Alan Blinder says the Fed is very worried. and likely to take further action:
Meeting on Aug. 9, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) downgraded its near-term assessment of the U.S. economy sharply. Since the Fed's code of conduct mandates the use of Fedspeak instead of English, let me offer a quick translation: "Yikes! Things have sure deteriorated quickly!"
The Fed expressed its alarm in two ways, both remarkable. The first was Mr. Bernanke's willingness to push ahead despite a level of discord that is almost unheard of...: on a far-from-resounding 7-3 vote. Second, his policy innovation stunned veteran Fed watchers (including me): The Committee more or less promised to maintain the current rock-bottom federal funds rate for almost two more years.
In so doing, the Fed violated one of the most revered canons of central banking: Always keep your options open. ... A booming economy by, say, Christmas 2012 doesn't look too likely right now, but it could happen. And if it does, the Fed won't want to keep the federal-funds rate near zero. So why risk the loss of credibility?
The answer is that the FOMC majority was so concerned about the health of our economy that they felt a duty to offer some support... But they had used up all their good ammunition long ago. The two-year interest-rate commitment is based on a wing and a prayer. ...
What all this says to me is that the FOMC majority is very worried. So unless the storm clouds lift quickly, there is probably more easing to come. That could mean another round of quantitative easing, such as the Fed buying more Treasury bonds. Or it could mean paying a lower interest rate on excess reserves. Or the brilliant and creative Mr. Bernanke could pull another rabbit out of his oft-used hat. So stay tuned...
If the Fed is so worried, why 'wait and see' yet again, especially given the lags in the process? Why not take stronger action now? It seems to me the answer must be that a majority of the Fed isn't that worried.
I suppose one of these days the Fed could end up marking up a forecast instead of marking it down, but so far monetary policy has been based upon an overly hopeful outlook at every stage along the way.