Wednesday, November 14, 2012

FOMC Minutes: "Participants generally favored" Thresholds

by Bill McBride on 11/14/2012 02:00:00 PM

It seems very likely that the Fed will adopt a threshold rule for the Feds Fund Rate based on inflation and unemployment, and remove the forward guidance sentence from the statement at the December 11th and 12th meeting.  Note: The forward guidance includes the sentence: "currently anticipates that exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate are likely to be warranted at least through mid-2015".

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, October 23–24, 2012. Excerpt:

A staff presentation focused on the potential effects of using specific threshold values of inflation and the unemployment rate to provide forward guidance regarding the timing of the initial increase in the federal funds rate. The presentation reviewed simulations from a staff macroeconomic model to illustrate the implications for policy and the economy of announcing various threshold values that would need to be attained before the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) would consider increasing its target for the federal funds rate. Meeting participants discussed whether such thresholds might usefully replace or perhaps augment the date-based guidance that had been provided in the policy statements since August 2011. Participants generally favored the use of economic variables, in place of or in conjunction with a calendar date, in the Committee's forward guidance, but they offered different views on whether quantitative or qualitative thresholds would be most effective. Many participants were of the view that adopting quantitative thresholds could, under the right conditions, help the Committee more clearly communicate its thinking about how the likely timing of an eventual increase in the federal funds rate would shift in response to unanticipated changes in economic conditions and the outlook. Accordingly, thresholds could increase the probability that market reactions to economic developments would move longer-term interest rates in a manner consistent with the Committee's view regarding the likely future path of short-term rates. A number of other participants judged that communicating a careful qualitative description of the indicators influencing the Committee's thinking about current and future monetary policy, or providing more information about the Committee's policy reaction function, would be more informative than either quantitative thresholds or date-based forward guidance. Several participants were concerned that quantitative thresholds could confuse the public by giving the impression that the FOMC focuses on a small number of economic variables in setting monetary policy, when the Committee in fact uses a wide range of information. Some other participants worried that the public might mistakenly interpret quantitative thresholds as equivalent to the Committee's longer-run objectives or as triggers that, when reached, would prompt an immediate rate increase; but it was noted that the Chairman's postmeeting press conference and other venues could be used to explain the distinction between thresholds and these other concepts.

Participants generally agreed that the Committee would need to resolve a number of practical issues before deciding whether to adopt quantitative thresholds to communicate its thinking about the timing of the initial increase in the federal funds rate. These issues included whether to specify such thresholds in terms of realized or projected values of inflation and the unemployment rate and, in either case, what values for those thresholds would best balance the Committee's objectives of promoting maximum employment and price stability. Another open question was whether to supplement thresholds expressed in terms of the unemployment rate and inflation with additional indicators of economic and financial conditions that might signal a need either to raise the federal funds rate before a threshold is crossed or to delay until well afterward. A final question was whether the statement should also provide forward guidance about the likely path of the federal funds rate after the initial increase. It was noted that such guidance could have significant effects on financial conditions and the economy. At the conclusion of the discussion, the Chairman asked the staff to provide additional background material, taking into account the range of participants' views.
emphasis added
There are still many details to work out, but it appears likely the Fed will adopt thresholds based on the unemployment rate and inflation. It sounds like the thresholds will be for the Fed Funds rate, and not QE3.

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