Bernanke says Fed chief Powell ‘got ahead of this’ and ‘going big’ was right thing to do

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Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told CNBC on Wednesday that he thinks the current members of the central bank acted with appropriate force to help the U.S. economy get ahead of the coronavirus and set the stage for a strong rebound once the disease abates.

“I think the Fed has been extremely proactive and Jay Powell and his team have been working really hard and got ahead of this,” he said. They “have shown that they can set up a whole bunch of diverse programs that can help us keep the economy functioning during the shutdown period so that when the all-clear is sounded that we’ll see a much better rebound than we otherwise would.”

Financial markets have been under duress in recent weeks and have posted one of the largest sell-offs in the modern era. The slide in the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average has worsened to more than 30% in recent sessions as the coronavirus and measures to contain its spread worry investors that the U.S. could be headed for a recession.

The spike in volatility and steep equity losses have in turn forced the Federal Reserve to embark on a host of massive, trillion-dollar easing programs to help ease stressed credit markets. The central bank announced Monday that it will purchase corporate bonds and not just U.S. Treasurys, providing unprecedented support for investment-grade corporate debt.

“I certainly wouldn’t argue that we should, for fiscal conservatism reasons, not do everything we need to do to address this problem,” Bernanke said Wednesday. “Right now, I think that going big is right and I think the markets will absorb the Treasurys and the Fed will help keep that market working in a smooth way.”

The Fed earlier this week also removed limits on its asset purchases and quantitative easing measures, saying it will buy securities “in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning” and declined to put a limit on how much it could purchase.

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