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Federal Reserve likely to end bond-buying spree

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies during a hearing at the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Kai Ryssdal: Here's how run-of-the-mill the business news has been today. There are some earnings reports, a housing statistic, a merger or two.

So we're going to start with something that hasn't even happened yet: the Fed meeting tomorrow. It's widely believed the Fed will let its policy of quantitative easing ease all the way out. No more buying up Treasury bonds to keep interest rates low. Seeing as how the Fed really has been keeping the economy grounded the past year or so, we asked our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore to sketch out what to expect after.


Heidi Moore: Ben Bernanke is not a medical doctor, but he may as well start carrying a stethoscope. This week, the Fed will offer its next diagnosis for the economy. It may signal that it will stop administering its best painkiller: its program to buy up Treasury bonds in the hopes of keeping interest rates down.

Here is Paul Zemsky. He's head of asset allocation for ING Investment Management.

Paul Zemsky: If Treasury rates rise, that will directly impact mortgage rates and other borrowing rates in the economy -- which is not the end of the world, but given that we are still in a relatively soft recovery, we prefer to have interest rates lower rather than higher.

Some people say that the Fed has gone too far. Milton Ezrati is the senior economist for Lord Abbett. He says if interest rates stay too low for too long, consumer prices can rise.

Milton Ezrati: The ultimate need for the Federal Reserve to stop this intervention is apparent to all because of the inflation threat.

Overall, many economists believe the recovery will depend on the willingness of U.S. consumers to spend. And with $4-a-gallon gas, most consumers are more concerned about how much it costs to fill 'er up, says Zemsky.

Zemsky: Frankly, I'm more worried about the impact of rising energy prices on the economy than I am about the Fed stopping its purchasing of Treasurys.

As a result, investors are braced for the Fed to stop buying Treasury bonds, says Ezrati.

Ezrati: The market has been expecting this, so any impact on interest rates is probably already there. The effect will be minimal.

Still, the Fed has to keep its patient under observation. If the economy stumbles again, don't be surprised to see the central bank jump back in.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.

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