BUSINESS
11/19/2010 08:10 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bernanke Defends The Fed, Takes A Shot At China

WASHINGTON: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday hit back at critics of the U.S. central bank's controversial bond-buying program and issued a thinly veiled attack on China's policy of keeping its currency depressed.

Bernanke, facing a firestorm of protests from within and outside the central bank, said a more vigorous U.S. economy was essential to the global recovery and dismissed charges he was debasing the dollar.

"The best way to continue to deliver the strong economic fundamentals that underpin the value of the dollar, as well as to support the global recovery, is through policies that lead to a resumption of robust growth in a context of price stability in the United States," Bernanke said in comments prepared for delivery to a conference at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt on Friday.

The Fed's November 3 decision to buy a further $600 billion in U.S. government debt generated outrage among many nations who charged the United States with seeking to weaken the dollar to gain an export edge.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has called the policy "clueless." Domestic critics have also lashed out, arguing the policy could ignite inflation and fuel asset bubbles.

Fed officials circled their wagons this week to defend the program. Two officials added their endorsements on Thursday, another expressed opposition, while a fourth said monetary policy should not play the main role in driving a stronger recovery.

SOCIAL COST

In his remarks, Bernanke said sluggish growth, declines in inflation and an unemployment rate that has hovered near 10 percent for months convinced U.S. policymakers they needed to act.

"On its current economic trajectory, the United States runs the risk of seeing millions of workers unemployed or underemployed for many years," he said. "As a society, we should find that unacceptable."

Bernanke said a fiscal program that combined near-term measures to enhance growth and steps to address long-range deficits would be an important complement to Fed policies.

Addressing international criticism of the Fed's action, Bernanke said much of the recent weakness in the dollar reflected an unwinding of the increases that were notched as investors fled to the safety of the greenback during the European sovereign debt crisis in the spring.

Many emerging economies have worried that volatile investment inflows sparked by the dollar's decline could be destabilizing -- either fueling inflation or asset bubbles.

Bernanke said the failure of some emerging market economies with trade surpluses to allow their currencies to appreciate was making the problems those countries face worse.

"Currency undervaluation by surplus countries is inhibiting needed international adjustment and creating spillover effects that would not exist if exchange rates better reflected market fundamentals," he said, without explicitly pointing to China.

U.S. officials have long argued that an undervalued Chinese yuan gives the Asian export powerhouse an unfair advantage in international markets.

Bernanke broadened the case against China, which keeps the yuan on a tight leash, by saying inflexible currencies are preventing a needed rebalancing of global growth and could end up destabilizing the world economy.

"For large, systemically important countries with persistent current account surpluses, the pursuit of export-led growth cannot ultimately succeed if the implications of that strategy for global growth and stability are not taken into account," he said.

A HAWK RELENTS

The Fed's bond-buying plan -- know as quantitative easing or QE, for short -- won a surprise endorsement from a policymaker who had been seen as an internal critic.

"I believe that QE is a move in the right direction," Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota told a conference in Chicago.

Cleveland Fed chief Sandra Pianalto also defended the plan as a way to help lift "uncomfortably low" inflation and fend off the risk of a debilitating broad drop in prices.

However, Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser said the costs of the program did not outweigh the benefits, while Fed Governor Kevin Warsh said the economy faced problems that monetary policy could not solve.

"Monetary policy has an important role to play," Warsh told business leaders in Chicago. "But it is not a predominant role."

Instead, he said, businesses need more certainty in terms of fiscal, trade and regulatory policies.

(Additional reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa in Washington and Ann Saphir and Eric Johnson in Chicago; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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