Wednesday, October 09, 2013

FOMC Minutes: "Considerable risks surrounding fiscal policy"

by Calculated Risk on 10/09/2013 02:00:00 PM

There was a significant debate on asset purchases at the last FOMC meeting.  Those who didn't want to reduce asset purchases expressed several reasons including "Considerable risks surrounding fiscal policy" (no kidding!).

Even those who wanted to reduce asset purchases "indicated that they favored a relatively small reduction to signal the Committee's intention to proceed cautiously".

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, September 17-18, 2013 . A few excerpts on asset purchases:

In their discussion of the path for monetary policy, participants debated the advantages and disadvantages of reducing the pace of the Committee's asset purchases at this meeting, focusing importantly on whether the conditions presented to the public in June for reducing the pace of asset purchases had yet been met. In general, those who preferred to maintain for now the pace of purchases viewed incoming data as having been on the disappointing side and, despite clear improvements in labor market conditions since the purchase program's inception in September 2012, were not yet adequately confident of continued progress. Many of these participants had revised down their forecasts for economic activity or pointed to near-term risks and uncertainties. For example, questions were raised about the effects on the housing sector and on the broader economy of the tightening in financial conditions in recent months, as well as about the considerable risks surrounding fiscal policy. Moreover, the announcement of a reduction in asset purchases at this meeting might trigger an additional, unwarranted tightening of financial conditions, perhaps because markets would read such an announcement as signaling the Committee's willingness, notwithstanding mixed recent data, to take an initial step toward exit from its highly accommodative policy. As a result of such concerns, a number of participants thought that risk-management considerations called for a cautious approach and that, in light of the ambiguous cast of recent readings on the economy, it would be prudent to await further evidence of progress before reducing the pace of asset purchases. Consistent with the framework discussed by the Chairman during the June press conference, asset purchases were contingent on the Committee's ongoing assessment of the economic outlook and were not on a preset course; this approach implied a need to adapt and to adjust asset purchases in response to changes in economic conditions in order to preserve the Committee's credibility. With many outside observers expecting a decision to reduce purchases at this meeting, some participants emphasized a need to clearly communicate the rationale behind any decision not to do so, in order to avoid conveying a message of pessimism regarding the economic outlook or to reinforce the distinction between decisions concerning the pace of purchases and those concerning the federal funds rate. One participant suggested that postponing the reduction in the pace of asset purchases would also allow time for the Committee to further discuss and to implement a clarification or strengthening of its forward guidance for the federal funds rate, which could temper the risk that a future downward adjustment in asset purchases would cause an undesirable tightening of financial conditions.

The participants who spoke in favor of moderating the pace of securities purchases at this meeting also cited the incoming data, but viewed those data as broadly consistent with the Committee's outlook for the labor market at the time of the June FOMC meeting when the contingent expectation that the pace of asset purchases would be reduced later in the year was first presented to the public. Moreover, they highlighted what they saw as meaningful cumulative progress in labor market conditions since the purchase program began. Those participants generally were satisfied that investors had come to understand the data-dependent nature of the Committee's thinking about asset purchases, and, because they judged that the conditions laid out in June had been met, they believed that the credibility of the Committee would best be served by announcing a downward adjustment in asset purchases at this meeting. With the markets apparently viewing a cut in purchases as the most likely outcome, it was noted that the postponement of such an announcement to later in the year or beyond could have significant implications for the effectiveness of Committee communications. In particular, concerns were expressed that a delay could potentially undermine the credibility or predictability of monetary policy by, for example, increasing uncertainty about the Committee's reaction function and about its commitment to the forward guidance for the federal funds rate, with the result of an increase in volatility in financial markets. Moreover, maintaining the pace of purchases could be perceived as a sign that the FOMC had turned more pessimistic about the economic outlook. Finally, it was noted that if the Committee did not pare back its purchases in these circumstances, it might be difficult to explain a cut in coming months, absent clearly stronger data on the economy and a swift resolution of federal fiscal uncertainties. Most of the participants leaning toward a downward adjustment in the pace of asset purchases also indicated that they favored a relatively small reduction to signal the Committee's intention to proceed cautiously.

With regard to adjustments in the pace of asset purchases, whether at this or a future meeting, a few participants expressed a preference for not cutting MBS purchases but reducing purchases only of Treasury securities initially, with the intent of continuing to support the recovery in the housing sector. However, the appeal of including both types of securities in any reduction was also mentioned. In addition, in an effort to reduce uncertainty about how the Committee might adjust its purchases in response to economic developments and to alleviate some of the related communications issues, one participant suggested an approach that would mechanically link the reduction in asset purchases to numerical values for the unemployment rate, with the goal of ending the program when the unemployment rate reached a stated level.
emphasis added