Washington Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday hinted that another interest rate cut may be needed to bolster the economy. The worsening credit crunch, a deepening housing slump and rising energy prices probably will create some "headwinds for the consumer in the months ahead," he said.
Bernanke said he expects consumer spending will continue to grow and suggested the country can withstand the current problems without falling into a recession. But he indicated that consumers could turn more cautious as they try to cope with all the stresses.
The odds have grown that the country could enter a recession. A sharp cutback in consumer spending could send the economy into a tailspin.
That comment probably will be viewed as a sign the Fed may lower interest rates when it meets on Dec. 11, its last session of the year.
Twice this year the central bank has trimmed rates to keep the housing collapse and credit crunch from throwing the economy into a recession. Those cuts came in September and October.
In the October meeting, Bernanke and his Fed colleagues signaled that further cuts might not be needed. Since then, however, financial markets have endured more turmoil. The housing slump has deepened, consumer confidence has plummeted and consumer spending "has been on the soft side," Bernanke said in a speech Thursday night to business people in Charlotte, N.C.