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Fed's Plosser: Twist will do little for growth

Philadelphia Federal Reserve President Charles Plosser speaks at an Economics21 event in New York
Philadelphia Federal Reserve President Charles Plosser speaks at an Economics21 event in New York

By Kristina Cooke

RADNOR, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve's move last week to further lower borrowing costs was risky and won't significantly speed up a "painfully protracted" recovery, one of the officials who dissented against the decision said on Thursday.

Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Plosser said he was skeptical the central bank's so-called "Operation Twist" will prompt businesses to hire or consumers to spend given a backdrop of continued structural adjustments in the economy and fiscal uncertainty.

"We should not take certain actions simply because we can," Plosser, one of the central bank's most vocal inflation hawks told a forum of business leaders in Radnor, Pennsylvania. "The ills we currently face are not readily resolved through ever more accommodative monetary policy."

The Fed said last week it plans to buy $400 billion of longer-term Treasuries and sell the same amount of shorter-term Treasuries by the end of June 2012, in an effort to lower longer-term borrowing costs.

It also said it would support the mortgage market by reinvesting principal payments from its mortgage-related debt into mortgage-backed securities.

Plosser warned the Fed's extraordinarily easy policies could lead to high inflation down the road, even with unemployment still high.

"Creating an environment of stagflation, reminiscent of the 1970s, will not help businesses, the unemployed or the consumer. It is an outcome we must carefully guard against," he said.

The Philadelphia Fed chief said he also objects to the Fed's pledge to keep interest rates low for two years, as according to his forecast they will need to be raised earlier.

That said, there would be scenarios in which he would support further easing: if the European sovereign debt crisis led to a major financial market disruptions or if deflation became a real threat.

"I do not see either of these scenarios in my forecast, so I do not anticipate that further accommodative monetary policy actions will need to be taken," he said.

Plosser cut his forecast for 2011 economic growth, pointing to a number of factors including the Japanese earthquake, the European sovereign debt crisis and Washington's stand-off over the debt ceiling.

"While many of these factors are transitory, and each will wane eventually, the cumulative effect has served to feed uncertainty and inhibit growth," he said.

He is now expecting growth to be less than 2 percent this year and around 3 percent in 2012. He previously expected growth of between 3 and 3.5 percent in 2011.

"Although the downside risks around this forecast are significant, I do not believe the current data signal that we are on the precipice of a so-called double-dip recession," he said.

But six million people out of work for 27 weeks or longer "underscores that we should not expect any easy solution," Plosser said.

"Millions of unemployed workers may take longer to find jobs because their skills have depreciated or they may need to seek employment in other sectors. These structural issues will take time to resolve," he said.

Plosser expected the unemployment rate to hold steady this year before falling to around 8 to 8.5 percent by the end of 2012.

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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