July 2014 FOMC Meeting Minutes: Will QE and ZIRP End Sooner?

August 20th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Fed-sealSMALLEconintersect: The 30 July 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 and slower pace).

One of the more interesting meeting minute statements:

... Moreover, many participants noted that if convergence toward the Committee's objectives occurred more quickly than expected, it might become appropriate to begin removing monetary policy accommodation sooner than they currently anticipated. Indeed, some participants viewed the actual and expected progress toward the Committee's goals as sufficient to call for a relatively prompt move toward reducing policy accommodation to avoid overshooting the Committee's unemployment and inflation objectives over the medium term.

Follow up:

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

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 their discussion of the economic situation and the outlook, meeting participants generally viewed the rebound in real GDP in the second quarter and the ongoing improvement in labor market conditions as supporting their expectations for continued moderate economic expansion with labor market indicators and inflation moving toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. Although most participants continued to view the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced, some pointed to possible sources of downside risk, including persistent weakness in the housing sector, a continued slow rise in household income, or spillovers from developments in the Middle East and Ukraine. Participants noted that inflation had moved somewhat closer to the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective and generally saw the risks of inflation running persistently below their objective as having diminished somewhat.

Household spending appeared to be rising moderately and was expected to contribute to stronger economic growth in the second half of the year than in the first half. Business contacts in several Districts reported a pickup in consumer spending after the weakness in the first quarter. However, a few participants raised concerns that households might remain cautious, with the personal saving rate staying elevated, or that the slow rise in wages and income might be insufficient to support stronger consumer spending.

The recovery in housing activity remained slow according to most participants. Although mortgage rates were still low and housing appeared to be relatively affordable, various factors were seen as restraining demand, including low expected income and high levels of student debt as well as difficulty in obtaining mortgage credit, particularly for younger, first-time homebuyers. It was also noted that the weakness in homebuilding along with the continued rise in house prices suggested that supply constraints were also weighing on construction activity. A couple of participants indicated that some demand appeared to have shifted to rental properties. The rising demand for rentals was in part being satisfied by investors buying homes for the rental market; it was also providing support for multifamily construction. Some participants noted their concern that a number of the factors restraining residential construction might persist, damping the housing recovery for some time.

Many participants reported continued improvement in sentiment among their business contacts and noted positive readings from recent regional and national surveys of manufacturing and service-sector activity. In particular, participants cited strength in airlines, railroads, trucking firms, businesses supplying the motor vehicle and aerospace industries, and those in the high-tech sector. In addition, higher energy prices continued to provide support for activity in the energy sector. In the agriculture sector, favorable growing conditions for crops had lowered prices but increased the profitability of livestock producers. The reports from their business contacts provided support for participants' expectation of stronger economic growth in the second half of the year. In some cases, the information from businesses suggested increases in spending on capital equipment or a pickup in investment in commercial and industrial construction and transportation. Contacts in a number of areas indicated that credit was readily available, and reports from participants' business and financial contacts indicated a strengthening in demand for bank credit. However, several participants reported that businesses remained somewhat uncertain about the economic outlook and thus were still cautious about stepping up capital spending and hiring. Federal fiscal restraint reportedly continued to depress business activity in some areas dependent on federal spending.

Labor market conditions improved in recent months according to participants' reports on developments in their Districts as well as a range of national indicators. The improvement was reflected not only in a pickup in payroll employment gains and a noticeable decline in the overall unemployment rate, but also in reductions in broader measures of underutilization such as long- duration joblessness and the number of workers with part-time jobs who would prefer full-time employment. The labor force participation rate was stable, and a couple of participants pointed out that the transition rate from long-duration unemployment to employment had moved up. Moreover, some participants cited positive signs of increased hiring and turnover in the labor market, including increases in job openings and hiring plans, higher quit rates, and apparent improvements in matching workers and jobs.

