Text of FOMC Minutes; GDP, Unemployment, PCE Projections (11/3/2010)

Below is an excerpt from the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) Minutes on 11/2/2010 and 11/3/2010. The quoted text does not include staff reviews. Here is the FOMC Statement.

"Participants' Views on Current Conditions and the Economic Outlook
In conjunction with this FOMC meeting, all meeting participants--the six members of the Board of Governors and the heads of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks--provided projections of output growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation for each year from 2010 through 2013 and over the longer run. Longer-run projections represent 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. Participants' forecasts are described in the Summary of Economic Projections, which is attached as an addendum to these minutes.

In their discussion of the economic situation and outlook, meeting participants generally agreed that the incoming data indicated that output and employment were continuing to increase, but only slowly. Progress toward the Committee's dual objectives of maximum employment and price stability was described as disappointingly slow. Participants variously noted a number of factors that were restraining growth, including low levels of household and business confidence, concerns about the durability of the economic recovery, continuing uncertainty about the future tax and regulatory environment, still-weak financial conditions of some households and small businesses, the depressed housing market, and waning fiscal stimulus. Although participants considered it quite unlikely that the economy would slide back into recession, some noted that continued slow growth and high levels of resource slack could leave the economic expansion vulnerable to negative shocks. In the absence of such shocks, and assuming appropriate monetary policy, participants' economic projections generally showed growth picking up to a moderate pace and the unemployment rate declining somewhat next year. Participants generally expected growth to strengthen further and unemployment to decline somewhat more rapidly in 2012 and 2013.

Indicators of spending by households and businesses remained mixed. Consumer spending was expanding gradually. Participants noted that households were continuing their efforts to repair their balance sheets, a process that was restraining growth in consumer spending. Sluggish employment growth and elevated uncertainty about job prospects also continued to weigh on household spending. With respect to business spending, contacts generally reported that they were investing to reduce costs but were refraining from adding workers or expanding capacity in the United States. Energy producers were an exception. Participants observed that firms had generated rising profits, but that business contacts indicated those gains largely reflected cost-cutting rather than top-line growth in revenues. A number of businesses continued to report that they were holding back on hiring and capital spending because of uncertainty about future taxes, health-care costs, and regulations. But concerns about actual and anticipated demand also were important factors limiting investment and hiring. Firms continued to report strong foreign demand for their products, particularly from Asia.

Participants noted that the housing sector, including residential construction and home sales, remained depressed. Foreclosures were adding to the elevated supply of available homes and putting downward pressure on home prices and housing construction. Some participants saw disputes over mortgage and foreclosure documents as likely to delay the eventual recovery in housing markets. Commercial real estate markets also were weak, and the availability of credit for commercial real estate transactions remained limited, but low interest rates were helping stabilize prices.

Participants agreed that progress in reducing unemployment was disappointing; indeed, several noted that the recent rate of output growth, if continued, would more likely be associated with an increase than a decrease in the unemployment rate. Participants again discussed the extent to which employment was being held down, and the unemployment rate boosted, by structural factors such as mismatches between the skills of the workers who had lost their jobs and the skills needed in the sectors of the economy with vacancies, the inability of the unemployed to relocate because their homes were worth less than the principal they owed on their mortgages, and the effects of extended unemployment benefits on the duration of unemployed workers' search for a new job. Participants agreed that such factors were contributing to continued high unemployment but differed in their assessments of the magnitude of such effects. Many participants saw evidence that the current unemployment rate was well above levels that could be explained by structural factors alone, noting, for example, reports from business contacts indicating that weak growth in demand for their firms' products remained a key reason why they were reluctant to add employees, and job vacancy rates that were low relative to historical experience. A number of participants noted that continued high unemployment, particularly with large numbers of workers suffering very long spells of unemployment, would lead to an erosion of workers' skills that would have adverse consequences for those workers and for the economy's potential level of output in the longer term.

Participants saw financial conditions as having become more supportive of growth over the course of the intermeeting period; most, though not all, of the change appeared to reflect investors' increasing anticipation of a further easing of monetary policy. Most longer-term nominal interest rates declined, real interest rates fell even more, credit spreads tightened, and equity prices rose, in part reflecting better-than-expected corporate earnings reports. Inflation compensation rose noticeably, returning to a level more typical of recent years. Participants noted that credit remained readily available--in debt markets and from banks--for larger corporations, and there were some signs that credit conditions had begun to improve for smaller firms that obtain credit primarily from banks. Banking institutions reported signs of improving credit quality. Improvements in household financial conditions were contributing to better performance of consumer loans. However, banks continued to report elevated losses on commercial real estate loans, especially construction and land development loans. Participants noted the risk of losses at financial institutions stemming from investors putting mortgages back to sellers if the quality of the loans was misrepresented when the mortgages were sold into securitization vehicles.

