Federal Reserve 15 March 2011 Meeting: Debate on What to Do Next

April 5th, 2011
in econ_news

Econintersect:  On March 15, 2011 Econintersect reported (article here) the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting statement.  Their 10 page full meeting minutes issued today offers little more insight - except for some confusion on when and what path the FOMC should be taking next.

The FOMC is the governing board of the Federal Reserve (US central bank).

Follow up:

Their view on inflation:

Participants noted that recent increases in the prices of oil and other commodities were putting upward pressure on headline inflation, but that measures of underlying inflation remained subdued. They anticipated that the effects on inflation of the recent run-up in commodity prices would prove transitory, in part because they saw longer-term inflation expectations remaining stable. Moreover, a number of participants expected that slack in resource utilization would continue to restrain increases in labor costs and prices. Nonetheless, participants observed that rapidly rising commodity prices posed upside risks to the stability of longer-term inflation expectations, and thus to the outlook for inflation, even as they posed downside risks to the outlook for growth in consumer spending and business investment.

.............Participants observed that headline inflation was being boosted by higher prices for energy and other commodities, and that prices of other imported goods also had risen by a substantial, though smaller, amount. A number of business contacts indicated that they were passing on at least a portion of these higher costs to their customers or that they planned to try to do so later this year; however, contacts were uncertain about the extent to which they could raise prices, given current market conditions and the cautious attitudes toward spending still held by households and businesses.  Other participants noted that commodity and energy costs accounted for a relatively small share of production costs for most firms and that labor costs accounted for the bulk of such costs; moreover, they observed that unit labor costs generally had declined in recent years as productivity growth outpaced wage gains. Several participants noted that even large commodity price increases have had only limited effects on underlying inflation in recent decades.

On employment / unemployment:

Meeting participants judged that overall conditions in labor markets had continued to improve gradually. The unemployment rate had decreased significantly in recent months; other labor market indicators, including measures of job growth and hours worked, showed more-modest improvements. Several participants noted that the drop in unemployment was attributable more to people withdrawing from the labor force and to fewer layoffs than to increased hiring. Even so, participants agreed that gains in employment seemed to be on a gradually rising trajectory, although the recent data had been somewhat erratic and distorted by worse than-usual weather in many parts of the country.

On economic growth:

Participants generally judged the risks to their forecasts of growth in economic activity to be roughly balanced.  They continued to see some downside risks from the banking and fiscal strains in the European periphery, the continuing fiscal adjustments by U.S. state and local governments, and the ongoing weakness in the housing market. Several also noted the possibility of larger than-anticipated near-term cuts in federal government spending. Moreover, the economic implications of the tragedy in Japan—for example, with respect to global supply chains—were not yet clear. On the upside, the improvement in labor market conditions in recent months raised the possibility that household spending — and subsequently business investment — might expand more rapidly than anticipated; if so, the recovery could be stronger than currently projected. Participants judged that the potential for more-widespread disruptions in oil production, and thus for a larger jump in energy prices, posed both downside risks to growth and upside risks to inflation. Several of them indicated, in light of recent developments, that the risks to their forecasts of inflation had shifted somewhat to the upside.

On Federal Reserve Future Actions:

Finally, a few participants noted that if the large size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet were to lead the public to doubt the Committee’s ability to withdraw monetary accommodation when appropriate, the result could be upward pressure on inflation expectations and so on actual inflation. To mitigate such risks, participants agreed that the Committee would continue its planning for the eventual exit from the current, exceptionally accommodative stance of monetary policy. In light of uncertainty about the economic outlook, it was seen as prudent to consider possible exit strategies for a range of potential economic outcomes. A few participants indicated that economic conditions might warrant a move toward less-accommodative monetary policy this year; a few others noted that exceptional policy accommodation could be appropriate beyond 2011.

On business:

A further increase in business activity also indicated that the economic recovery remained on track. Industrial production posted solid gains, supported in part by continuing growth in U.S. exports. Business contacts in a number of regions reported they were more confident about the recovery; a growing number of contacts indicated they were planning for an expansion in hiring and production to meet an anticipated rise in sales.  Manufacturing firms were particularly upbeat. Some contacts reported they were increasing capital budgets to undertake investment that had been postponed during the recession and early stages of the recovery; in some cases, firms were planning to expand capacity.  Consistent with the anecdotal evidence, indicators of current and planned business investment in equipment and software continued to rise and surveys showed a further improvement in business sentiment. In addition, although residential construction remained weak, investment in energy extraction was growing and spending on commercial construction projects appeared to be bottoming out.

source: Federal Reserve


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