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Fed's Lockhart: Oil shock could lead to QE3

By Chris Isidore, senior writer

Arlington, Va. (CNNMoney) -- If oil prices continue to climb, it could force the Federal Reserve to make a new round of asset purchases, according to Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart.

Appearing at the National Association of Business Economics in Arlington, Va., Lockhart said that while he doesn't think additional purchases are currently warranted, more stimulus could be needed if oil prices continue to climb.

"If [the rising price of oil] plays through to the broad economy in a way that portends a recession, I would take a position we would respond with more accommodation," Lockhart said at the conference.

Though he doesn't think current oil prices around $106 a barrel are a problem, he said the evidence is clear that oil spikes can bring about a recession.

"I think at the $120 range ... it's a manageable level," he said. "Around $150 it becomes a much more serious concern."

The Fed announced plans to buy $600 billion in long-term Treasuries last November, a process known as quantitative easing, or QE2 because it is the second round of such purchases. Since then, economic growth has picked up, leading some to call for an early end to QE2.

Lockhart, who is not currently a voting member of the Federal Reserve's policy making committee, declined to say whether he thought "QE3" could get past the current committee, which is seen as somewhat more hawkish on inflation.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, who is a voting member of the rotating committee, showed strong opposition to the idea of QE3 in a speech to the Institute of International Bankers meeting Monday morning. In fact, Fisher said he would be open to an early end of QE2.

"I remain doubtful enough as to its efficacy that if at any time between now and June, it should prove demonstrably counterproductive, I will vote to curtail or perhaps discontinue it," Fisher wrote in prepared remarks.

But there remains a fair amount of disagreement among Fed members over whether the economy still needs help, or inflation is the bigger worry.

In Congressional testimony last week, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said he hadn't closed the door on the possibility of a new round of Treasuries purchases, and largely brushed off concerns about rising prices.

Lockhart said while the Fed needs to keep an eye on inflation expectations, he doesn't think the labor market has recovered enough for higher wages, a core component of inflation, to take hold.

He said despite the strong February jobs report, "it is premature to declare a jobs recovery is firmly established." To top of page

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