FOMC minutes provide Insight Into patient approach to rate hikes decision

by Ike Obudulu Posted on February 20th, 2019

Washington: Investors were provided with further insight into the Federal Reserve’s decision to change the forward guidance language and indicate a patient approach to raising interest rates in the minutes of the central bank’s January monetary policy meeting.

The minutes released Wednesday described the Fed’s discussions regarding changing the language in its statement from referencing “further gradual increases” in rates to a sentence indicating patience.

Meeting participants pointed to a variety of considerations that supported a patient approach to monetary policy as an appropriate step in managing various risks and uncertainties in the outlook.

The Fed said additional data would help policymakers gauge the trajectory of business and consumer sentiment, whether the recent softness in core and total inflation and inflation compensation would persist, and the effect of the tightening of financial conditions on aggregate demand.

Information arriving in coming months could also shed light on the economic impact of the prolonged government shutdown as well as the results of budget negotiations occurring in the wake of the shutdown, including the possible implications for the path of fiscal policy, the Fed said.

“A patient approach would have the added benefit of giving policymakers an opportunity to judge the response of economic activity and inflation to the recent steps taken to normalize the stance of monetary policy,” the minutes said.

The minutes said a patient posture would also allow time for a clearer picture of the international trade policy situation and the state of the global economy to emerge.

In light of a range of uncertainties associated with global economic and financial developments, the Fed also decided that it was not useful to express a judgment about the balance of risks.

However, many participants observed that if recent uncertainty eases, the Fed would need to reassess the characterization of monetary policy as “patient” and might then use different statement language.

The minutes of the January meeting also showed officials discussed a plan to end the reduction of bonds on the Fed’s balance sheet before the end of 2019

“Almost all participants thought that it would be desirable to announce before too long a plan to stop reducing the Federal Reserve’s asset holdings later this year,” the Fed said.

The central bank added, “Such an announcement would provide more certainty about the process for completing the normalization of the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.”

The Federal Open Market Committee meeting

The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 charged the Federal Reserve with setting monetary policy to influence the availability and cost of money and credit.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting is a regular session held by the members of the Federal Open Market Committee, a branch of the Federal Reserve that decides on the monetary policy of the United States.

During these meetings, the FOMC reviews economic and financial conditions and determines the federal funds target rate

A decline in the target rate could stimulate economic growth; however, too much economic activity can cause inflation pressures to build. A rise in the rate limits economic growth and helps control inflation pressures; however, too great an increase can stall economic growth. The FOMC seeks a target rate that will achieve the maximum rate of economic growth.

A change in the federal funds rate can affect other short-term interest rates, longer-term interest rates, foreign exchange rates, stock prices, bond prices, the amount of money and credit in the economy, employment and the prices of goods and services.

So traders and investors around the world usually attempt to predict where monetary policy is headed next in each Fed meeting, and adjust their strategies and portfolios accordingly.

The Federal Funds Target Interest Rate

The federal funds rate is the interest rate that banks charge each other for overnight loans, meaning that it effectively acts as the base interest rate for the US economy. Changes to the federal funds rate will impact short and long-term interest rates, forex rates, and eventually economic factors like unemployment or inflation. This, in turn, will play out across the global economy.

While it doesn’t have a direct say over the rates charged by banks to lend money to each other, the FOMC can indirectly change the fed funds rate using three policy tools that affect money supply. These are open market operations, the discount rate, and reserve requirements.

Open market operations are the buying and selling of government bonds on the open market.

When the FOMC wants to decrease monetary supply it will sell bonds, taking money out of the economy and in turn raising interest rates. When it wants to increase money supply, it will buy bonds, injecting money into the economy and lowering rates.

As well as borrowing this money from each other at the federal funds rate, banks can borrow money directly from the Federal Reserve itself.

The interest rate a bank will have to pay to borrow from the Fed is called the discount rate. A lower discount rate will encourage a lower federal funds rate, and vice versa.

Reserve requirements are the percentage of a bank’s deposits from customers that it has to hold in order to cover withdrawals.

If reserve requirements are raised, then banks can loan less money and will ask for higher interest rates. If they are lowered, then the opposite happens.

Quantitative easing (QE) is an extra measure that the Fed can apply in times of severe financial situation. It is usually only used once the above policy tools have been exhausted.

In function, QE looks fairly similar to open market operations. The FOMC buys securities on the open market, injecting money directly into the system.

Author

Ike Obudulu

Ike Obudulu

Versatile Certified Fraud Examiner, Chartered Accountant, Certified Internal Auditor with an MBA in Finance And Investments who has both worked for and consulted with some of the world's largest companies on main street and wall street in over 20 countries, Ike brings his extensive reporting and investigations experience to bear on his role as Chief Editor.
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