FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Dennis Lockhart Thursday said the Fed should be confident that the economic recovery is progressing along the right path before dialing back its aggressive near term support for the economy.
Speaking to reporters after a speech to business leaders, Lockhart reiterated that he believes the question of tapering the Fed's $85 billion a month in bond purchases should be "on the table" at the December meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
"December is certainly a meeting in which the issue can be addressed," he said, although, given the noise injected into the data by the October government shutdown, "I want to be quite confident that the economy is on a track I believe it is on."
"It helps when the data are reliable," he added.
U.S. Q3 GDP data released Thursday showed a larger-than-expected upward revision to 3.6% growth from the advance estimate of 2.8%. However, the GDP top number masks weaker underlying data as it is mostly from additional inventory building.
Lockhart highlighted this weakness, and warned that the buildup in inventories in Q3 likely means there will be an offset in Q4.
"And that means that the strong third quarter doesn't make a trend," he said, adding that, "it doesn't drive me to the conclusion that we've had a breakout in terms of growth."
"I am not prepared to interpret the revised third quarter number as an indication that the economy is on a much stronger track, I think we are still on that relatively moderate growth track," Lockhart said.
Lockhart favors announcing a timetable for winding down the Fed's asset purchases once the central bank decides to start tapering, and he said it would be "very helpful to a transition to a QE-free environment."
At same time, the FOMC should make clear that should economic conditions change dramatically, "we will respond," he said.
The November jobs data will be released Friday and Lockhart said a strong report would be "one small little increment of greater confidence for me that we are on the track that I've been forecasting."
"That is the basis for being prepared to make a decision (on tapering)," he added.
Lockhart believes monetary conditions should remain highly accommodative even after the Fed tapers QE, and there has been talk of the central bank perhaps lowering its 6.5% unemployment rate threshold or cutting the interest rate on banks' excess reserves to add more stimulus.
"At this point my mind is not made up on any of the fine details of what we could do," Lockhart said, noting there are pros and cons attached to each idea.
Still, "these are all ideas that are still in play I would say," he said.
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