June 2014 FOMC Meeting Minutes: Economy Will Be Better in 2Q2014

July 9th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Fed-sealSMALLEconintersect: The 18 June 2014 meeting statement presented the actions taken. This post covers the economic discussion during this FOMC meeting between the members. The Fed's Balance Sheet (which we report on weekly) continues to grow at record levels (albeit now at a slower pace).

This was the third meeting chaired by Janet Yellen. The meeting minutes have a slightly different feel with more convergence of views and events. The more interesting points are highlighted in bold below.

One of the more interesting meeting minute statements:

...  If the economy progresses about as the Committee expects, warranting reductions in the pace of purchases at each upcoming meeting, this final reduction would occur following the October meeting.

Follow up:

Econintersect publishes below the views of the FOMC members, and ignores the reports given to the members. We are looking for a glimpse of insight into the minds of the FOMC members.

Participants' Views on Current Conditions and the Economic Outlook

In conjunction with this FOMC meeting, the meeting participants submitted their assessments of real output growth, the unemployment rate, inflation, and the target federal funds rate for each year from 2014 through 2016 and over the longer run, under each participant's judgment of appropriate monetary policy. The longer-run projections represent each participant's assessment of the rate to which each variable would be expected to converge, over time, under appropriate monetary policy and in the absence of further shocks to the economy. These economic projections and policy assessments are described in the SEP, which is attached as an addendum to these minutes.

In their discussion of the economic situation and the outlook, meeting participants viewed the information received over the intermeeting period as suggesting that economic activity was rebounding in the second quarter following a surprisingly large decline in real GDP in the first quarter of the year. Labor market conditions generally improved further. Although participants marked down their expectations for average growth of real GDP over the first half of 2014, their projections beginning in the second half of 2014 changed little. Over the next two and a half years, they continued to expect economic activity to expand at a rate sufficient to lead to a further decline in the unemployment rate to levels close to their current assessments of its longer-run normal value. Among the factors anticipated to support the sustained economic expansion were accommodative monetary policy, diminished drag from fiscal restraint, further gains in household net worth, improving credit conditions for households and businesses, and rising employment and wages. While inflation was still seen as running below the Committee's longer-run objective, longer-run inflation expectations remained stable and the Committee anticipated that inflation would move back toward its 2 percent objective over the forecast period. Most participants viewed the risks to the outlook for the economy, the labor market, and inflation as broadly balanced.

Household spending appeared to have risen moderately, on balance, in recent months, with sales of motor vehicles, in particular, rising strongly. However, several participants read the recent soft information on retail sales and health-care spending as raising some concern about the underlying strength in consumer spending. A couple of participants noted that, to date, consumer spending had been supported importantly by gains in household net worth while income gains had been held back by only modest increases in wages. In their view, an important element in the economic outlook was a pickup in income, from higher wages as well as ongoing employment gains, that would be expected to support a sustained rise in consumer spending.

The recovery in the housing sector was reported to have remained slow in all but a few areas of the country. Many participants expressed concern about the still-soft indicators of residential construction, and they discussed a range of factors that might be contributing to either a temporary delay in the housing recovery or a persistently lower level of homebuilding than previously anticipated. Despite attractive mortgage rates, housing demand was seen as being damped by such factors as restrictive credit conditions, particularly for households with low credit scores; high down payments; or low demand among younger homebuyers, due in part to the burden of student loan debt. Others noted supply constraints, pointing to shortages of lots, low inventories of desirable homes for sale, an overhang of homes associated with foreclosures or seriously delinquent mortgages, or rising construction costs. Several other participants suggested the possibility that more persistent structural changes in housing demand associated with an aging population and evolving lifestyle preferences were boosting demand for multifamily units at the expense of single-family homes.

