Former Fed vice chair doubts the central bank can turn around economy
A former member of the Federal Reserve said there are limitations to the ability of the central bank to effectively kick start the economy, in response to questions during a panel at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association annual meeting in New York. Veteran broadcaster Charlie Rose asked Donald Kohn, who served as vice chair of the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2010, if the central bank still had tools to revive the U.S. economy. "I think they can communicate better about what their intentions are so that it's clear that they're thinking really hard about when interest rates might rise," Kohn said. "The other thing they can do is continue to buy more securities, but I don't think any of us should be under the illusion that those actions — the unusual actions that they've took so far or the unusual acts they'll take in the future — will somehow turn around a very sluggish recovery." Kohn said Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's most recent congressional testimony indicated that he had misjudged the economy. "I think that it's clear that it was worse that he thought. It was worse than I thought," Kohn said. "When I was making forecasts as a member of the Federal Reserve in the second half of 2009, I thought it was going to be slow. I didn't expect this V-shaped recovery that people were talking about." Kohn talked about the tightening credit standards within Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and banks around the nation as a reason for the economy's sluggish state. "The peak in housing prices was five years ago," he said. "It's been five years and we're still sitting with a huge volume of potential inventory coming onto this market and talking about further declines in housing prices. And because of that, the banks are naturally very, very cautious." "When credit in the housing market is extremely tight and the Fed does their interest rate reductions, it has very little effect through the housing market, through the refinancing, etc.," according to Kohn. Timothy Ryan, president and chief executive of SIFMA, also said Monday that despite headwinds, he holds a positive view of the U.S. economy. "We may be half way, but we're at the beginning of the end," Ryan said during his state of the industry address at SIFMA's annual meeting in New York. Ryan said SIFMA supports establishing a systemic risk regulator and the designation of bank and non-banks as systemically important. Write to Justin T. Hilley Follow him on Twitter @JustinHilley.