Fed officials say important they be ‘well positioned’ to act, minutes show

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WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve authorities last month felt that considerable additional development on the financial healing “was generally seen as not having yet been met,” however concurred they required to be poised to act if inflation or other threats emerged, according to the minutes of the U.S. reserve bank’s June policy conference.

In minutes that showed a divided Fed fumbling with the beginning of inflation and monetary stability issues, “various participants” at the June 15-16 conference felt conditions for minimizing the reserve bank’s property purchases would be “met somewhat earlier than they had anticipated.”

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Others saw a less clear signal from inbound information and warned that resuming the economy after a pandemic left an uncommon level of unpredictability and needed a “patient” technique to any policy modification, mentioned the minutes, which were launched on Wednesday.

Still “a substantial majority” of authorities saw inflation threats “tilted to the upside,” and the Fed as an entire felt it required to be prepared to act if those threats emerge.

“Participants generally judged that, as a matter of prudent planning, it was important to be well positioned to reduce the pace of asset purchases, if appropriate, in response to unexpected economic developments, including faster-than anticipated progress toward the Committee’s goals or the emergence of risks that could impede the attainment of the Committee’s goals,” the minutes mentioned.

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The Federal Free Market Committee at its conference last month moved towards a post-pandemic view of the world, dropping a longstanding recommendation to the coronavirus as a restriction on the economy and, in the words of Fed Chair Jerome Powell, “talking about talking about” when to move financial policy also.

The start of that discussion, along with interest-rate projections showing higher borrowing costs as soon as 2023, caused investors to anticipate the Fed will move faster than expected to end its support for an economy still afflicted by high levels of unemployment and, now, rising inflation.

Long-term Treasury yields are near five-month lows, and the gap between those and shorter-term yields has been narrowing, a development often associated with skepticism about the outlook for longer-term economic growth.

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In this case, Cornerstone Macro analyst Roberto Perli wrote recently, “the market views the perceived Fed shift as harmful to the long-term prospects for the U.S. economy,” with the Fed’s stated commitment to getting back to full employment seen as weakening in the face of higher-than-anticipated inflation.

Powell, speaking to reporters after the end of last month’s policy conference, said any increase in the Fed’s benchmark overnight interest rate from the current near-zero level remained far off. He said, however, that the Fed would begin a “meeting-by-meeting” assessment of when to start reducing its $120 billion in monthly purchases of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, and of how to announce its plans for doing so.

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The U.S. economy, he said at that point, was still “a ways away” from the progress on job creation the Fed wants to see before reducing its asset-purchase program, which supports the recovery by making the purchase of homes, cars and similar items more affordable by holding down borrowing costs for households and companies.

But “we’re making progress,” Powell said in the briefing, and to such an extent that he and his colleagues now needed to “clarify … thinking around the process of deciding whether and how to adjust the pace and composition of asset purchases.”

TAPERING TIMELINE

What investors are wondering is how fast the conversation will spool out and when the actual “taper” may begin.

Several regional Fed policymakers have since said they felt the economy was near the point where the central bank should pull back. However, even some of them have indicated it will take several meetings to develop and announce a plan for reducing the bond purchases.

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The Fed’s policy-setting committee meets eight times a year, with the next two meetings scheduled for July 27-28 and Sept. 21-22. In the interim, the central bank will hold its annual research conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a setting that Fed chiefs have often used to signal policy changes.

The U.S. economy added 850,000 jobs in June. If that pace of hiring continues over the summer, it “could prompt the Committee to accelerate the tapering timeline” from an expected start in January to as quickly as October, analysts from Nomura wrote last week.

Economists polled by Reuters expect the Fed to announce a strategy for tapering its asset purchases in August or September, with the first cut to its bond-buying program beginning early next year.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Dan Burns and Paul Simao)

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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long included to this report.