May 1, 2012 / 2:04 AM / 7 years ago

Fed officials clash on need for more easing

File photo of Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, at the 2009 Albert H. Gordon Lecture on February 23, 2009. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

(Reuters) - The philosophical divide within the U.S. Federal Reserve was on display on Tuesday as two top officials differed over the need to ease policy further.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, a voter this year on the U.S. central bank’s policy-setting panel, said he was “a bit reticent at this point to pull the trigger on any new action,” including more asset purchases, known as quantitative easing.

But Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, a policy dove who has long endorsed more bond buys, said the Fed has a “tremendous” amount of room to ease policy more in part because the United States is not likely to see a “burst” of inflation.

In late 2008 the Fed slashed interest rates to near zero and has bought $2.3 trillion in long-term securities in an unprecedented drive to spur growth and revive the economy after the worst recession in decades.

“I think we need to see how the economy evolves,” Lockhart said on CNBC television, adding he hasn’t changed his economic outlook in any fundamental way, given the recent mixed data.

“There’s only so much we can do to stimulate loan demand and change the risk appetite of the financial system and banks,” he added. “So I’m not sure at this moment that more ... really active stimulus in the form of quantitative easing for example would have that big of an effect.”

The U.S. recovery, especially in jobs, has been slow and economic growth has been erratic, leading the central bank to repeat last week that it expects to keep rates “exceptionally low” at least through late 2014.

“One beneficial effect of any further asset purchases would be to convey the idea that we’re committed to keeping policy very low for the amount of time necessary to get the economy going,” Evans said on CNBC.

“Additional purchases would reaffirm that commitment over and above the effect on long term rates of the purchases themselves,” he said.

Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; editing by James Dalgleish and Jeffrey Benkoe

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