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Fed draws criticism from abroad as emerging markets still reeling

A general view of the U.S. Federal Reserve building in Washington, July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A general view of the U.S. Federal Reserve building in Washington, July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Neha Dasgupta and Jonathan Spicer

MUMBAI/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve's decision to keep trimming its economic stimulus drew fire on Friday as India's central bank chief said Americans should be more attuned to the global impact of their policies, and the IMF called for vigilance given strains in financial markets.

The push-back came on Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's last day on the job and two days after the U.S. central bank reduced the pace of its huge asset purchase program. The Fed made the move on Wednesday despite a bruising selloff in emerging markets that was prompted in part by the prospect of less U.S. monetary support.

With the turmoil in currencies and stocks spreading into more emerging markets on Friday, Fed officials, addressing the rout for the first time, offered no hint the sell-off would influence their policy stance unless the U.S. economy were threatened.

But in Mumbai, Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan said the United States "should worry about the effects of its policies on the rest of the world."

"We would like to live in a world where countries take into account the effect of their policies on other countries and do what is right, rather than what is just right given the circumstances of their own country," he said at an event on organized by The Times of India newspaper.

Financial markets in India, Turkey, Argentina and elsewhere have boomed in recent years as the Fed's measures to bolster economic growth at home - including asset purchases and ultra-low interest rates - encouraged investors to seek higher returns in emerging economies.

As the Fed began to talk of unwinding its policy last year, the money began to flow back out, a trend that ramped up again in the last two weeks on signs that China's economy is slowing.

Rajan, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, is well respected by central bankers globally as being among the few who spoke out about signs of trouble in markets well before the 2007-09 financial crisis set off the Great Recession.

His comments were echoed by the IMF, which on Friday called on central banks to ensure that a financial market rout in the developing world does not lead to an international funding crunch.

"The turbulence also underscores the need for vigilance among central banks over liquidity conditions in international capital markets," an IMF spokesman said.

FED UNMOVED

The pressure, however, is unlikely to dissuade the Fed from ramping down its asset purchases by later this year unless the turbulence starts to derail recent momentum in the U.S. economy. Fed policymakers did not mention emerging markets in a statement on Wednesday, when they unanimously decided to trim bond-buying by another $10 billion per month.

Indeed, all 70 economists polled by Reuters expect the central bank to keep paring the purchases at that rate at subsequent meetings, shuttering the program before year-end.

"So far I don't see anything that's happened in the last month around markets as fundamentally shifting an improving outlook for the U.S. economy and improving labor markets," San Francisco Fed President John Williams said Friday on Fox Business television.

Williams, a centrist, said fellow policymakers discussed emerging markets at their meeting this week, but added the Fed should not focus too much on "short-term developments.

Speaking in South Africa, one of the countries hit by the recent turmoil, Kansas City Fed President Esther George backed the withdrawal of accommodation and warned that easy U.S. policies will only work to distort exchange rates, capital flows, and other international connections.

Richard Fisher of the Dallas Fed went even further, saying countries like Poland and Mexico that used the influx of funds to restructure their economies will do well as the Fed reduces accommodation. Others, such as Brazil, will have a hard time, he said in Fort Worth, Texas.

The debate, which amplified a day before Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen is to succeed Bernanke, highlights how central banks and governments can get whip-sawed by the trillions of dollars of investment seeking easy returns. In the so-called cross-border currency trade, investors borrow in countries with lower yields and invest in those with higher yields.

The IMF spokesman said some emerging market countries need to take urgent action to improve their economies.

Turkey and South Africa, two of the hardest-hit in recent days, responded by raising interest rates this week to help support their currencies. The Reserve Bank of India also tightened monetary policy, saying the action was aimed at pushing down high consumer inflation.

Rajan, who took charge at the Reserve Bank of India last September during the country's worst financial crisis since 1991, complained on Thursday that global monetary policy coordination had broken down.

"Industrial countries have to play a part in restoring that, and they cannot at this point wash their hands off and say: 'We will do what we need to, and you do the adjustment you need to,'" he said on Bloomberg India TV.

(Additional reporting by Rafael Nam and Subhadip Sircar in Mumbai, Ann Saphir in Fort Worth, Texas, and Anna Yukhananov and Jason Lange in Washington; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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