Information from participants' business contacts suggested capital spending was likely to increase going forward. Contacts in a number of Districts reported that they were generally optimistic about the business outlook, although in a couple of regions respondents remained cautious about prospects for stronger economic growth or worried about a renewal of federal fiscal restraint after the current congressional budget agreement expires. Among the industries cited as relatively strong in recent months were transportation, energy, telecommunications, and manufacturing, particularly motor vehicles. Some participants commented that their contacts in small and medium-sized businesses reported an improved outlook for sales, and several heard businesses more generally discuss plans to increase capital expenditures. One participant noted that District businesses were investing largely to meet replacement needs, while another suggested that the backlog of such needs would likely provide some impetus to business investment.

Favorable financial conditions appeared be supporting economic activity. While information about mortgage lending was mixed, a number of participants reported increases in C&I lending by banks in their Districts, a pickup in loan demand at banks, or better credit quality for borrowers. In addition, small businesses reported improvements in credit availability. However, participants also discussed whether some recent trends in financial markets might suggest that investors were not appropriately taking account of risks in their investment decisions. In particular, low implied volatility in equity, currency, and fixed-income markets as well as signs of increased risk-taking were viewed by some participants as an indication that market participants were not factoring in sufficient uncertainty about the path of the economy and monetary policy. They agreed that the Committee should continue to carefully monitor financial conditions and to emphasize in its communications the dependence of its policy decisions on the evolution of the economic outlook; it was also pointed out that, where appropriate, supervisory measures should be applied to address excessive risk-taking and associated financial imbalances. At the same time, it was noted that monetary policy needed to continue to promote the favorable financial conditions required to support the economic expansion.

In discussing economic developments abroad, a couple of participants noted that recent monetary policy actions by the ECB and the Bank of Japan had improved the outlook for economic activity in those areas and could help return inflation to target. Several others, however, remained concerned that persistent low inflation in Europe and Japan could eventually erode inflation expectations more broadly. And a couple of participants expressed uncertainty about the outlook for economic growth in Japan and China. In addition, several saw developments in Iraq and Ukraine as posing possible downside risks to global economic activity or potential upside risks to world oil prices.

Labor market conditions generally continued to improve over the intermeeting period. That improvement was evidenced by the decline in the unemployment rate as well as by changes in other indicators, such as solid gains in nonfarm payrolls, a low level of new claims for unemployment insurance, uptrends in quits and job openings, and more positive views of job availability by households. In assessing labor market conditions, participants again offered a range of views on how far conditions in the labor market were from those associated with maximum employment. Many judged that slack remained elevated, and a number of them thought it was greater than measured by the official unemployment rate, citing, in particular, the still-high level of workers employed part time for economic reasons or the depressed labor force participation rate. Even so, several participants pointed out that both long- and short-term unemployment and measures that include marginally attached workers had declined. Most participants projected the improvement in labor market conditions to continue, with the unemployment rate moving down gradually over the medium term. However, a couple of participants anticipated that the decline in unemployment would be damped as part-time workers shift to full-time jobs and as nonparticipants rejoin the labor force, while a few others commented that they expected no lasting reversal of the decline in labor force participation.

Aggregate wage measures continued to rise at only a modest rate, and reports on wages from business contacts and surveys in a number of Districts were mixed. Several of those reports pointed to an absence of wage pressures, while some others indicated that tight labor markets or shortages of skilled workers were leading to upward pressure on wages in some areas or occupations and that an increasing proportion of small businesses were planning to raise wages. Participants discussed the prospects for wage increases to pick up as slack in the labor market diminishes. Several noted that a return to growth in real wages in line with productivity growth would provide welcome support for household spending.

Readings on a range of price measures--including the PCE price index, the CPI, and a number of the analytical measures developed at the Reserve Banks--appeared to provide evidence that inflation had moved up recently from low levels earlier in the year, consistent with the Committee's forecast of a gradual increase in inflation over the medium term. Reports from business contacts were mixed, spanning an absence of price pressures in some Districts and rising input costs in others. Some participants expressed concern about the persistence of below-trend inflation, and a couple of them suggested that the Committee may need to allow the unemployment rate to move below its longer-run normal level for a time in order keep inflation expectations anchored and return inflation to its 2 percent target, though one participant emphasized the risks of doing so. In contrast, some others expected a faster pickup in inflation or saw upside risks to inflation and inflation expectations because they anticipated a more rapid decline in economic slack.

