Federal Reserve makes a $400 billion move

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke walks away from the podium after delivering remarks Sept. 15, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Kai Ryssdal: Another Fed meeting, another plan to save the world.

The central bank's going on another bond-buying spree. It's not quite QE3 -- the quantitative easing program the Fed's done twice before to push down interest rates. This one's loosely being called "Operation Twist." Think of it as a rebalancing of our national investment portfolio. The Fed will buy sell shorter-term Treasury Bills it already owns and buy longer-term debt.

The idea, as before, is to push long-term interest rates -- like those for home mortgages -- even lower, and thus forcing investors off the sidelines and out into the real economy where the rest of us live.

From Washington, Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: If things go the Fed's way, big-time investors like hedge funds and corporations will decide they're not making enough money from safe, boring long-term Treasuries, and say to themselves:

Catherine Mann: Ah ha! I can make an investment in a new plant. Or buy a shopping mall.

That's Catherine Mann, a former Fed economist now at Brandeis University. She doesn't think the Fed will succeed. And here's why: Investors are still nervous. They're not going to go out and buy a shopping mall right now because consumers aren't out shopping.

John Makin is an economist at the American Enterprise Institute. He agrees that consumer demand is key.

John Makin: So there are a lot of overhangs that are holding down most American households and keeping them from being very aggressive about buying goods and services.

People are afraid of losing their jobs so they're scared to spend. That's putting a big damper on the way the Fed usually does things. It's old, tried-and-true policies of driving down interest rates just won't do the trick. Again, Catherine Mann.

Mann: They're working with an old textbook that says if you reduce long-term interest rates, mortgage rates will go down, businesses will invest in plant and equipment.

Mann says interest rates are already quite low, and that's not happening. At least when the Fed pushed interest rates down in the past, investors switched from bonds to stocks and drove the markets higher. Back then, the Fed was accused of helping financial markets but not the broader economy. This time, says Mann, it can't help Wall Street or Main Street.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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