February 16th, 2011
Econintersect: The Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Open Market Committee released the minutes of the Committee meeting held on January 25-26, 2011. The minutes included a summary of economic projections made by Federal Reserve Board members and Reserve Bank presidents.
On economic headwinds:
Compared with the December forecast,the conditioning assumptions underlying the forecast were little changed and roughly offsetting: Although higher equity prices and a lower foreign exchange value of the dollar were expected to be slightly more supportive of economic growth, the staff anticipated that these influences would be about offset by lower house prices and higher oil prices.
On the economy:
Participants’ judgment that the economic recovery was on a firmer footing was supported by the strength in household spending in the fourth quarter.........However, some participants noted that it was not clear whether the recent pace of consumer spending would be sustained. On the one hand, the additional spending could reflect pent-up demand following the downturn or greater confidence on the part of households about the future, in which case it might be expected to continue. On the other hand, the additional spending could prove short lived given that a good portion of it appeared to have occurred in relatively volatile categories such as autos......participants generally agreed that the downside risks to their forecasts of both economic growth and inflation―as well as the odds of a period of deflation―had diminished.
Participants noted that conditions in labor markets continued to improve gradually. Payroll employment increased at a modest pace, and, although the data had been somewhat erratic, a slight downward trend was apparent in the recent pattern of weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance. In addition, some surveys of employers suggested a somewhat more upbeat outlook for employment. Business contacts provided a range of information regarding hiring intentions, with some indicating that workers at all skill levels were readily obtainable, while others reported that they had upgraded skill requirements and that some of the currently
unemployed did not meet those new requirements. Some businesses remained reluctant to add permanent positions and were planning to meet their labor requirements with temporary workers. Overall, meeting participants continued to express disappointment in both the pace and the unevenness of the improvements in labor markets and noted that they would monitor labor market developments closely.
Some participants indicated that while unit labor costs generally had declined and profit margins were wide, the higher commodity prices were boosting costs of production for many firms. Some business contacts indicated that they were going to try to pass a portion of these higher costs through to their customers but were uncertain about whether that would be possible given current market conditions. Many participants expected that, with significant slack in resource markets and longer-term inflation expectations stable, measures of core inflation would remain close to current levels in coming quarters. However, the importance of resource slack as a factor influencing inflation was debated, and some participants suggested that other variables, such as current and expected rates of economic growth, could be useful indicators of inflation pressures.
On risks to their outlook:
Participants generally saw the risks to their outlook for economic growth and employment as having become broadly balanced, but they continued to see significant risks to both sides of the outlook. On the downside, participants remained worried about the possible effects of spillovers from the banking and fiscal strains in peripheral Europe, the ongoing fiscal adjustments by U.S. state and local governments, and the continued weakness in the housing market. On the upside, the recent strength in household spending raised the possibility that domestic final demand could snap back more rapidly than anticipated. If so, a considerably stronger recovery could take hold, more in line with the sorts of recoveries seen following deep economic recessions in the past.
The projections of the FOMC regarding the economy: