Esther George, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said in a speech Friday in Omaha, Nebraska, that a reduction of the Federal Reserve’s asset purchasing from its current level of $85 billion a month to $70 billion may be “an appropriate step toward normalizing monetary policy.” George has been consistently hawkish on Fed policy, as compared, for example, with Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, who said earlier today, that he can foresee asset purchases lasting into the middle of next year, although he did not specify the level of purchases.
The threat of U.S. military action in Syria and the relatively weak report on non-farm payrolls released earlier this morning, have raised sentiment among investors that the Fed will not begin cutting back on asset purchases any time soon. There are of course contrasting opinions about that.
Some believe that the Fed’s balance sheet, with some $3.5 trillion on the books, will continue to be financially accommodative. Even Charles Evans noted that it would take years for the Fed to trim its assets, even if asset purchases stopped today. That, along with other arguments, means that starting the taper in September remains a very real possibility.
On the other side, the weak employment report augurs for a delay perhaps until the end of the year, when job growth may be stronger. Adding just 169,000 jobs in August barely keeps up with population growth. A number closer to 200,000 is needed to put many unemployed workers back on the job. The coming debate on the federal debt ceiling, the continuing federal budget cuts due to the sequester, and volatility in oil and food prices argue for letting the Fed’s asset purchases run at their current level for at least a while longer.