The broad indices all saw gains of over 1% after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke continued to defend the central bank's "highly accommodative" monetary stimulus policy, this time before the House Financial Services Committee.
The Fed has kept the short-term federal funds rate in a target range of between zero and 0.25% since late 2008, and has been expanding its balance sheet through the monthly purchase of $85 billion in long-term securities. The purchases are meant to keep long-term rates at record low levels.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said at the start of the hearing that "after quadrupling its balance sheet and engaging in unprecedented mortgage-backed security asset purchases and creating an extended negative real interest rate environment, there is a growing consensus among economists that the Federal Reserve's road has led us to the monetary 'outer limits'.""For diminishing marginal benefits the Federal Reserve's unconventional strategy creates considerable risks," Hensarling said. "If the balance sheet is not unwound at the right time and at the right pace, we could be looking at another deep recession, soaring inflation or skyrocketing interested rates." Bernanke repeated his testimony from Tuesday's Senate Banking Committee hearing, saying that Fed policy "is providing important support to the recovery while keeping inflation close to the [Federal Open Market Committee's] 2 percent objective." "Notably, keeping longer-term interest rates low has helped spark recovery in the housing market and led to increased sales and production of automobiles and other durable goods," he said, adding that "by raising employment and household wealth--for example, through higher home prices--these developments have in turn supported consumer sentiment and spending." Also on Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors said that pending home sales rose in January, and had risen on a year-over-year basis for 21 consecutive months. The NAR's pending home sales index rose to 105.9 in January from a revised 101.3 in December, and from 96.7 in January 2007. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in the group's press release that "favorable affordability conditions and job growth have unleashed a pent-up demand. Most areas are drawing down housing inventory, which has shifted the supply/demand balance to sellers in much of the country."
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