Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday the U.S. central bank still expects to start scaling back its massive asset purchase program later this year, but left open the option of changing that plan in either direction if the economic outlook shifted.
While sticking closely to a time line he first outlined last month that the Fed would halt bond buying by mid-2014, when unemployment was projected to be around 7 percent, Bernanke went out of his way to stress that nothing was set in stone.
“Our asset purchases depend on economic and financial developments, but they are by no means on a preset course,” he told the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee in prepared remarks.
Bernanke’s semi-annual statement to Congress, which may be his last if the chairman steps down when his term ends in January, as many expect, will be followed by a lengthy question and answer session with the committee’s members.
Bernanke said the pace of asset purchases could be reduced “somewhat more quickly” if economic conditions were to improve faster than expected. On the other hand, the current $85 billion monthly pace “could be maintained for longer” if the labor market outlook darkened, or inflation did not look like it was rising back toward the Fed’s 2 percent goal.
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