Wednesday, November 18, 2015

FOMC Minutes: "Most participants anticipated conditions could be met by next meeting"

by Bill McBride on 11/18/2015 02:07:00 PM

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, October 27-28, 2015. Excerpts:

During their discussion of economic conditions and monetary policy, participants focused on a number of issues associated with the timing and pace of policy normalization. Some participants thought that the conditions for beginning the policy normalization process had already been met. Most participants anticipated that, based on their assessment of the current economic situation and their outlook for economic activity, the labor market, and inflation, these conditions could well be met by the time of the next meeting. Nonetheless, they emphasized that the actual decision would depend on the implications for the medium-term economic outlook of the data received over the upcoming intermeeting period. Some others, however, judged it unlikely that the information available by the December meeting would warrant raising the target range for the federal funds rate at that meeting.

A number of participants pointed to various reasons why the Committee should avoid a delay in policy firming. One concern was that such a delay, if the reasons were not well understood by market participants, could increase uncertainty in financial markets and unduly magnify the perceived importance of the beginning of the policy normalization process. Another concern mentioned was the increasing risk of a buildup of financial imbalances after a prolonged period of very low interest rates. It was also noted that a decision to defer policy firming could be interpreted as signaling lack of confidence in the strength of the U.S. economy or erode the Committee's credibility. Some participants emphasized that progress toward the Committee's objectives should be assessed in light of the cumulative gains made to date without placing excessive weight on month-to-month changes in incoming data.

Several participants indicated that, despite lessening concerns about the implications of recent global economic and financial developments for domestic economic activity and inflation, appreciable downside risks to the outlook remained. They were concerned about a potential loss of momentum in the economy and the associated possibility that inflation might fail to increase as expected. Such concerns might suggest that the initiation of the normalization process may not yet be warranted. They also noted uncertainty about whether economic growth was robust enough to withstand potential adverse shocks, given the limited ability of monetary policy to offset such shocks when the federal funds rate is near its effective lower bound, and concern that the beginning of policy normalization might be associated with an unwarranted tightening of financial conditions. They believed that in these circumstances, risk-management considerations called for a cautious approach. They judged it appropriate to wait for additional information providing evidence of further improvement in the labor market and increasing their confidence that inflation was on a path to return to 2 percent over the medium term before raising the target range for the federal funds rate. In addition, a couple of participants cited concerns that a premature tightening might damage the credibility of the Committee's inflation objective if inflation stayed below 2 percent for a prolonged period.

Several participants indicated that, in the current low interest rate environment, it would be prudent for the Committee to consider options for providing additional monetary policy accommodation if the outlook for economic activity were to weaken to a degree that seemed likely to undermine continued progress in labor market conditions and impede the movement of inflation back to the Committee's 2 percent objective over the medium term. It was also noted that the Committee would need to reformulate its communications regarding the near-term outlook for monetary policy if the economic outlook weakened significantly.

During their discussion of the likely path for the federal funds rate after the time of the first increase in the target range, participants generally agreed that it would probably be appropriate to remove policy accommodation gradually. Participants also indicated that the expected path of policy, rather than the timing of the initial increase, would be the more important influence on financial conditions and thus on the outlook for the economy and inflation, and they noted the importance of underscoring this view at the time of liftoff. It was noted that beginning the normalization process relatively soon would make it more likely that the policy trajectory after liftoff could be shallow. It was also emphasized that, while participants' most recent economic projections suggested that a gradual increase in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate to support progress toward the Committee's dual objectives, monetary policy adjustments ultimately would be dependent on economic and financial developments. These adjustments thus could be either more or less gradual than the Committee currently anticipates, responding to the Committee's assessment of the implications of incoming information for the medium-run outlook.
In its postmeeting statement, rather than framing its near-term policy path in terms of how long to maintain the current target range, the Committee decided to indicate that, in determining whether it would be appropriate to raise the target range at its next meeting, it would assess both realized and expected progress toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. Members emphasized that this change was intended to convey the sense that, while no decision had been made, it may well become appropriate to initiate the normalization process at the next meeting, provided that unanticipated shocks do not adversely affect the economic outlook and that incoming data support the expectation that labor market conditions will continue to improve and that inflation will return to the Committee's 2 percent objective over the medium term. Members saw the updated language as leaving policy options open for the next meeting. However, a couple of members expressed concern that this wording change could be misinterpreted as signaling too strongly the expectation that the target range for the federal funds rate would be increased at the Committee's next meeting.
emphasis added