Bernanke: Fed ready to purchase more MBS

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank may consider purchasing more mortgage-backed securities to help further stabilize the economy and the troubled housing sector if growth is insufficient in coming quarters.

Speaking at a press conference following the most recent monetary policy decision from the Federal Open Market Committee, Bernanke said the Fed has taken the aggressive actions necessary to try and stimulate growth.

The central bank began buying longer-term Treasurys in early October to supplement the reinvesting of principal payments from mortgage-backed securities back into agency MBS that began in late 2010.

Bernanke said the FOMC noticed growth so far in the second half of 2011 has been “less strong” than committee members projected a few months ago.

He said the market volatility created by the European debt crisis continues to drag on any economic recovery stateside, and shrinking consumer confidence also bodes poorly for the struggling U.S. economy.

In late September, Republicans lawmakers sent Bernanke a letter asking him to persuade the FOMC to not initiate another economic stimulus package similar to other quantitative easing efforts.

The Fed chairman said “politics is politics” and the central bank tries to stay non-partisian and out of the debate, as it’s important it stay free from political pressures to meet its dual mandate.

He also questioned the validity of some criticisms of the actions the central bank has taken since the American financial crisis began.

Bernanke said he’s sympathetic with some of the sentiment of the Occupy Wall Street protest, as he, too, is “dissatisfied with the state of the economy.” But he wonders if some of the concerns about the Fed’s role in the recession and lagging recovery is “based on misperceptions.”

The Fed “had to step in and help stabilize the financial system in 2008” as large banks and investment firms crumbled, he said.

In conjunction with Bernanke’s speech, the Fed released economic projections for gross domestic product growth, unemployment and personal consumption expenditures. FOMC members now project 2011 real GDP growth of 1.6% to 1.7% for 2011, down from prior estimates of 2.7% to 2.9%. The economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.5% for the third quarter, which was up from growth of 1.3% in the second quarter.

The committee predicts GDP growth of 2.5% to 2.9% next year, with growth of 3% to 3.5% in 2013 and between 3% and 3.9% the following year. The estimates for 2012 and 2013 are down from previous projections.

Bernanke said the Fed expects the unemployment rate to decline to between 8.5% and 8.7% for the fourth quarter from 9.1% currently. On Friday, the Labor Department announces nonfarm payroll data for October and most analysts expect the rate to hover near 9% as it has for most of 2011.

The FOMC now forecasts an unemployment rate of 8.5% to 8.7% for 2012 and 7.8% to 8.2% for 2013, higher than prior estimates of 7.8% to 8.2% for next year and 7% to 7.5% the following year.

Bernanke said unemployment may drop to between 6.8% and 7.7% by the fourth quarter of 2014, although that will still be “too high.”