During their consideration of issues related to monetary policy over the medium term, participants generally supported the Committee's current guidance about the likely path of its asset purchases and about its approach to determining the timing of the first increase in the federal funds rate and the path of the policy rate thereafter. Participants offered views on a range of issues related to policy communications. Some participants suggested that the Committee's communications about its forward guidance should emphasize more strongly that its policy decisions would depend on its ongoing assessment across a range of indicators of economic activity, labor market conditions, inflation and inflation expectations, and financial market developments. In that regard, circumstances that might entail either a slower or a more rapid removal of policy accommodation were cited. For example, a number of participants noted their concern that a more gradual approach might be appropriate if forecasts of above-trend economic growth later this year were not realized. And a couple suggested that the Committee might need to strengthen its commitment to maintain sufficient policy accommodation to return inflation to its target over the medium term in order to prevent an undesirable decline in inflation expectations. Alternatively, some other participants expressed concern that economic growth over the medium run might be faster than currently expected or that the rate of growth of potential output might be lower than currently expected, calling for a more rapid move to begin raising the federal funds rate in order to avoid significantly overshooting the Committee's unemployment and inflation objectives.

While the current asset purchase program is not on a preset course, participants generally agreed that if the economy evolved as they anticipated, the program would likely be completed later this year. Some committee members had been asked by members of the public whether, if tapering in the pace of purchases continues as expected, the final reduction would come in a single $15 billion per month reduction or in a  $10 billion reduction followed by a $5 billion reduction. Most participants viewed this as a technical issue with no substantive macroeconomic consequences and no consequences for the eventual decision about the timing of the first increase in the federal funds rate--a decision that will depend on the Committee's evolving assessments of actual and expected progress toward its objectives. In light of these considerations, participants generally agreed that if incoming information continued to support its expectation of improvement in labor market conditions and a return of inflation toward its longer-run objective, it would be appropriate to complete asset purchases with a $15 billion reduction in the pace of purchases in order to avoid having the small, remaining level of purchases receive undue focus among investors. If the economy progresses about as the Committee expects, warranting reductions in the pace of purchases at each upcoming meeting, this final reduction would occur following the October meeting.


In their discussion of the economic situation and the outlook, meeting participants generally indicated that their assessment of the economic outlook had not changed materially since the March meeting. Severe winter weather had contributed to a sharp slowing in activity during the first quarter, but recent indicators pointed to a rebound and suggested that the economy had returned to a trajectory of moderate growth. However, some participants remarked that it was too early to confirm that the bounceback in economic activity would put the economy on a path of sustained above-trend economic growth. In general, participants continued to view the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as nearly balanced. However, a number of participants pointed to possible sources of downside risk to growth, including a persistent slowdown in the housing sector or potential international developments, such as a further slowing of growth in China or an increase in geopolitical tensions regarding Russia and Ukraine.

Participants noted that business contacts in many parts of the country were generally optimistic about economic prospects, with reports of increased sales of automobiles, higher production in the aerospace industry, and increased usage of industrial power; in addition, a couple of firms with a global presence reported a notable increase in demand from customers in Europe. Contacts in several Districts pointed to plans for increasing capital expenditures or to stronger demand for commercial and industrial loans. In the agricultural sector, the planting season was under way, but there were concerns about the effects of drought on production in some areas.

