Transcripts of 2010 Fed meeting show concerns about leaks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transcripts released Friday show that in the fall of 2010, officials of the Federal Reserve were worried not just about a sluggish economy but also about in-fighting at the Fed and possible leaks of sensitive information.

The transcripts reveal that then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told members of the Fed’s top policy group at a Nov. 2 meeting that he was concerned about reports of leaks to the news media and to financial market players. He also expressed concerns about Fed officials taking “very inflexible positions” in advance of Fed meetings.

Bernanke’s comments came at the start of a pivotal Fed meeting when the central bank approved a second round of bond purchases in an effort to bolster a struggling economy.

The 2010 transcripts, released with the usual five-year delay, showed a central bank struggling to come to grips with the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. While the downturn officially ended in June 2009, economic growth remained too anemic to generate solid job growth.

At the meeting on Nov. 2-3, 2010, Bernanke stressed the “considerable risk” the Fed faced if sensitive material was released. He also talked about the importance of not sending confusing signals to financial markets about internal Fed discussions. In an effort to address the problems, Bernanke said he was appointing a subcommittee headed by then-Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen to explore ways to improve communications.

At the November meeting, the Fed approved the purchase of $600 billion of Treasury bonds at a rate of $75 billion per month in an effort to stimulate the economy by pushing long-term interest rates down further.

The measure was approved by a vote of 10-1. Thomas Hoenig, president of the Fed’s Kansas City regional bank at the time, opposed the move. However, the transcripts showed that other Fed officials questioned whether the new round of bond purchases would be effective.

In his book “The Courage to Act,” published last year, Bernanke said he was “irked” by comments Hoenig made in a newspaper interview the next day criticizing the Fed’s move. Bernanke said he was also surprised by the amount of criticism the decision generated from conservative economists and Republican leaders in Congress.

But he defended the bond purchases as the right call at a time when the Fed had reduced its key interest rate as far as it could.

The Fed had announced an initial bond buying program in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. But with the recovery lagging, the central bank decided more needed to be done. It launched a second bond program in November 2010.

There would be a third round of bond purchases announced in September 2012. All together, they would push the Fed’s balance sheet to an unprecedented level of $4.5 trillion, a four-fold increase from the Fed’s holdings before the start of the financial crisis in the fall of 2008.

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