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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

FOMC Meeting Minutes Released

The minutes from the September 20, 2005 FOMC meeting were released as William Polley discusses here.  As you read through the minutes, note: (1) The committee is worried, backed up by some evidence, that inflation expectations are increasing.  That is always a primary concern. (2) The committee makes strong statements regarding fiscal policy. (3) The committee states that policy remains accommodative and further rate increases are probably required to remove the accomodation at a mesured pace. William Polley says, "When I read that, I get the picture that "measured pace" really has come to mean 1/4 point until further notice. So it doesn't leave much doubt as to the next meeting's outcome." (4) They discussed pausing, but felt doing so would  potentially mislead about the committee's view on the strength of the economy and potentially send misleading signals regarding their commitment to price stability. (5) Fed governor Olson dissented, as discussed here when the press release was issued after the meeting on September 20. (6) The fact that only seven of twelve regional banks asked for an increase in the discount rate in their largely symbolic requests led many to speculate that there may have been some dissent in the meeting prior to most signing on to the decision to raise rates (e.g. see here).  However, there is not much dissent noted in the minutes. (7) The committee discusses changing the "measured pace" language in future meetings since much of the policy accomodation has already been removed, a signal the Fed sees the light at the end of the rate increase tunnel:

Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, September 20, 2005: The information reviewed at this meeting suggested that, before the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, expansion of economic activity had been solid ... While business investment appeared to be losing some momentum, labor markets continued to improve, and increases in core CPI and PCE prices were modest after notable increases earlier in the year. Only limited data bearing on the likely economic effects of the hurricane were available. Oil and gasoline prices, however, were on the rise, spiking to record levels in the days immediately following the hurricane.  ... Core consumer price inflation remained benign in July and August. However, the surge in energy prices considerably boosted overall consumer price inflation over those months. Gasoline prices in particular rose steeply in August, and survey data pointed to a larger increase in early September. Producer price inflation was subdued. One survey of households in early September indicated that near-term inflation expectations jumped and that longer-term inflation expectations edged higher...

At its August meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee decided to increase the target level of the federal funds rate 25 basis points, to 3-1/2 percent. ... The Committee's decision at its August meeting was widely expected in financial markets and evoked little price reaction. Over the intermeeting period, however, investors marked down their expectations for the path of policy, partly in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. ... In the forecast prepared for this meeting, the staff lowered its projection for economic growth over the remainder of 2005 in light of the economic dislocation associated with Hurricane Katrina. At the same time, however, the staff increased the growth rate forecast for 2006 to reflect the boost to economic activity from the rebuilding effort. By 2007, the level of output was expected to move back to the path it would have followed in the absence of the storm. The staff revised upward its forecast of overall inflation for 2005 and of core inflation for 2006, reflecting the effects of higher energy prices, but lowered its projection for overall inflation slightly for 2006. It was recognized that there were considerable near-term uncertainties and that many data series in coming months would be influenced by the effects of the storm.

In their discussion of the economic situation and outlook, meeting participants agreed that output and employment appeared to have been growing at a good pace before Hurricane Katrina's landfall. Business fixed investment had been a little softer than expected, but household spending had been especially strong. Participants agreed that the widespread devastation in the Gulf Coast region and the dislocation of many people would hold down indicators of spending for a time. But they also were of the view that aggregate demand and output would likely rebound before long, fueled in part by private spending to rebuild and outlays by the federal government to assist in the recovery. With growth of the economy expected to recover, meeting participants were concerned that price pressures, which had been elevated before the storm, could climb further, primarily as a result of additional increases in energy prices. ... On balance, participants thought that there would likely be a significant shift in the timing of aggregate economic activity over the next several quarters but probably little effect on the economy's intermediate-term growth prospects. Several participants voiced concern that the effects of the hurricane were likely to add to already considerable pressures on prices. For the nation as a whole, participants noted that household spending had been fairly robust before the hurricane, supported by strong advances in income and continuing gains in wealth that reflected in part further large increases in home prices. ...

With regard to fiscal policy, meeting participants noted that federal outlays would increase sharply in order to assist with recovery and reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of the hurricane. The eventual size of the increment to federal outlays was unclear, but it was likely to be quite large. The substantial step-up in government spending would add to federal deficits that were already large and underscored the worrisome loss of fiscal discipline evident in recent years. The expansion of federal spending implied an increase in fiscal stimulus at a time when the margin of unutilized resources in the overall economy was probably thin.

Participants' concerns about inflation prospects generally had increased over the intermeeting period. The surge in energy prices, in particular, was boosting overall inflation, and some of that increase would probably pass through for a time into core prices. ... Indeed, some recent survey evidence on such expectations had been troubling, and widening federal deficits were mentioned as a factor that could further stir inflationary concerns. ... Underlying productivity growth to date apparently had remained robust but, at this stage of the business cycle, gains in productivity could not necessarily be counted on to stay strong. ... Still, core inflation in recent months had been quite damped, and market-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations had risen only modestly of late...

In the Committee's discussion of monetary policy for the intermeeting period, nearly all members favored raising the target federal funds rate 25 basis points to 3-3/4 percent at this meeting. Although uncertainty had increased, in the Committee's judgment the fundamental factors influencing the longer-term path of the economy probably had not been affected by the hurricane, but the upside risks to inflation appeared to have increased. Even after today's action, the federal funds rate would likely be below the level that would be necessary to contain inflationary pressures, and further rate increases probably would be required. Moreover, the uncertainties about near-term economic prospects resulting from Hurricane Katrina would probably not be reduced materially in coming weeks. Indeed, underlying economic trends would be particularly difficult to assess over the next several months as a result of the direct, and presumably temporary, effects of the storm and its aftermath on the incoming data. A pause in policy tightening at this meeting had the potential to mislead the public both about the Committee's perceptions of the fundamental strength and resilience of the economy and about its commitment to fostering price stability.

In discussing the statement to be released after the meeting, members agreed that it would be appropriate to characterize the macroeconomic effects of Hurricane Katrina, while significant, as essentially temporary. Members also believed that the statement should again note that both monetary policy accommodation and robust underlying productivity growth were continuing to support economic activity. Although energy prices had the potential to add to inflation pressures, and inflation expectations had recently exhibited some signs of increasing, members agreed that the risks to inflation, as well as those to growth, remained essentially balanced under an assumption of appropriate policy action. The Committee also agreed to reiterate its previous expectation that ". . . policy accommodation can be removed at a pace that is likely to be measured." However, some sentiment was expressed to consider changes to forward-looking aspects of the statement at upcoming meetings, in part because of the considerable reduction in monetary policy accommodation that had already been accomplished.

Votes for this action: Messrs. Greenspan and Geithner, Ms. Bies, Messrs. Ferguson, Fisher, Kohn, Moskow, Santomero, and Stern. Vote against this action: Mr. Olson. Mr. Olson dissented because he preferred that the Committee defer policy action at this meeting, pending the receipt of additional information on the economic effects resulting from the severe shock of Hurricane Katrina.

[See also Washington Post, Bloomberg]

    Posted by on Wednesday, October 12, 2005 at 12:12 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (1)

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