The Federal Reserve said Thursday that it would launch a new round of help for the economy aimed at lowering the jobless rate and stimulating the housing market.
Stocks surged to their highest level since late 2007 on the news, even as some criticized the central bank’s move as tipping the scales for President Obama just two months before a tight election.
The Fed said it would buy $40 billion in mortgage-backed bonds each month, from large banks and other dealers, to free up capital and potentially push mortgage rates even lower.
The central bank also said it would keep one of the key interest rates it controls, the federal funds rate, at rock-bottom levels of 0 to 0.25 percent until mid-2015.
It was the clearest sign yet the Fed is willing to use every tool available to boost the economy, but many economists doubt the Fed’s action alone can accelerate the recovery.
The campaign of presidential contender Mitt Romney called the Fed’s latest move to pump up the economy ‘another bailout.’
“Ultimately, we think if there is an impact, it’s going to be modest,’’ said Paul Edelstein, the director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight in Lexington.
Still, stock investors cheered the news, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 206.51 points, or nearly 1.6 percent higher, at 13,539.86.
Maury N. Harris, chief US economist for UBS Investment Research in New York, said part of the Fed’s goal is to spur an increase in the value of stocks and other assets, along with lowering rates to encourage home buying and refinancing.
“We’re not just talking about rich people making more money so they can spend more,’’ Harris said. “We’re talking about everyday Americans looking at their 401(k)s and finally seeing that they’re coming back to life again.
The central bank’s move was a victory for the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Eric Rosengren,
who has been publicly pressing for more action by his colleagues.
Democrat lawmakers, too, have been pushing for more economic assistance from the Fed, complaining that Congress is sitting on its hands in an election year and blaming the slow recovery on Obama’s policies.
Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, has opposed further stimulus measures by the Fed, arguing that it could increase inflation by pumping more money into the system.
He has also pledged that if he becomes president, he will replace Fed chairman Ben Bernanke when his term runs out in 2014. Bernanke was first appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.
In recent weeks, some Republicans have warned that if the Fed did move to shore up the economy, it could assist Obama ahead of the election. On Thursday, Texas Senator John Cornyn, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Reuters the Fed action “looks to be political.”
Spencer Bachus, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the Fed’s
plan was “a scathing indictment of this administration’s economic policies which, after almost four years, have failed to produce a sustainable recovery or put Americans back to work.”
The Romney campaign called it “another bailout.”
The White House and the Obama campaign declined to comment.
US Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Newton, welcomed the Fed’s action and called the Republican response unfortunate.
In a statement, he said Republicans were “clearly upset that they were unable to intimidate the Fed into putting partisan politics ahead of national economic interests.”
The vote by the Fed governors was 11 to 1, with Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the sole dissenting vote.
Asked at news conference Thursday whether the Fed had considered the impact of its actions on the presidential election, Bernanke said: ‘‘We make our decisions based entirely on the state of the economy . . . We just don’t take those factors into account.’’
The central bank, concerned the economy is not growing vigorously enough to create enough new jobs, said it would continue to take action to help the economy if the unemployment rate does not improve.
Thursday’s announcement was dubbed QE3, shorthand for a third wave of so-called quantitative easing, or buying up assets to inject funds into the economy.
The risk of this and even a fourth effort, IHS’s Edelstein said, is causing inflation to jump. If that happened, he said, “it would be a nail in the coffin for this type of transaction.”
The US unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in August from 8.3 percent in July, but that was mainly due to people retiring or giving up looking for work.
On Thursday, the Fed raised its growth forecast for the economy to a range of 2.5 to 3.0 percent in 2013, up from from 2.2 to 2.8 percent.
Harris, the UBS economist, said the new stimulus will help, in part because unemployment is moving in the right direction, down from 10 percent in the fall of 2009. Since the financial crisis started, the Fed has bought up $2.3 trillion worth of assets in the last two easings.
“No matter what the Fed buys — Treasurys, mortgage-backed securities, it could be hamburgers —