WASHINGTON -- A top Federal Reserve official indicated Friday that he was not prepared to start reducing the central bank's bond-buying stimulus program soon, saying policymakers needed to see more economic data before making a decision.
The comments from James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, came as the government reported that job growth weakened in July. The economy added 162,000 net new jobs, down from June's revised 188,000 figure and below analyst expectations.
Although the unemployment rate dropped to 7.4%, the report raised questions about whether the Fed would begin tapering its $85 billion in bond purchases in the coming months.
Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has said the tapering would begin this year if the economy continued to improve as forecast. Many analysts have speculated the reductions would begin in September.
But Bullard, a voting member of the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee, told a Boston financial conference that more information was needed about the state of the economy before acting.
"The committee needs to see more data on macroeconomic performance for the second half of 2013 before making a judgment on this matter," Bullard told the 2013 Municipal Finance Conference at the Brandeis International Business School.
A St. Louis Fed spokeswoman said Bullard's comments took the just-released July jobs report into account.
Bullard said that Fed policymakers needed to look at four key areas in deciding whether to start reducing the bond purchases -- the labor market, overall economic output, inflation and the central bank's large balance sheet.
With the labor market, Bullard said the question was whether the Fed should focus primarily on non-farm payroll employment and the unemployment rate, or also look at broader indicators, such as the labor-force participation rate.
"If the former, then labor markets have clearly improved since September 2012," Bullard said. "If the latter, then labor markets may be judged to remain weak, but the criterion for labor market improvement would be considerably muddied."