Thursday, July 05, 2018

FOMC Minutes: "Concern about the possible adverse effects of tariffs"

by Calculated Risk on 7/05/2018 02:06:00 PM

Still on pace for 4 rate hikes in 2018.  Some excerpts:

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, June 12-13, 2018:

In their discussion of the economic situation and the outlook, meeting participants agreed that information received since the FOMC met in May indicated that the labor market had continued to strengthen and that economic activity had been rising at a solid rate. Job gains had been strong, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate had declined. Recent data suggested that growth of household spending had picked up, while business fixed investment had continued to grow strongly. On a 12-month basis, overall inflation and core inflation, which excludes changes in food and energy prices, had both moved close to 2 percent. Indicators of longer-term inflation expectations were little changed, on balance.

Participants viewed recent readings on spending, employment, and inflation as suggesting little change, on balance, in their assessments of the economic outlook. Incoming data suggested that GDP growth strengthened in the second quarter of this year, as growth of consumer spending picked up after slowing earlier in the year. Participants noted a number of favorable economic factors that were supporting above-trend GDP growth; these included a strong labor market, stimulative federal tax and spending policies, accommodative financial conditions, and continued high levels of household and business confidence. They also generally expected that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate would be consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective over the medium term. Participants generally viewed the risks to the economic outlook as roughly balanced.

Participants reported that business fixed investment had continued to expand at a strong pace in recent months, supported in part by substantial investment growth in the energy sector. Higher oil prices were expected to continue to support investment in that sector, and District contacts in the industry were generally upbeat, though supply constraints for labor and infrastructure were reportedly limiting expansion plans. By contrast, District reports regarding the construction sector were mixed, al­though here, too, some contacts reported that supply constraints were acting as a drag on activity. Conditions in both the manufacturing and service sectors in several Districts were reportedly strong and were seen as contributing to solid investment gains. However, many District contacts expressed concern about the possible adverse effects of tariffs and other proposed trade restrictions, both domestically and abroad, on future investment activity; contacts in some Districts indicated that plans for capital spending had been scaled back or postponed as a result of uncertainty over trade policy. Contacts in the steel and aluminum industries expected higher prices as a result of the tariffs on these products but had not planned any new investments to increase capacity. Conditions in the agricultural sector reportedly improved somewhat, but contacts were concerned about the effect of potentially higher tariffs on their exports.

Participants agreed that labor market conditions strengthened further over the intermeeting period. Nonfarm payroll employment posted strong gains in recent months, averaging more than 200,000 per month this year. The unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent in May, below the estimate of each participant who submitted a longer-run projection. Participants pointed to other indicators such as a very high rate of job openings and an elevated quits rate as additional signs that labor market conditions were strong. With economic growth anticipated to remain above trend, participants generally expected the unemployment rate to remain below, or decline further below, their estimates of its longer-run normal rate. Several participants, however, suggested that there may be less tightness in the labor market than implied by the unemployment rate alone, because there was further scope for a strong labor market to continue to draw individuals into the workforce.

Contacts in several Districts reported difficulties finding qualified workers, and, in some cases, firms were coping with labor shortages by increasing salaries and benefits in order to attract or retain workers. Other business contacts facing labor shortages were responding by increasing training for less-qualified workers or by investing in automation. On balance, for the economy overall, recent data on average hourly earnings indicated that wage increases remained moderate. A number of participants noted that, with the unemployment rate expected to remain below estimates of its longer-run normal rate, they anticipated wage inflation to pick up further.

