Attack of the inflation hawks

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The Federal Reserve's newest round of voting members are gearing up to make their opinions count at the next meeting on monetary policy in two weeks, and some are still expressing their distaste for the Fed's latest bond purchases.

"I would have voted against it," Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told CNNI's Felicia Taylor in an interview Tuesday.

The Fed started the $600 billion bond-buying program in November. It's the second round of so-called quantitative easing in the past few years and has been dubbed QE2 for short. The central bank has expressed hope that QE2 can help keep interest rates low and stimulate more spending.

While Fisher argued against the policy, he wasn't a voting member at the time. But he is now.

The Fed plays musical chairs each year, rotating four of its 12 regional presidents in and out of voting roles.

This year, three of the four voting positions go to so-called inflation hawks who have been outspoken with their criticism of the Fed's latest stimulus plan. The big concern is that the Fed is essentially "printing money" with the bond purchases, which could devalue the dollar.

Fisher is an admitted inflation hawk, as is Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, who separately spoke about his doubts about QE2 Tuesday morning.

The third inflation hawk is Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, who was appointed to his post a little over a year ago and is new to the voting rotation. However, Kocherlakota hinted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week that he may not dissent.

All three will have a chance to vote on January 24, when the Federal Open Market Committee finishes a two-day monetary policy meeting. The question is, will any of the hawks be willing to be an official dissenter?

"I don't know," Fisher said. "My job is to call it as I see it. Then a group decision is made, and that is what we go with."

In 2010, only one voting member, Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig dissented officially, and he did so at all eight meetings, speaking against the Fed's policy of keeping interest rates low for an "extended period."

Fisher last had a voting role on the committee in 2008, and dissented five times that year. Plosser -- his "soul mate as far as policy is concerned," Fisher said -- dissented twice that year.

Despite their initial doubts about quantitative easing though, the policy is still likely to run its full course through June, both Fisher and Plosser said Tuesday.

That said, both would caution against more bond purchases, or a so-called QE3.

"Personally, I feel we've done the job," Fisher said.

The Fed is tasked with a so-called dual mandate to keep prices stable and maximize employment. While unemployment is likely to remain high for a while, deflation is no longer a threat, and rampant inflation is not an immediate threat either, Fisher said.

As for jobs -- it's time for Congress and regulators, rather than the Fed to encourage businesses to start hiring, he said.

The dual mandate has recently come under fire, with some Republicans calling for the Fed to focus strictly on rising prices, rather than unemployment.

Speaking candidly Tuesday, Fisher said it "would not break my heart" if Congress repealed the unemployment portion of the Fed's job description.

"The unemployment part of the mandate puts us on a very political slippery slope," he said.

Meanwhile, the Fed will have its challenges ahead, as it figures out an exit strategy from its various stimulus programs. But Fisher said people should not underestimate the Fed's willingness to raise interest rates, once the economy shows more improvement.

In his speech Tuesday, Plosser was even more blunt, indicating that the Fed may have to take bold action sooner rather than later.

"The aggressiveness of our accommodative policy may soon backfire on us if we don't begin to gradually reverse course," Plosser said. To top of page

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