Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Federal Reserve is prepared to employ tools to bolster the U.S. economy as the nation grapples with weak unemployment, a sagging housing market, high unemployment and stagnant wages. The Fed chair never used the term QE3, but suggested the Fed remains committed to doing what it can to stimulate growth in an economy facing an abysmal cycle of limited hiring in the private sector and  risks from potential  job losses in the public  sector. Bernanke noted the Fed has committed to keeping the federal funds rate near zero. While speaking Thursday to the Economic Club of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Bernanke said a significant slowing in the housing sector,  financial volatility from supply chain disruptions tied to the Japanese disaster, and skyrocketing commodity prices in the first two quarters challenged efforts to achieve significant economic growth. Low demand for housing and new home construction remains a lag on the recovery, the chairman noted. “Depressed construction also has hurt providers of a wide range of goods and services related to housing and homebuilding, such as the household appliance and home furnishing industries,” Bernanke said. “Moreover, even as tight credit for builders and potential homebuyers has been one of the factors restraining the housing recovery, the weak housing market has in turn adversely affected financial markets and the flow of credit.” The Fed chair also highlighted strains in the non-residential real estate sector saying “business investment in nonresidential structures, such as office buildings, factories and shopping malls, has remained at a low level.” Bernanke claims investments in these areas were delayed by elevated vacancy rates at existing properties and difficulties in obtaining construction loans. Write to: Kerri Panchuk.

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