Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker yesterday indicated that the central bank has made no monetary policy changes lately but left the door open for such a shift at the next meeting of the Fed's policymaking group on May 21.
Asked at a Senate Banking Committee hearing if policy has been essentially unchanged in recent weeks, Volcker said that was "a fair characterization" of the situation.
Asked further if faster money growth would be appropriate given the slowdown in U.S. economic growth, the chairman replied, "We are going to have to debate that. . . We always have another meeting coming up."
Volcker took a similarly neutral view when he was asked if he agreed with Fed Vice Chairman Preston Martin's concern that the United States is on the verge of a growth recession. "I think he was speaking for himself, as members do upon occasion," Volcker said. "Those views don't necessarily differ or necessarily agree with mine."
Some financial market analysts are speculating that the Fed will soon ease its monetary policy position in order to try to stimulate faster economic growth.
In a growth recession, a term Volcker said he never uses, the economy continues to expand but at such a slow pace that unemployment rises and the use of existing production capacity falls. Fed officials have said they would like to see the economy grow 3 1/2 percent to 4 percent this year, somewhat faster than most private economists now forecast, and substantially faster than any situation that could be labeled a growth recession. Real output rose at only a 1.3 percent rate in the first quarter.
Volcker's remarks indicate that there could be a move to an easier policy taken at the next meeting of the policy-making group, the Federal Open Market Committee. How much of a move, if any at all, could well depend upon the strength seen in the additional economic indicators for April that will become available between now and then, analysts said.
Money growth is already generally above the upper limit of the target range set by the Fed, and some officials likely will be reluctant to see it move even farther outside the range.
Meanwhile, Martin reiterated his warning before a group in Tokyo yesterday. "The economy has been sluggish for the last nine months and there is a reasonable risk that it could inadvertently slip into a growth recession," he said. And he added, "The probability of U.S. inflation reaccelerating this year or even next year seems relatively small."