans said at an Illinois Bankers Association event in Chicago. "A couple more meetings to have assurance that labor market improvement is sustainable would be quite welcome."
If the Fed's policymaking Federal Open Market Committee began to taper and then found out labor market improvements were not sustainable, Evans said he would "have some regret over that decision," adding "I'd rather wait just a little bit longer and have more confidence in that."
Evans, an FOMC voter, gave the audience a "ballpark figure" of about $1.5 trillion as the total size of the FOMC's quantitative easing program by the time it comes to an end.
"I said it's likely to be $1.25 trillion several months ago and now it looks like we are going on longer, at least at the full $85 billion (a month) pace," he said. "We could bring it in more quickly if conditions warranted, but given current conditions I wouldn't be surprised if its $1.5 trillion, and it could be a little bit more than that."
The FOMC meets again Dec. 17-18, after deciding in October to continue the pace of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed security purchases. At this meeting, committee members will see an updated Summary of Economic Projections and Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke will hold a press conference at the conclusion.
Since Bernanke earlier in the year mentioned the possibly pulling back on purchases and ending the program around mid-2014, interest rates, particularly on mortgages, began to rise.
Evans said he wants to see how those higher rates impact the overall economy.
"We should just wait a few more months, if it takes a few more meetings, to see whether or not that's actually quite restrictive or if that's something the current robust economy could handle in stride," he said.
While growth in the private sector has been strong, Evans said, "I still have a number of questions as to whether or not financial conditions are overly restrictive relative to the more optimistic outlook that the SEP had envisioned in June and September."
As for actually exiting the asset purchase program, Evans said he would like to see it done in a way that reinforces the Fed's commitment to accommodative policy. He said he would like to ensure the taper "is not in fact more restrictive," but rather that it's a bona fide continuation of accommodative policy."
To that end, Evans said he would support lowering the unemployment threshold to 5.5%, from the current level of 6.5%, as a paper earlier this month from Federal Reserve Board researchers suggested.
Evans also said at the current pace of purchases, he is not concerned about the size of the balance sheet.
"Within the range of how I see this program playing out, I don't see a balance sheet size which is much of a problem," he said. "I think it's far more important at the moment to make sure that we understand the sustainability issues with regards to the labor market improvement and if that takes a little bit longer to get to an assurance there, that's fine."
Evans, who has previously said he would like to see 200,000 net new jobs created each month, noted that he wants to see the pace continue for about six months.
"The fact that we haven't seen that sustainability is certainly some chinks in the labor market improvement's armor," he said.
Meanwhile, the low level of inflation, is an indication the Fed needs to continue its accommodative policy, but that at the moment it is "not ringing alarm bells," Evans said.
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