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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- So now it seems sentiment is starting to shift away from asking if the Federal Reserve will unleash additional stimulus to trying to pin down when.
But maybe the bigger question is what can investors reasonably expect more action from the Fed to accomplish? With the yield on the 10-year Treasury hovering right around historic lows, it's not like the central bank can do much to lessen the attractiveness of bonds and encourage investors to take more risk. They clearly don't want to go that route in a world where the U.S. economy is limping along, the future of the eurozone is in doubt and growth in China is slowing.
Paul Dales, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economic, weighed in on what the Fed does next in commentary released on Wednesday, putting the odds of QE3 arriving by the end of 2012 at 50/50. He doubts the Fed will take action at its policy meeting next week but acknowledges the trend in the data is worrisome to point in that direction.
"It is pretty clear that the economic recovery looks more fragile now than it did last month," he said. "Since the previous FOMC meeting it has emerged that non-farm payroll employment rose by less than 100,000 for the third month in a row in June. And the drop in the ISM manufacturing index to below the symbolic 50 mark in the same month points to a slowdown in annualised GDP growth to between 1.0% and 1.5%."
While QE3 may not be a done deal, Dales said he's becoming "more convinced" that the Fed could get creative, "possibly launching its own version of the Bank of England's funding for lending scheme" and he thinks this could have a bigger impact on the economy than another round of bond buying.
Other policy options could be for the Fed to push back its commitment to keep interest rates at near-zero till mid-2015 from late 2014 or else initiate an open-ended asset purchase program based on certain economic conditions being met, rather than saying at the outset it plans to buy a specified amount of government-issued bonds in set time period.
Dales also left the door open for the Fed to get really aggressive next week, though that would mean more dismal data in the interim.