Measures of price inflation had generally trended lower since the start of the recession; the same was true of nominal wage growth. Most participants indicated that underlying inflation was somewhat low relative to levels that they judged to be consistent with the Committee's statutory mandate to foster maximum employment and price stability. While underlying inflation remained subdued, meeting participants generally saw only small odds of deflation, given the stability of longer-term inflation expectations and the anticipated recovery in economic activity. They generally did not expect appreciably higher inflation, either. While prices of some commodities and imported goods had risen recently, business contacts reported that they currently had little pricing power and that they would continue to seek productivity gains to offset higher input costs. Small wage increases, coupled with productivity gains, meant that unit labor costs were lower than a year earlier. Many participants pointed to substantial slack in resource utilization, along with well-anchored inflation expectations, as likely to contribute to subdued inflation for some time. A few participants expected that continuing resource slack would lead to some further disinflation in coming years. However, a few others thought that the exceptionally accommodative stance of monetary policy, coupled with rising prices of energy and other commodities as well as rising prices of other imports, made it more likely that inflation would increase, within a year or two, to levels they judged consistent with the Committee's dual mandate.

Participants generally agreed that the most likely economic outcome would be a gradual pickup in growth with slow progress toward maximum employment. They also generally expected that inflation would remain, for some time, below levels the Committee considers most consistent, over the longer run, with maximum employment and price stability. However, participants held a range of views about the risks to that outlook. Most saw the risks to growth as broadly balanced, but many saw the risks as tilted to the downside. Similarly, a majority saw the risks to inflation as balanced; some, however, saw downside risks predominating while a couple saw inflation risks as tilted to the upside. Participants also differed in their assessments of the likely benefits and costs associated with a program of purchasing additional longer-term securities in an effort to provide additional monetary stimulus, though most saw the benefits as exceeding the costs in current circumstances. Most participants judged that a program of purchasing additional longer-term securities would put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and boost asset prices; some observed that it could also lead to a reduction in the foreign exchange value of the dollar. Most expected these changes in financial conditions to help promote a somewhat stronger recovery in output and employment while also helping return inflation, over time, to levels consistent with the Committee's mandate. In addition, several participants argued that the stimulus provided by additional securities purchases would help protect against further disinflation and the small probability that the U.S. economy could fall into persistent deflation--an outcome that they thought would be very costly. Some participants, however, anticipated that additional purchases of longer-term securities would have only a limited effect on the pace of the recovery; they judged that the economy's slow growth largely reflected the effects of factors that were not likely to respond to additional monetary policy stimulus and thought that additional action would be warranted only if the outlook worsened and the odds of deflation increased materially. Some participants noted concerns that additional expansion of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet could put unwanted downward pressure on the dollar's value in foreign exchange markets. Several participants saw a risk that a further increase in the size of the Federal Reserve's asset portfolio, with an accompanying increase in the supply of excess reserves and in the monetary base, could cause an undesirably large increase in inflation. However, it was noted that the Committee had in place tools that would enable it to remove policy accommodation quickly if necessary to avoid an undesirable increase in inflation.

Committee Policy Action
Though the economic recovery was continuing, members considered progress toward meeting the Committee's dual mandate of maximum employment and price stability as having been disappointingly slow. Moreover, members generally thought that progress was likely to remain slow. Accordingly, most members judged it appropriate to take action to promote a stronger pace of economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with the Committee's mandate. In their discussion of monetary policy for the period immediately ahead, nearly all Committee members agreed to keep the federal funds rate at its effective lower bound by maintaining the target range for that rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and to expand the Federal Reserve's holdings of longer-term securities. To increase its securities holdings, the Committee decided to continue its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings into longer-term Treasury securities and intended to purchase a further $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of about $75 billion per month through the second quarter of 2011. One member dissented from this action, judging that the risks of additional securities purchases outweighed the benefits. Members agreed that the Committee will regularly review the pace of its securities purchases and the overall size of the asset-purchase program in light of incoming information and will adjust the program as needed to best foster its goals of maximum employment and price stability.

With respect to the statement to be released following the meeting, members agreed that it was appropriate to adjust the statement to make it clear that the unemployment rate was elevated, and that measures of underlying inflation were somewhat low, relative to levels that the Committee judged to be consistent, over the longer run, with its dual mandate. Nearly all members agreed that the statement should reiterate the expectation that economic conditions were likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period. Members agreed that the statement should note that the Committee will employ its policy tools as necessary to support the economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with its mandate."

Source: http://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20101103.htm

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