Federal Reserve officials revised down their assessments of the appropriate path for monetary policy amid growing concerns about volatility in financial markets, trade tensions and uncertain global growth, minutes from the last FOMC meeting showed. Policymakers also noted that the central bank could afford to be patient about further policy firming as inflation remains muted.
Excerpts from the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, December 18-19, 2018:
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In their consideration of monetary policy at this meeting, participants generally judged that the economy was evolving about as anticipated, with real economic activity rising at a strong rate, labor market conditions continuing to strengthen, and inflation near the Committee's objective. Based on their current assessments, most participants expressed the view that it would be appropriate for the Committee to raise the target range for the federal funds rate 25 basis points at this meeting. A few participants, however, favored no change in the target range at this meeting, judging that the absence of signs of upward inflation pressure afforded the Committee some latitude to wait and see how the data would develop amid the recent rise in financial market volatility and increased uncertainty about the global economic growth outlook.
With regard to the outlook for monetary policy beyond this meeting, participants generally judged that some further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate would most likely be consistent with a sustained economic expansion, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near 2 percent over the medium term. With an increase in the target range at this meeting, the federal funds rate would be at or close to the lower end of the range of estimates of the longer-run neutral interest rate, and participants expressed that recent developments, including the volatility in financial markets and the increased concerns about global growth, made the appropriate extent and timing of future policy firming less clear than earlier. Against this backdrop, many participants expressed the view that, especially in an environment of muted inflation pressures, the Committee could afford to be patient about further policy firming. A number of participants noted that, before making further changes to the stance of policy, it was important for the Committee to assess factors such as how the risks that had become more pronounced in recent months might unfold and to what extent they would affect economic activity, and the effects of past actions to remove policy accommodation, which were likely still working their way through the economy.
Participants emphasized that the Committee's approach to setting the stance of policy should be importantly guided by the implications of incoming data for the economic outlook. They noted that their expectations for the path of the federal funds rate were based on their current assessment of the economic outlook. Monetary policy was not on a preset course; neither the pace nor the ultimate endpoint of future rate increases was known. If incoming information prompted meaningful reassessments of the economic outlook and attendant risks, either to the upside or the downside, their policy outlook would change. Various factors, such as the recent tightening in financial conditions and risks to the global outlook, on the one hand, and further indicators of tightness in labor markets and possible risks to financial stability from a prolonged period of tight resource utilization, on the other hand, were noted in this context.
Participants discussed ideas for effectively communicating to the public the Committee's data-dependent approach, including options for transitioning away from forward guidance language in future postmeeting statements. Several participants expressed the view that it might be appropriate over upcoming meetings to remove forward guidance entirely and replace it with language emphasizing the data-dependent nature of policy decisions.