Participants noted that the 12-month changes in both overall and core PCE prices had recently moved close to 2 percent. The recent large increases in consumer energy prices had pushed up total PCE price inflation relative to the core measure, and this divergence was expected to continue in the near term, resulting in a temporary increase in overall inflation above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective. In general, participants viewed recent price developments as consistent with their expectation that inflation was on a trajectory to achieve the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective on a sustained basis, al­though a number of participants noted that it was premature to conclude that the Committee had achieved that objective. The generally favorable outlook for inflation was buttressed by reports from business contacts in several Districts suggesting some firming of inflationary pressures; for example, many business contacts indicated that they were experiencing rising input costs, and, in some cases, firms appeared to be passing these cost increases through to consumer prices. Al­though core inflation and the 12-month trimmed mean PCE inflation rate calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas remained a little below 2 percent, many participants anticipated that high levels of resource utilization and stable inflation expectations would keep overall inflation near 2 percent over the medium term. In light of inflation having run below the Committee's 2 percent objective for the past several years, a few participants cautioned that measures of longer-run inflation expectations derived from financial market data remained somewhat below levels consistent with the Committee's 2 percent objective. Accordingly, in their view, investors appeared to judge the expected path of inflation as running a bit below 2 percent over the medium run. Some participants raised the concern that a prolonged period in which the economy operated beyond potential could give rise to heightened inflationary pressures or to financial imbalances that could lead eventually to a significant economic downturn.

Participants commented on a number of risks and uncertainties associated with their outlook for economic activity, the labor market, and inflation over the medium term. Most participants noted that uncertainty and risks associated with trade policy had intensified and were concerned that such uncertainty and risks eventually could have negative effects on business sentiment and investment spending. Participants generally continued to see recent fiscal policy changes as supportive of economic growth over the next few years, and a few indicated that fiscal policy posed an upside risk. A few participants raised the concern that fiscal policy is not currently on a sustainable path. Many participants saw potential downside risks to economic growth and inflation associated with political and economic developments in Europe and some EMEs.

Meeting participants also discussed the term structure of interest rates and what a flattening of the yield curve might signal about economic activity going forward. Participants pointed to a number of factors, other than the gradual rise of the federal funds rate, that could contribute to a reduction in the spread between long-term and short-term Treasury yields, including a reduction in investors' estimates of the longer-run neutral real interest rate; lower longer-term inflation expectations; or a lower level of term premiums in recent years relative to historical experience reflecting, in part, central bank asset purchases. Some participants noted that such factors might temper the reliability of the slope of the yield curve as an indicator of future economic activity; however, several others expressed doubt about whether such factors were distorting the information content of the yield curve. A number of participants thought it would be important to continue to monitor the slope of the yield curve, given the historical regularity that an inverted yield curve has indicated an increased risk of recession in the United States. Participants also discussed a staff presentation of an indicator of the likelihood of recession based on the spread between the current level of the federal funds rate and the expected federal funds rate several quarters ahead derived from futures market prices. The staff noted that this measure may be less affected by many of the factors that have contributed to the flattening of the yield curve, such as depressed term premiums at longer horizons. Several participants cautioned that yield curve movements should be interpreted within the broader context of financial conditions and the outlook, and would be only one among many considerations in forming an assessment of appropriate policy.

In their consideration of monetary policy at this meeting, participants generally agreed that the economic expansion was progressing roughly as anticipated, with real economic activity expanding at a solid rate, labor market conditions continuing to strengthen, and inflation near the Committee's objective. Based on their current assessments, almost all participants expressed the view that it would be appropriate for the Committee to continue its gradual approach to policy firming by raising the target range for the federal funds rate 25 basis points at this meeting. These participants agreed that, even after such an increase in the target range, the stance of monetary policy would remain accommodative, supporting strong labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation. One participant remarked that, with inflation having run consistently below 2 percent in recent years and market-based measures of inflation compensation still low, postponing an increase in the target range for the federal funds rate would help push inflation expectations up to levels consistent with the Committee's objective.

With regard to the medium-term outlook for monetary policy, participants generally judged that, with the economy already very strong and inflation expected to run at 2 percent on a sustained basis over the medium term, it would likely be appropriate to continue gradually raising the target range for the federal funds rate to a setting that was at or somewhat above their estimates of its longer-run level by 2019 or 2020. Participants reaffirmed that adjustments to the path for the policy rate would depend on their assessments of the evolution of the economic outlook and risks to the outlook relative to the Committee's statutory objectives.
emphasis added