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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FOMC Minutes: Discussion of providing "likely future path of the target federal funds rate"

by Calculated Risk on 11/22/2011 01:57:00 PM

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, November 1-2, 2011. Excerpts:

Regarding their overall outlook for economic activity, participants generally agreed that, even with the positive news received over the intermeeting period, the most probable outcome was a moderate pace of economic growth over the medium run with only a gradual decline in the unemployment rate. While some factors were seen as likely to support growth going forward--such as pent-up demand, improvements in household and business balance sheets, and accommodative monetary policy--participants observed that the pace of economic recovery would likely continue to be held down for some time by persistent headwinds. In particular, they pointed to very low levels of consumer and business confidence, further efforts by households to deleverage, cutbacks at all levels of government, elevated financial market volatility, still-tight credit conditions for some households and small businesses, and the ongoing weakness in the labor and housing markets. While recent incoming data suggested reduced odds that the economy would slide back into recession, participants still saw significant downside risks to the outlook for economic growth. Risks included potential spillovers to U.S. financial markets and institutions, and so to the broader U.S. economy, if the European debt and banking crisis were to worsen significantly. In addition, participants noted the risk of a larger-than-expected fiscal tightening and the possibility that structural problems in the housing market had attenuated the transmission of monetary policy actions to the real economy. It was also noted that the extended period of highly accommodative monetary policy could eventually lead to a buildup of financial imbalances. A few participants, however, mentioned the possibility that economic growth could be more rapid than currently expected, particularly if gains in output and employment led to a virtuous cycle of improvements in household balance sheets, increased confidence, and easier credit conditions.
And there was discussion about communication:
The staff gave a presentation on alternative monetary policy strategies, and meeting participants discussed those alternatives as well as potential approaches for enhancing the clarity of their public communications. No decision was made at this meeting to change the Committee's policy strategy or communications. It was noted that many central banks around the world pursue an explicit inflation objective, maintain flexibility to stabilize economic activity, and seek to communicate their forecasts and policy plans as clearly as possible. Many participants pointed to the merits of specifying an explicit longer-run inflation goal, but it was noted that such a step could be misperceived as placing greater weight on price stability than on maximum employment; consequently, some suggested that a numerical inflation goal would need to be set forth within a context that clearly underscored the Committee's commitment to fostering both parts of its dual mandate. More broadly, a majority of participants agreed that it could be beneficial to formulate and publish a statement that would elucidate the Committee's policy approach, and participants generally expressed interest in providing additional information to the public about the likely future path of the target federal funds rate. The Chairman asked the subcommittee on communications to give consideration to a possible statement of the Committee's longer-run goals and policy strategy, and he also encouraged the subcommittee to explore potential approaches for incorporating information about participants' assessments of appropriate monetary policy into the Summary of Economic Projections.
There were concerns about targeting nominal GDP:
The Committee also considered policy strategies that would involve the use of an intermediate target such as nominal gross domestic product (GDP) or the price level. The staff presented model simulations that suggested that nominal GDP targeting could, in principle, be helpful in promoting a stronger economic recovery in a context of longer-run price stability. Other simulations suggested that the single-minded pursuit of a price-level target would not be very effective in fostering maximum sustainable employment; it was noted, however, that price-level targeting where the central bank maintained flexibility to stabilize economic activity over the short term could generate economic outcomes that would be more consistent with the dual mandate. More broadly, a number of participants expressed concern that switching to a new policy framework could heighten uncertainty about future monetary policy, risk unmooring longer-term inflation expectations, or fail to address risks to financial stability.