Sunday, August 27, 2006

Some honesty, and wishful thinking, from Glenn Hubbard.

Fed helped fuel own inflation headache: Hubbard
White House's former top economic adviser calls high inflation 'a present danger' to the U.S. economy.
August 26 2006: 3:49 PM EDT

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. (Reuters) -- The Federal Reserve must act to head off high inflation that is "a present danger" to the U.S. economy, the White House's former top economic adviser said on Saturday, as he blamed the central bank for failing to act aggressively enough so far.

Glenn Hubbard, now dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Business, said the threat of high inflation partly reflects the central bank's leisurely two-year string of "measured" rate increases.

"I do believe policy had been too accommodative for too long. And now the question is, How do we deal with the current situation?" Hubbard told Reuters on the sidelines of the Kansas City Fed's annual Jackson Hole retreat.

Hubbard was chairman of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2001 to 2003. He was mentioned as a candidate to replace Alan Greenspan as Fed chairman, the job ultimately given to Ben Bernanke.

The policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee used 17 consecutive one-quarter percentage point rate hikes between June 2004 and June 2006 to raise benchmark interest rates to the current 5.25 percent from a low of 1 percent.

The U.S. central bank, under Bernanke's leadership since February, "still has enormous credibility with the public," which is helping to keep inflation expectations contained, Hubbard said.

But at this point, with economic growth being cut by a turndown in the housing market and the spillover effects of high energy prices, the Fed's job has become harder, he said.

"It is easier to tighten into strength than it is to tighten into weakness when you had a policy that was that accommodative," Hubbard said.

"It is a very difficult moment for the Fed to achieve both the desired fall in inflation and the soft landing in the real economy at the same time. It's easy to do one or the other; it's a little more difficult to do both."

Hubbard said the U.S. economy faced head winds from housing and energy, but seemed poised for a "soft landing" after years of solid growth.

"I still expect the economy to be able to grow in the 2.5 to possibly the 3 percent range by the time we get into next year," he said.

One risk to that outlook would be weakness in the capital goods sector at a time business spending has been seen as likely to pick up the slack as consumer spending softens, Hubbard said.

Something more certain is there likely will be limited relief from high energy prices, he said, because of strong growth in large emerging economies, decent growth in the United States and other industrial economies, and supply restrictions in many parts of the world.

"It's hard to see a lot of weakness in energy prices over the next year."


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