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posted on 03 January 2018

13 December 2017 FOMC Meeting Minutes: When Will The Next Federal Funds Rate Increase Occur?

Fed-sealSMALL-- this post authored by Steven Hansen

The 01 November 2017 meeting statement presented the actions taken. This post covers the economic discussion during this FOMC meeting between the members (minutes were released today). There was considerable discussion on inflation and timing on the next federal funds rate increase, and an interesting quote:

... Participants discussed several risks that, if realized, could necessitate a steeper path of increases in the [federal funds] target range; these risks included the possibility that inflation pressures could build unduly if output expanded well beyond its maximum sustainable level, perhaps owing to fiscal stimulus or accommodative financial market conditions ...

Analyst Opinion of these minutes

These meeting minutes continue to contain an inordinate discussion on inflation. The FOMC seems to misunderstand the reasons that inflation is moderating and below their targets.

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 conjunction with this FOMC meeting, members of the Board of Governors and Federal Reserve Bank presidents submitted their projections of the most likely outcomes for real GDP growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation for each year from 2017 through 2020 and over the longer run, based on their individual assessments of the appropriate path for the federal funds rate. The longer-run projections represented 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 projections and policy assessments are described in the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), which is an addendum to these minutes.

In their discussion of economic conditions and the outlook, meeting participants agreed that information received since the FOMC met in November indicated that economic activity had been rising at a solid rate and that the labor market had continued to strengthen. Averaging through fluctuations associated with the recent hurricanes, job gains had been solid and the unemployment rate had declined further. Household spending had been expanding at a moderate rate, and growth in business fixed investment had picked up in recent quarters. On a 12-month basis, both overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy had declined this year and were running below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remained low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations were little changed, on balance.

Real economic activity appeared to be growing at a solid pace, buttressed by gains in consumer and business spending, supportive financial conditions, and an improving global economy. Participants judged that hurricane-related disruptions and rebuilding had affected economic activity, employment, and inflation in recent months but had not materially altered the outlook for the national economy. They saw the incoming information on spending and the labor market as consistent with continued above-trend growth and a further strengthening in labor market conditions. Consequently, participants continued to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity would expand at a moderate pace and labor market conditions would remain strong. Inflation on a 12-month basis was expected to remain somewhat below 2 percent in the near term but to stabilize around the Committee's 2 percent objective over the medium term. Near-term risks to the economic outlook appeared to be roughly balanced, but participants agreed that it would be important to continue to monitor inflation developments closely.

Participants expected moderate growth in consumer spending in the near term, underpinned by ongoing strength in the labor market, further improvements in households' net worth, and buoyant consumer sentiment. Business contacts in a few Districts reported strong pre-holiday sales. Many participants expected the proposed cuts in personal taxes to provide some boost to consumer spending. A few participants noted that expectations of tax reform may have already raised consumer spending somewhat to the extent that those expectations had spurred increases in asset valuations and household net worth. A number of participants expressed uncertainty about the magnitude of the effects of tax reform on consumer spending.

District contacts were optimistic, and their reports were generally consistent with continued steady growth in business spending. Reports from District contacts about both the manufacturing and service sectors were generally positive. In contrast, reports on housing and nonresidential construction were mixed. Activity in the energy sector continued to firm, with transportation bottlenecks and residual effects of the hurricanes putting some upward pressure on gasoline prices. In the agricultural sector, farm income was under downward pressure due to low crop prices, and contacts expressed concern about the effects of the possible renegotiation of trade agreements on exports.

Many participants judged that the proposed changes in business taxes, if enacted, would likely provide a modest boost to capital spending, al­though the magnitude of the effects was uncertain. The resulting increase in the capital stock could contribute to positive supply-side effects, including an expansion of potential output over the next few years. However, some business contacts and respondents to business surveys suggested that firms were cautious about expanding capital spending in response to the proposed tax changes or noted that the increase in cash flow that would result from corporate tax cuts was more likely to be used for mergers and acquisitions or for debt reduction and stock buybacks.

Labor market conditions continued to strengthen in recent months, with the unemployment rate declining further and payroll gains well above a pace consistent with maintaining a stable unemployment rate over time. Other indicators, such as consumer and business surveys of job availability and job openings, also pointed to a further tightening in labor market conditions. A couple of participants noted that broad improvements in labor market conditions over the past several years were evident across demographic groups. In several Districts, reports from business contacts or evidence from surveys pointed to some difficulty in finding qualified workers; in some cases, labor shortages were making it hard to fill customer demand or expand business. A few participants noted that a reduction in personal tax rates could potentially increase labor supply, but the magnitude of such effects was quite uncertain.

Against the backdrop of the continued strengthening in labor market conditions, participants discussed recent wage developments. Overall, the pace of wage increases had generally been modest and in line with inflation and productivity growth. In some Districts, reports from business contacts or evidence from surveys pointed to a pickup in wage gains, particularly for unskilled or entry-level workers. In a couple of regions, businesses facing tight labor market conditions were said to be offering more flexible work arrangements or taking advantage of technology to use employees more efficiently, rather than raising wages. A few participants judged that the tightness in labor markets was likely to translate into an acceleration in wages; however, another observed that the absence of broad-based upward wage pressures suggested that there might be scope for further improvement in labor market conditions.

PCE price inflation over the 12 months ending in October, at 1.6 percent, continued to run below the Committee's longer-run objective of 2 percent; core PCE price inflation for items other than consumer food and energy prices was only 1.4 percent over the same period. It was noted that recent readings on monthly inflation had edged up, and a couple of participants observed that core inflation on a year-over-year basis appeared to be stabilizing. Many indicated that they expected cyclical pressures associated with a tightening labor market to show through to higher inflation over the medium term. These participants generally judged that much of the softness in core inflation this year reflected transitory factors and that inflation would begin to rise as the influence of these factors waned. However, one of them noted that secular trends, such as technological innovation or globalization, could be affecting competition and business pricing, and muting inflationary pressures. With core inflation readings having moved down this year and remaining well below 2 percent, some participants observed that there was a possibility that inflation might stay below the objective for longer than they currently expected. Several of them expressed concern that persistently weak inflation may have led to a decline in longer-term inflation expectations; they pointed to low market-based measures of inflation compensation, declines in some survey measures of inflation expectations, or evidence from statistical models suggesting that the underlying trend in inflation had fallen in recent years. A few participants, however, noted that measures of inflation expectations had remained broadly stable this year despite the low readings on inflation and judged that this stability should support the return of inflation to the Committee's 2 percent objective.

With regard to financial markets, some participants observed that financial conditions remained accommodative, citing a range of indicators including low interest rates, narrow credit spreads, high equity values, a lower dollar, and some evidence of easier terms for lending to risky borrowers. In light of elevated asset valuations and low financial market volatility, a couple of participants expressed concern that the persistence of highly accommodative financial conditions could, over time, pose risks to financial stability. Participants also noted that term premiums on longer-term nominal Treasury securities remained low. A number of factors were seen as possibly contributing to the low levels of term premiums, including large holdings of longer-term assets by major central banks, persistently low global inflation, and substantial global demand for assets with long durations.

Meeting participants also discussed the recent narrowing of the gap between the yields on long- and short-maturity nominal Treasury securities, which had resulted in a flatter profile of the term structure of interest rates. Among the factors contributing to the flattening, participants pointed to recent increases in the target range for the federal funds rate, reductions in investors' estimates of the longer-run neutral real interest rate, lower longer-term inflation expectations, and lower term premiums. They generally agreed that the current degree of flatness of the yield curve was not unusual by historical standards. However, several participants thought that it would be important to continue to monitor the slope of the yield curve. Some expressed concern that a possible future inversion of the yield curve, with short-term yields rising above those on longer-term Treasury securities, could portend an economic slowdown, noting that inversions have preceded recessions over the past several decades, or that a protracted yield curve inversion could adversely affect the financial condition of banks and other financial institutions and pose risks to financial stability. A couple of other participants viewed the flattening of the yield curve as an expected consequence of increases in the Committee's target range for the federal funds rate, and judged that a yield curve inversion under such circumstances would not necessarily foreshadow or cause an economic downturn. It was also noted that contacts in the financial sector generally did not express concern about the recent flattening of the term structure.

In their discussion of monetary policy, participants saw the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as having remained strong or having strengthened since their previous meeting, in part reflecting a modest boost from the expected passage of the tax legislation under consideration. Regarding inflation, participants generally viewed the medium-term outlook as little changed, and a majority commented that they continued to expect inflation to gradually return to the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective. A few participants again noted that transitory factors had likely held down inflation earlier this year. However, several participants observed that survey-based measures of inflation expectations or market-based measures of inflation compensation remained low, or that other persistent factors may be holding down inflation, which would present challenges for the Committee in promoting a return of inflation to 2 percent over the medium term.

Based on their current assessments, almost all participants expressed the view that it would be appropriate for the Committee to raise the target range for the federal funds rate 25 basis points at this meeting. These participants agreed that, even after an increase in the target range at this meeting, the stance of monetary policy would remain accommodative, supporting strong labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation. A couple of participants did not believe it was appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate at this meeting; these participants suggested that the Committee should maintain the target range at 1 to 1-1/4 percent until the actual rate of inflation had moved further toward the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective or inflation expectations had increased. They judged that leaving the target range at its current level would better support an increase in inflation expectations and thereby increase the likelihood that inflation will rise to 2 percent.

Regarding the determination of the appropriate timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, participants reaffirmed the need to continue to assess realized and expected economic conditions. Most participants reiterated their support for continuing a gradual approach to raising the target range, noting that this approach helped to balance risks to the outlook for economic activity and inflation. Participants discussed several risks that, if realized, could necessitate a steeper path of increases in the target range; these risks included the possibility that inflation pressures could build unduly if output expanded well beyond its maximum sustainable level, perhaps owing to fiscal stimulus or accommodative financial market conditions. Participants also discussed risks that could lead to a flatter trajectory for the federal funds rate in the medium term, including a failure of actual or expected inflation to move up to the Committee's 2 percent objective. While participants generally saw the risks to the economic outlook as roughly balanced, they agreed that inflation developments should be monitored closely. A few participants indicated that they were not comfortable with the degree of additional policy tightening through the end of 2018 implied by the median projections for the federal funds rate in the December SEP. They expressed concern that such a path of increases in the policy rate, while gradual, might prove inconsistent with a sustained return of inflation to 2 percent, or that the level of the federal funds rate might already be near its current neutral value. A few other participants mentioned that they saw as appropriate a pace of additional policy tightening through the end of 2018 that was somewhat faster than that implied by the December SEP median forecast. They noted that financial conditions had not materially tightened since the removal of monetary policy accommodation began, that continued low interest rates risked financial instability in the future, or that the labor market was increasingly tight. A couple of participants noted the need to continue to monitor and evaluate the effects of balance sheet normalization on long-term interest rates and economic performance.

Due to the persistent shortfall of inflation from the Committee's 2 percent objective, or the risk that monetary policy could again become constrained by the zero lower bound, a few participants suggested that further study of potential alternative frameworks for the conduct of monetary policy such as price-level targeting or nominal GDP targeting could be useful.

Source:

https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20171213.htm



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