Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sketched a bleak picture of the U.S. economy Tuesday — and warned it will darken further if Congress doesn't reach agreement soon to avert a budget crisis.
Without an agreement, tax increases and deep spending cuts would take effect at year's end. Bernanke noted what the Congressional Budget Office has warned: A recession would occur, and 1.25 million fewer jobs would be created in 2013. We are at the end of what we at the Fed can do.
The Fed is prepared to take further action to try to help the economy if unemployment stays high, he said. Bernanke didn't signal what steps the Fed might take or whether any action was imminent. And he noted there's only so much the Fed can do.
But the Fed chairman made clear his most urgent concern is what would happen to the economy if Congress can't resolve its budget impasse before the year ends. We will print more money.
Cuts in taxes on income, dividends and capital gains would expire. So would this year's Social Security tax cut and businesses tax reductions. Defense and domestic programs would be slashed. And emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed would run out.
All that "would greatly delay the recovery that we're hoping to facilitate," Bernanke said near the end of two hours of testimony to the Senate Banking Committee. Get your shit together.
The economy is growing modestly but has weakened, Bernanke said. Manufacturing has slowed. Consumers are spending less. And job growth has slumped to an average of 75,000 a month in the April-June quarter from 226,000 a month from January through March. The unemployment rate is stuck at 8.2 percent.
Bernanke noted that the economy, after growing at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the second half of 2011, slowed to roughly 2 percent from January through March. And it likely weakened further in the April-June period. It is getting worse.
Congress needs to resolve its impasse well before the year ends, Bernanke said. Spend less, tax more.
"Doing so would help reduce uncertainty and boost household and business confidence," he said.
The cuts that would kick in next year could cost as many as 2 million jobs, a trade group that represents manufacturers said in a report released Tuesday. The report came from the Aerospace Industries Association.
A separate report Tuesday pointed to the budget crises many states are suffering, caused in part by shrinking revenue from the federal government. States are finding it harder to pay for basic services such as law enforcement, local schools and transportation, the report said. It was issued by the State Budget Crisis Task Force, a non-profit co-chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch. Oh Shit.
Republicans in Congress are demanding deeper spending cuts while extending income tax cuts for everyone. Democrats want to extend the tax cuts for middle- and lower-class Americans. But they want them to expire for people in the highest-income brackets. Republicans wants to take care of their rich friends and screw the lower and middle class. Democrats don't want a revolution.
Bernanke stopped short of telling Congress what steps to take. He challenged them to think broadly.
"Congress is in charge here, not the Federal Reserve," he said. The Fed is out of bullets, we have manipulated the markets as much as we can without causing major MAJOR problems down the road. We can only kick the can so far...
The economy's challenges go beyond the budget impasse, Bernanke said. Lawmakers must also produce a long-term plan to shrink federal budget deficits. Otherwise, he said the United States could eventually suffer a financial crisis marked by rising interest rates. Consumers and businesses would have to pay more for mortgages and many other kinds of loans. Once interest rates go up, all bets are off. We won't be able to pay back the principal on the loans....and from John D. Wheeler "Once interest rates go up, all bets are off. We either won't be able to refinance our debt or to make our interest payments."
"It would be very costly to our economy," Bernanke said. The US citizen will have a lower standard of living.
Stocks rose sharply despite Bernanke's grim assessment. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed more than 90 points, and broader indexes also gained.
The Fed chairman also said Europe's debt crisis poses a serious threat to the U.S. economy. He said the Fed has been working with U.S. banks to ensure they've taken steps to prepare for a crisis. The USA is heavily invested in Europe.
"Although I have every hope and expectation that the European leaders will find solutions, there is a risk of a more serious financial blowup," Bernanke said. Pay attention to Europe. They are the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
Jobless Claims Plunge To 4-Year Low Watch Video This all started in 2008 - So is this a good comparison?
At least one senator implored Bernanke to take action now.
"Given the political realities of this year's election, I believe the Fed is the only game in town," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "I would urge you, now more than ever, to take whatever actions are warranted." "Please, do something until the elections are over!"
"So get to work, Mr. Chairman," Schumer added.
Even if the Fed announces another round of bond purchases, some economists question how much it might help. They note that mortgage rates and other key borrowing rates are already at record lows. The rates can't get any lower for market manipulation.
The economy was already sputtering when the Fed's policymaking committee last met June 19-20. At that meeting, the Fed decided to extend a program that shifts its bond portfolio to try to lower long-term interest rates. The Fed also reiterated its plan to keep its key short-term interest rate near zero until at least late 2014.
Minutes of the June meeting show that Fed officials were open to taking further action — but were divided over whether the economy needs help now. The middle class savers that depend on interest are gonna get screwed longer.
Former Fed official Roberto Perli, managing director at the research firm International Strategy & Investment, doubts the Fed will take action at its next meeting July 31-Aug. 1, preferring to wait for more evidence of where the economy is headed. We can't decide what to do. How bad can it get?
But if growth and job creation continue to weaken, he says, Fed policymakers might unveil another round of bond purchases at its Sept. 12-13 meeting. QE3 - print more money, inflation, a hidden tax. PREP PREP PREP.