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Fed needs 'couple of meetings' before cutting QE3: Evans

A general view of the U.S. Federal Reserve building as the morning sky breaks over Washington, July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A general view of the U.S. Federal Reserve building as the morning sky breaks over Washington, July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Ann Saphir and Jonathan Spicer

MADISON, Wis./NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve will likely defer any decision to trim its massive bond buys until at least December, two top Fed officials suggested on Thursday, although a third Fed policymaker made no bones about her view that she opposes any such delay.

A budget battle in Washington that shut government offices for 16 days and brought the United States to the brink of default has injected uncertainty into the economy's growth trajectory.

"We need more information about how the economy is proceeding, how we are going to weather the most recent government shutdown," Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said in Madison, Wisconsin. "I think the most likely outcome is one where we continue to go for a couple of meetings to assess this."

The Fed meets every six weeks to discuss policy, and next meets October 29-30 and December 17-18.

A growing number of economists say the Fed may have to wait until early next year before it sees sufficient strength in the U.S. economy to begin scaling back its bond-buying stimulus.

"It would be not worth your while for me to speculate about whether it's going to be in December, January, March... we are going to have to see how things are going," Evans said. "I believe this program should continue until we are confident that there has been a sustainable improvement in the labor market...It is not yet time to remove accommodation."

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, whose views usually are the diametric opposite of the dovish Evans, said he will wait until the Fed's December meeting before lobbying for a reduction to the Fed's $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program.

"Given all this uncertainty it would be hard for me even to argue a change in course of monetary policy," Fisher said in New York. "I don't like the course we're on... but my view will be to stay the course at the next meeting."

Fisher made it clear however that he had not swapped his hawkish feathers for more dovish ones, warning that the Fed's ongoing bond buying could be fueling a "housing bubble."

"I'm beginning to see signs not just in my district but across the country that we are entering, once again, a housing bubble," Fisher told reporters. "So that leads me ... to be very cautious about our mortgage-backed securities purchase program."

A mortgage-market bubble in part caused the 2007-2009 financial crisis and Great Recession from which the world's largest economy is still recovering. In response, the Fed has held interest rates near zero and is buying $85 billion in assets each month, including $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS).

Home resales rose in August and median prices were up 14.7 percent over the previous 12 months, according to the National Association of Realtors, although other data have suggested a sharp rise in mortgage rates has dented the housing recovery.

"We have to be watchful and realize there has historically been an era of the Fed over-stimulating" since the Great Depression, Fisher said.

"I worry we are following that tradition now," he added on the sidelines of a meeting of the New York Economic Club.

"No one knows when the bubble pops. But I would argue that ... with each dollar we buy in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, we're getting closer to the tipping point."

Meanwhile Esther George, the hawkish chief of the Kansas City Fed who has dissented at every Fed meeting this year against the central bank's ultra-easy monetary policy, reiterated on Thursday her view on that the Fed should being to pare back in October.

"I think to start that now would give us time to see how the economy reacts to that and not get behind in meeting our responsibilities," she told an event in Oklahoma City.

She also sounded sanguine about the lack of government data, including the latest official unemployment data, since the shutdown began on October 1.

"We are missing a few pieces of data that we would normally have as a result of the government shutdown," she said. "But let me assure you, we are still quite able to monitor and judge the economy's progress from other sources of information."

Unemployment stood at 7.3 percent in August, the most recent reading, down from 8.1 percent when the Fed began its current and third round of so-called quantitative easing,known as QE3, last September.

Speaking in Butte, Montana, Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota on Thursday repeated his call for the U.S. central bank to do "whatever it takes" to bring unemployment down faster.

Before the shutdown, Kocherlakota said that he does not support reducing bond-buying before the economy gains more traction.

The deal approved in Washington late Wednesday reopens the government, but the measure resolves no fundamental differences on spending and taxes that divide Democrats and Republicans.

It also leaves open the possibility of another government shutdown - and potentially another debt crisis - early next year.

Evans called the episode "embarrassing" and said he hopes the crisis does not repeat itself next year.

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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