Wednesday, February 17, 2016

FOMC Minutes: Economic and Financial developments "increasing the downside risks to the outlook"

by Bill McBride on 2/17/2016 02:18:00 PM

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, January 26-27. Excerpts:

In their discussion of the economic situation and the outlook, meeting participants saw the information received over the intermeeting period as suggesting that labor market conditions had improved further in late 2015 even as economic growth slowed. Household and business spending had been increasing at moderate rates; however, net exports had been soft and inventory investment had slowed. A range of labor market indicators pointed to some additional decline in underutilization of labor resources. Inflation continued to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective, partly reflecting declines in energy prices and in prices of non-energy imports. Market-based measures of inflation compensation declined further over the intermeeting period; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations were little changed, on balance, in recent months.

In considering the outlook for economic activity, participants weighed the divergent signals from recent strength in the labor market and the modest increase in real GDP suggested by the available data on spending and production. In part, the projected slow growth of real GDP in the fourth quarter of 2015 appeared to be caused by reduced inventory investment and a weather-related slowing in consumer spending on energy services--developments that would likely be reversed in the current quarter. Moreover, some participants noted that the preliminary spending data and initial estimates of GDP are often revised substantially, and they judged that labor market indicators tended to provide a more reliable early reading on the economy's underlying strength.

In assessing the medium-term outlook, participants discussed the extent to which the recent turbulence in global financial markets might restrain U.S. economic activity. While acknowledging the possible adverse effects of the tightening of financial conditions that had occurred, most policymakers thought that the extent to which tighter conditions would persist and what that might imply for the outlook were unclear, and they therefore judged that it was premature to alter appreciably their assessment of the medium-term economic outlook. They continued to anticipate that economic activity would expand at a moderate pace over the medium term and that the labor market would continue to strengthen. Inflation was expected to remain low in the near term, in part because of the further decline in energy prices. However, most participants continued to anticipate that inflation would rise to 2 percent over the medium term as the transitory effects of declines in energy and import prices dissipated and the labor market strengthened further. Given their increased uncertainty about how global economic and financial developments might evolve, participants emphasized the importance of closely monitoring these developments and of assessing their implications for the labor market and inflation, and for the balance of risks to the outlook.
...
Participants also discussed a range of issues related to financial market developments. Almost all participants cited a number of recent events as indicative of tighter financial conditions in the United States; these events included declines in equity prices, a widening in credit spreads, a further rise in the exchange value of the dollar, and an increase in financial market volatility. Some participants also pointed to significantly tighter financing conditions for speculative-grade firms and small businesses, and to reports of tighter standards at banks for C&I and CRE loans. The effects of these financial developments, if they were to persist, may be roughly equivalent to those from further firming in monetary policy. Participants mentioned several apparent factors underlying the recent financial market turbulence, including economic and financial developments in China and other foreign countries, spillovers in financial markets from stresses at firms and in countries that are producers of energy and other commodities, and an increase in concerns among market participants regarding the prospects for domestic economic growth. However, a number of participants noted that the large magnitude of changes in domestic financial market conditions was difficult to reconcile with incoming information on U.S. economic developments. A couple of participants pointed out that the recent decline in equity prices could be viewed as bringing equity valuations more in line with historical norms. Additionally, a few participants cautioned that valuations in CRE markets should be closely monitored. The effects of a relatively flat yield curve and low interest rates in reducing banks' net interest margins were also noted.

Participants discussed whether their current assessments of economic conditions and the medium-term outlook warranted either increasing the target range for the federal funds rate at this meeting or altering their earlier views of the appropriate path for the target range for the federal funds rate. Participants agreed that incoming indicators regarding labor market developments had been encouraging, but also that data releases since the December meeting on spending and production had been disappointing. Furthermore, developments in commodity and financial markets as well as the possibility of a significant weakening of some foreign economies had the potential to further restrain domestic economic activity, partly because the large cumulative declines in energy and other commodity prices could have pronounced adverse effects on some firms and countries that are important producers of such commodities. However, a few noted that the potential positive effects of lower energy costs on economic activity were a mitigating factor. Participants judged that the overall implication of these developments for the outlook for domestic economic activity was unclear, but they agreed that uncertainty had increased, and many saw these developments as increasing the downside risks to the outlook.
emphasis added