Extracts from the minutes of Federal Open Market Committee meeting held in December:
Participants discussed a number of risks to the economic outlook. Many participants regarded the international situation as an important source of downside risks to domestic real activity and employment, particularly if declines in oil prices and the persistence of weak economic growth abroad had a substantial negative effect on global financial markets or if foreign policy responses were insufficient. However, the downside risks were seen as nearly balanced by risks to the upside. Several participants, pointing to indicators of consumer and business confidence as well as to the solid record of payroll employment gains in 2014, suggested that the real economy may end up showing more momentum than anticipated, while a few others thought that the boost to domestic spending coming from lower energy prices could turn out to be quite large. With regard to inflation, a number of participants saw a risk that it could run persistently below their 2 percent objective, with some expressing concern that such an outcome could undermine the credibility of the Committee's commitment to that objective. Some participants were worried that the recent substantial fall in energy prices could lead to a reduction in longer-term inflation expectations, while others were concerned that the decline in market-based measures of inflation compensation might reflect, in part, that such a decline had already begun. However, a couple of others noted that if the unemployment rate continued to decline quickly, wage and price inflation could rise more than generally anticipated.
In their discussion of communications regarding the path of the federal funds rate over the medium term, most participants concluded that updating the Committee's forward guidance would be appropriate in light of the conclusion of the asset purchase program in October and the further progress that the economy had made toward the Committee's objectives. Most participants agreed that it would be useful to state that the Committee judges that it can be patient in beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy; they noted that such language would provide more flexibility to adjust policy in response to incoming information than the previous language, which had tied the beginning of normalization to the end of the asset purchase program. This approach was seen as consistent, given the Committee's assessment of the economic outlook at the current meeting, with the Committee's previous statement. Most participants thought the reference to patience indicated that the Committee was unlikely to begin the normalization process for at least the next couple of meetings. Some participants regarded the revised language as risking an unwarranted concentration of market expectations for the timing of the initial increase in the federal funds rate target on a narrow range of dates around mid-2015, and as not adequately allowing for the possibility that economic conditions might evolve in a way that could call for either an earlier or a later liftoff date. A few participants suggested that the statement should focus on the economic conditions that would likely accompany the decision to raise rates. Participants generally stressed the need to communicate that the timing of the first increase in the federal funds rate would depend on the incoming data and their implications for the Committee's assessment of progress toward its objectives of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent. With lower energy prices and the stronger dollar likely to keep inflation below target for some time, it was noted that the Committee might begin normalization at a time when core inflation was near current levels, although in that circumstance participants would want to be reasonably confident that inflation will move back toward 2 percent over time.