Bernanke: Crisis taught lesson for central banks

WASHINGTON (AP) ? Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says a key lesson learned from the 2008 financial crisis is that central banks must have a dual goal of controlling inflation while supporting the banking system.

Bernanke said Tuesday during a speech in Boston that the steps the Fed took during the crisis proved to be successful. The Fed lowered short-term interest rates to record lows and expanded its portfolio of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities to push long-term rates lower.

The Fed has been criticized by those who say keeping rates too low for too long could fuel higher inflation later.

In September, the Fed voted to shift $400 billion of its investments to try to lower long-term interest rates. That followed the Fed’s announcement in August that it planned to keep short-term rates at record lows until at least mid-2013, assuming the economy remains weak.

Both steps were approved on 7-3 votes. That represented the highest level of dissent at the Fed in nearly 20 years.

Earlier this month, Bernanke told members of Congress that the economy “is close to faltering.” He assured lawmakers that the central bank was prepared to take further steps to try to bolster economic growth.

Fed policymakers meet next on Nov. 1-2. Many economists expect the central bank to hold off on further action, allowing more time for the previously adopted steps to have an impact.

Minutes of the Sept. 20-21 meeting reflected the policymakers’ uncertainty over why the economy is struggling to grow and create jobs more than two years after the recession has ended.

Some members said they favored taking bolder action to boost growth because the unemployment rate has been stuck at about 9 percent, according to minutes from the September meeting. But others have argued that the central bank has done all it can and that further action could increase the risk of inflation.

The three regional bank presidents who have oppose further action have argued any further moves by the central bank run the risk of making inflation worse when the economy does rebound.

In September, employers added 103,000 net jobs. While that was enough to ease recession fears, it’s well below what’s needed to lower the unemployment rate, which stayed at 9.1 percent for the third straight month. It takes about 125,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth.

Without more jobs and higher pay increases, consumers are likely to keep spending cautiously. Many have already cut back on spending in the face of steeper food and gas prices. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.