Fed minutes show some officials on fence over rate hike
Federal Reserve officials held a detailed debate last month over whether forces holding inflation down were persistent or temporary, with several policymakers looking for stronger evidence of price gains before supporting a third interest-rate hike this year.
“Many participants expressed concern that the low inflation readings this year might reflect not only transitory factors, but also the influence of developments that could prove more persistent,” according to minutes of the 19-20 September meeting, released Wednesday in Washington.
Several policymakers said their decision on whether to raise rates this year “would depend importantly on whether the economic data in coming months increased their confidence” on inflation rising toward their 2% target.
At the meeting, the US central bank left the target range for the federal funds rate unchanged while projecting another increase before the end of the year and announcing an October start for a gradual unwind of its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.
The minutes suggest the forecast for another rate hike in 2017 is conditioned on economic data showing that the inflation target is within reach over the next couple of years.
“It was noted that some patience in removing policy accommodation while assessing trends in inflation was warranted,” the minutes said.
Before the release of the minutes, investors saw about a 78% probability of one more rate increase by the end of the year, according to pricing in fed funds futures markets. Fed officials have meetings scheduled on 31 October-1 November and 12-13 December.
Getting a clear read on economic data may be difficult as some prices, such as of petrol, are affected by recent natural disasters in the US. The Fed’s post-meeting statement on 20 September said the hurricanes would affect the economy in the near term but were “unlikely to materially alter” its course over the medium term.
The minutes said Fed policymakers expected thirdquarter growth “to be held down by the severe disruptions caused by the storms but to rebound beginning in the fourth quarter as rebuilding got under way and economic activity in the affected areas resumed”.
Even though the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have deemed tax reform a top priority, most Fed participants had either not assumed any fiscal stimulus in their projections made in September, the minutes said, “or had marked down the expected magnitude of any stimulus”.
When officials met last month, they were grappling with low unemployment that hadn’t translated into consistently higher wages or inflation, while buoyant asset markets have kept financial conditions easy. Many officials said US financial conditions would support the economic expansion, while a couple of participants “expressed concern that the persistence of highly accommodative financial conditions could, over time, pose risks to financial stability”, the minutes said. BLOOMBERG
US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen.