29 October 2014 FOMC Meeting Minutes: Some Concern Over Decline In Market-Based Inflation Expectations

Econintersect: The 29 October 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) should begin to slightly contract shortly.


One of the more interesting meeting minute statements:

... policymakers might still want to take them [market-based measures of inflation compensation over the next five years as well as over the five-year period beginning five years ahead had declined over the intermeeting period] into account because such a change could reflect increased concerns on the part of investors about adverse outcomes in which low inflation was accompanied by weak economic activity.

The meeting minutes have a slightly different feel with more convergence and divergence 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, most meeting participants viewed the information received over the intermeeting period as suggesting that economic activity continued to expand at a moderate pace. Labor market conditions improved somewhat further, with solid job gains and a lower unemployment rate; on balance, participants judged that the underutilization of labor resources was gradually diminishing. Participants generally expected that, over the medium term, real economic activity would increase at a pace sufficient to lead to a further gradual decline in the unemployment rate toward levels consistent with the Committee's objective of maximum employment. Inflation was continuing to run below the Committee's longer-run objective. Market-based measures of inflation compensation declined somewhat, while survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations remained stable.Participants anticipated that inflation would be held down over the near term by the decline in energy prices and other factors, but would move toward the Committee's 2 percent goal in coming years, although a few expressed concern that inflation might persist below the Committee's objective for quite some time. Most viewed the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced. However, a number of participants noted that economic growth over the medium term might be slower than they currently expected if the foreign economic or financial situation deteriorated significantly.

Household spending advanced at a moderate pace over the intermeeting period, and reports from contacts in several parts of the country indicated that recent retail or auto sales had been robust.However, one participant pointed to mixed retail sales reports that likely reflected a continuation of restrained discretionary spending on the part of low- and middle-income households. Many participants judged that the recent significant decline in energy prices would provide a boost to consumer spending over the near term, with several of them noting that the drop in gasoline prices would benefit lower-income households in particular. Among the other favorable factors that were expected to support continued growth in consumer spending, participants cited solid gains in payroll employment, low interest rates, rising consumer confidence, and the decline in levels of household debt relative to income.

The recovery in the housing sector remained slow despite low interest rates and some recent improvement in the availability of mortgage credit. Contacts in some parts of the country reported continued weakness in single-family construction, while in other regions activity reportedly was picking up gradually following a sluggish summer. A few participants pointed to continued strong growth in multifamily construction, although the limited pipeline of new projects in one District suggested that activity could slow in 2015.

Reports from business contacts in many parts of the country pointed to an improvement in business conditions, with indexes of the manufacturing sector posting broad-based gains in recent months in a number of Districts. A couple of participants reported expectations of a robust holiday sales season based on accumulating inventories of consumer goods or an increase in e-commerce traffic and related transportation activity. Contacts in several regions reported ready availability of credit, strong loan growth, or a steady increase in commercial construction activity. While the fall in energy prices was generally regarded as a positive development for many businesses, it was noted that a sustained drop in prices would have effects on oil drilling and related investment activity. In the agricultural sector, the robust fall harvest had driven down crop prices; food processing and farm equipment businesses were slowing as a result of lower farm income and a drop in exports.

In discussing economic developments abroad, participants pointed to a somewhat weaker economic outlook and increased downside risks in Europe, China, and Japan, as well as to the strengthening of the dollar over the period. It was observed that if foreign economic or financial conditions deteriorated further, U.S. economic growth over the medium term might be slower than currently expected. However, many participants saw the effects of recent developments on the domestic economy as likely to be quite limited. These participants suggested variously that the share of external trade in the U.S. economy is relatively small, that the effects of changes in the value of the dollar on net exports are modest, that shifts in the structure of U.S. trade and production over time may have reduced the effects on U.S. trade of developments like those seen of late, or that the slowdown in external demand would likely prove to be less severe than initially feared. Several participants judged that the decline in the prices of energy and other commodities as well as lower long-term interest rates would likely provide an offset to the higher dollar and weaker foreign growth, or that the domestic recovery remained on a firm footing.

Indicators of labor market conditions continued to improve over the intermeeting period, with a further reduction in the unemployment rate, declines in longer-duration unemployment, strong growth in payroll employment, and a low level of initial claims for unemployment insurance. Business contacts reported employment gains in several parts of the country, with relatively few pointing to emerging wage pressures, although one participant indicated that larger wage gains had been accruing to some individuals who switched jobs. Labor market conditions indexes constructed from a broad set of indicators suggested that the underutilization of labor had continued to diminish, although a number of participants noted that underutilization of labor market resources remained. A couple of participants judged that the large number of individuals working part time for economic reasons and the continued drift down in the labor force participation rate suggested that the unemployment rate was understating the degree of labor market underutilization.

Most participants anticipated that inflation was likely to edge lower in the near term, reflecting the decline in oil and other commodity prices and lower import prices. These participants continued to expect inflation to move back to the Committee's 2 percent target over the medium term as resource slack diminished in an environment of well-anchored inflation expectations, although a few of them thought the return to 2 percent might be quite gradual. Survey-based measures of inflation expectations remained well anchored, but market-based measures of inflation compensation over the next five years as well as over the five-year period beginning five years ahead had declined over the intermeeting period. Various explanations were offered for the decline in the market-based measures, and participants expressed different views about how to interpret these recent movements. The explanations included a decline in inflation risk premiums, possibly reflecting a lower perceived probability of higher inflation outcomes; and special factors, including liquidity risk premiums, that might be influencing the pricing of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities and inflation derivatives. One participant noted that even if the declines reflected lower inflation risk premiums and not a reduction in expected inflation, policymakers might still want to take them into account because such a change could reflect increased concerns on the part of investors about adverse outcomes in which low inflation was accompanied by weak economic activity. A couple of participants noted that it was likely too early to draw conclusions regarding these developments, especially in light of the recent market volatility. However, many participants observed that the Committee should remain attentive to evidence of a possible downward shift in longer-term inflation expectations; some of them noted that if such an outcome occurred, it would be even more worrisome if growth faltered.

In their discussion of financial market developments and financial stability issues, participants judged that the movements in the prices of stocks, bonds, commodities, and the U.S. dollar over the intermeeting period appeared to have been driven primarily by concerns about prospects for foreign economic growth. Many participants commented on the turbulence in financial markets that occurred in mid-October. Some participants pointed out that, despite the market volatility, financial conditions remained highly accommodative and that further pockets of turbulence were likely to arise as the start of policy normalization approached. That said, more work to better understand the recent market dynamics was seen as desirable. In addition, a couple of participants noted the potential usefulness of collecting additional data on wholesale funding markets in order to better understand how changes in interest rates could influence those markets.

In their discussion of communications regarding the path of the federal funds rate over the medium term, meeting participants agreed that the timing of the first increase in the federal funds rate and the appropriate path of the policy rate thereafter would depend on incoming economic data and their implications for the outlook. Most participants judged that it would be helpful to include new language in the Committee's forward guidance to clarify how the Committee's decision about when to begin the policy normalization process will depend on incoming information about the economy. Some participants preferred to eliminate language in the statement indicating that the current target range for the federal funds rate would likely be maintained for a "considerable time" after the end of the asset purchase program. These participants were concerned that such a characterization could be misinterpreted as suggesting that the Committee's decisions would not depend on the incoming data. However, other participants thought that the "considerable time" phrase was useful in communicating the Committee's policy intentions or that additional wording could be used to emphasize the data-dependence of the Committee's decision process. A couple of them noted that the removal of the "considerable time" phrase might be seen as signaling a significant shift in the stance of policy, potentially resulting in an unintended tightening of financial conditions. A couple of others thought that the current forward guidance might be read as suggesting an earlier date of liftoff than was likely to prove appropriate, given the outlook for inflation and the downside risks to the economy associated with the effective lower bound on interest rates. With regard to the pace of interest rate increases after the start of policy normalization, a number of participants thought that it could soon be helpful to clarify the Committee's likely approach. It was noted that communication about post-liftoff policy would pose challenges given the inherent uncertainty of the economic and financial outlook and the Committee's desire to retain flexibility to adjust policy in response to the incoming data. Most participants supported retaining the language in the statement indicating that the Committee anticipates that economic conditions may warrant keeping the target range for the federal funds rate below longer-run normal levels even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels. However, a couple of participants thought that the language should be amended in light of the prescriptions suggested by many monetary policy rules and the risks associated with keeping interest rates below their longer-run values for an extended period of time.

Disclosure: None.

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