Wednesday, April 06, 2016

FOMC Minutes: Many participants argued "asymmetry made it prudent to wait for additional information"

by Bill McBride on 4/06/2016 02:10:00 PM

There were different views - a couple of members expect to raise rates at the next meeting.  However many participants argued for a cautious approach.

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, March 15-16, 2016. Excerpts:

Participants generally agreed that the incoming information indicated that the U.S. economy had been resilient to recent global economic and financial developments, and that the domestic economic indicators that had become available in recent weeks had been mostly consistent with their expectations. Moreover, the sharp asset price movements that occurred earlier in the year had been reversed to a large extent, but longer-term interest rates and market participants' expectations for the future path of the federal funds rate remained lower. Taking these developments into account, participants generally judged that the medium-term outlook for domestic demand was not appreciably different than it had been when the Committee met in December. However, most participants, while recognizing the likely positive effects of recent policy actions abroad, saw foreign economic growth as likely to run at a somewhat slower pace than previously expected, a development that probably would further restrain growth in U.S. exports and tend to damp overall aggregate demand. Several participants also cited wider credit spreads as a factor that was likely to restrain growth in demand. Accordingly, many participants expressed the view that a somewhat lower path for the federal funds rate than they had projected in December now seemed most likely to be appropriate for achieving the Committee's dual mandate. Many participants also noted that a somewhat lower projected interest rate path was one reason for the relatively small revisions in their medium-term projections for economic activity, unemployment, and inflation.

Several participants also argued for proceeding cautiously in reducing policy accommodation because they saw the risks to the U.S. economy stemming from developments abroad as tilted to the downside or because they were concerned that longer-term inflation expectations might be slipping lower, skewing the risks to the outlook for inflation to the downside. Many participants noted that, with the target range for the federal funds rate only slightly above zero, the FOMC continued to have little room to ease monetary policy through conventional means if economic activity or inflation turned out to be materially weaker than anticipated, but could raise rates quickly if the economy appeared to be overheating or if inflation was to increase significantly more rapidly than anticipated. In their view, this asymmetry made it prudent to wait for additional information regarding the underlying strength of economic activity and prospects for inflation before taking another step to reduce policy accommodation.

For all of these reasons, most participants judged it appropriate to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/4 to 1/2 percent at this meeting while noting that global economic and financial developments continued to pose risks. These participants saw their judgment as consistent with the Committee's data-dependent approach to setting monetary policy; it was noted that, in this context, the relevant data include not only domestic economic releases, but also information about developments abroad and changes in financial conditions that bear on the economic outlook. A couple of participants, however, saw an increase in the target range to 1/2 to 3/4 percent as appropriate at this meeting, citing evidence that the economy was continuing to expand at a moderate rate despite developments abroad and earlier volatility in financial conditions, continued improvement in labor market conditions, the firming of inflation over recent months, and the apparent leveling-off of oil prices. In their judgment, increasing the target range for the federal funds rate too gradually in the near term risked having to raise it quickly later, which could cause economic and financial strains at that time.

Participants agreed that their ongoing assessments of the data and the implications for the outlook, rather than calendar dates, would determine the timing and pace of future adjustments to the stance of monetary policy. They expressed a range of views about the likelihood that incoming information would make an adjustment appropriate at the time of their next meeting. A number of participants judged that the headwinds restraining growth and holding down the neutral rate of interest were likely to subside only slowly. In light of this expectation and their assessment of the risks to the economic outlook, several expressed the view that a cautious approach to raising rates would be prudent or noted their concern that raising the target range as soon as April would signal a sense of urgency they did not think appropriate. In contrast, some other participants indicated that an increase in the target range at the Committee's next meeting might well be warranted if the incoming economic data remained consistent with their expectations for moderate growth in output, further strengthening of the labor market, and inflation rising to 2 percent over the medium term.
emphasis added