Participants generally agreed that both the recent improvement in labor market conditions and the cumulative progress over the past year had been greater than anticipated and that labor market conditions had moved noticeably closer to those viewed as normal in the longer run. Participants differed, however, in their assessments of the remaining degree of labor market slack and how to measure it. A few argued that the unemployment rate continues to serve as a reliable summary statistic for the overall state of the labor market and thought that it should be the Committee's principal focus for evaluating labor market conditions. However, many participants continued to see a larger gap between current labor market conditions and those consistent with their assessments of normal levels of labor utilization than indicated by the difference between the unemployment rate and estimates of its longer-run normal level. These participants cited, for example, the still-elevated levels of long-term unemployment and workers employed part time for economic reasons as well as low labor force participation. Several participants pointed out that the recent drop in the unemployment rate had been associated with progress in reabsorbing the long-term unemployed into jobs and reducing part-time work, suggesting that slack was diminishing and could be reduced further as employment opportunities expanded.

Labor compensation was still rising only modestly. Many participants continued to attribute the subdued rise in wages to the remaining slack in the labor market; it was noted that the elevated level of relatively low-paid part-time workers was holding down overall wage increases. Several other participants pointed to reports that wage pressures had increased in some regions and occupations that were experiencing labor shortages or relatively low unemployment. However, a couple of participants indicated that the pass-through of labor costs has been more attenuated since the mid-1980s and that wage pressures might not be a reliable leading indicator of higher inflation.

Inflation firmed in recent months, and most participants anticipated that it would continue to move up toward the Committee's 2 percent objective. Many of them expected that inflation was likely to rise gradually over the medium term, as resource slack diminished and inflation expectations remained stable. In support of their assessments, several reported results from various statistical models of inflation and inflation expectations. Most now judged that the downside risks to inflation had diminished, but a few participants continued to see inflation as likely to persist below the Committee's objective over the medium term. Several commented that the upside risks had not increased. However, a few others argued that the recent tightening of the labor market had increased the upside risks to inflation and inflation expectations, particularly in an environment in which the economic expansion was expected to strengthen further.

In their discussion of financial stability issues, participants noted evidence of valuation pressures in some particular asset markets, but those pressures did not appear to be widespread and other measures of vulnerability in the financial system were at low to moderate levels. As a result, they generally saw the vulnerabilities in the financial system as well contained. Some participants discussed how the Committee might better incorporate financial stability risks in its discussion of macroeconomic risks. They also suggested that the Committee consider how promptly various financial stability concerns could be addressed, if need be, and which tools, including monetary policy and regulatory responses, would be most timely and effective in doing so.

With respect to monetary policy over the medium run, participants generally agreed that labor market conditions and inflation had moved closer to the Committee's longer-run objectives in recent months, and most anticipated that progress toward those goals would continue. Moreover, many participants noted that if convergence toward the Committee's objectives occurred more quickly than expected, it might become appropriate to begin removing monetary policy accommodation sooner than they currently anticipated. Indeed, some participants viewed the actual and expected progress toward the Committee's goals as sufficient to call for a relatively prompt move toward reducing policy accommodation to avoid overshooting the Committee's unemployment and inflation objectives over the medium term. These participants were increasingly uncomfortable with the Committee's forward guidance. In their view, the guidance suggested a later initial increase in the target federal funds rate as well as lower future levels of the funds rate than they judged likely to be appropriate. They suggested that the guidance should more clearly communicate how policy-setting would respond to the evolution of economic data. However, most participants indicated that any change in their expectations for the appropriate timing of the first increase in the federal funds rate would depend on further information on the trajectories of economic activity, the labor market, and inflation. In particular, although participants generally saw the drop in real GDP in the first quarter as transitory, some noted that it increased uncertainty about the outlook, and they were looking to additional data on production, spending, and labor market developments to shed light on the underlying pace of economic growth. Moreover, despite recent inflation developments, several participants continued to believe that inflation was likely to move back to the Committee's objective very slowly, thereby warranting a continuation of highly accommodative policy as long as projected inflation remained below 2 percent and longer-term inflation expectations were well anchored.


Steven Hansen

Source: Federal Reserve


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