Most participants commented on the continuing weakness in housing activity. They saw a range of factors affecting the housing market, including higher home prices, construction bottlenecks stemming from a scarcity of labor and harsh winter weather, input cost pressures, or a shortage in the supply of available lots. Views varied regarding the outlook for the multifamily sector, with the large increase in multifamily units coming to market potentially putting downward pressure on prices and rents, but the demand for this type of housing expected to rise as the population ages. A couple of participants noted that mortgage credit availability remained constrained and lending standards were tight compared with historical norms, especially for purchase mortgages. However, reports from some Districts indicated that real estate and housing-related business activity had strengthened recently, consistent with the solid gains in consumer spending registered in March.

Conditions in the labor market continued to improve over the intermeeting period and participants generally expected further gradual improvement. Participants discussed a range of research and analysis bearing on the amount of available slack remaining in the labor market. A number of them argued that several indicators of labor underutilization--including the low labor force participation rate and the still-elevated rates of longer-duration unemployment and of workers employed part time for economic reasons--suggested that there is more slack in the labor market than is captured by the unemployment rate alone. Low nominal wage inflation was also viewed as consistent with slack in labor markets. However, some participants reported that labor markets were tight in their Districts or that contacts indicated some sectors or occupations were experiencing shortages of workers. Another participant observed that labor underutilization, as measured by an index that takes employment transition rates into account, was consistent with past periods in which the official unemployment rate had reached its current level, and had declined about as much relative to the official unemployment rate as it had in previous economic recoveries.

In discussing the effect of labor market conditions on inflation, a number of participants expressed skepticism about recent studies suggesting that long-term unemployment provides less downward pressure on wage and price inflation than short-term unemployment does. A couple of participants cited other research findings that both short- and long-term unemployment rates exert pressure on wages, with the effects of long-term unemployment increasing as the level of short-term unemployment declines. Moreover, a few participants pointed out that because of downward nominal wage rigidity during the recession, wage increases are likely to remain relatively modest for some time during the recovery, even as the labor market strengthens. It was also noted that because inflation was expected to remain well below the Committee's 2 percent objective and the unemployment rate was still above participants' estimates of its longer-run normal level, the Committee did not, at present, face a tradeoff between its employment and inflation objectives, and an expansion of aggregate demand would result in further progress relative to both objectives.

Inflation continued to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective over the intermeeting period. Many participants saw the recent behavior of the prices of food, energy, shelter, and imports as consistent with a stabilization in inflation and judged that the transitory factors that had reduced inflation, such as declines in administered prices for medical services, were fading. Most participants expected inflation to return to 2 percent within the next few years, supported by highly accommodative monetary policy, stable inflation expectations, and a continued gradual recovery in economic activity. However, a few others expressed the concern that the return to 2 percent inflation could be even more gradual.

In their discussion of financial stability, participants generally did not see imbalances that posed significant near-term risks to the financial system and the broader economy, but they nevertheless reviewed some financial developments that pointed to potential future risks. A couple of participants noted that conditions in the leveraged loan market had become stretched, although equity cushions on new deals remained above levels seen prior to the financial crisis. Two others saw declining credit spreads, particularly on speculative-grade corporate bonds, as consistent with an increase in investors' appetite for risk. In addition, several participants noted that the low level of expected volatility implied by some financial market prices might also signal an increase in risk appetite. Some stated that it would be helpful to continue to explore the appropriate regulatory, supervisory, and monetary policy responses to potential risks to financial stability.

It was noted that the changes to the Committee's forward guidance at the March FOMC meeting had been well understood by investors. However, a number of participants emphasized the importance of communicating still more clearly about the Committee's policy intentions as the time of the first increase in the federal funds rate moves closer. Some thought it would be helpful to clarify the reasoning underlying the language in the FOMC's postmeeting statement indicating that even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run. In addition, a few participants judged that additional clarity about the Committee's reaction function could be particularly important in the event that future economic conditions necessitate a more rapid rise in the target federal funds rate than the Committee currently anticipates. A number of participants suggested that it would be useful to provide additional information regarding how long the Committee would continue its policy of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction and reinvesting principal payments on all agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities.

Steven Hansen

Source: Federal Reserve


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