Fed Watch: Quick FOMC Response

The FOMC statement was largely as expected – sticking to the current policy path. That means maintaining the current asset purchase program while holding interest rates low for an extended period. Some specifics:

No Dissents: Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig is no longer a voting member, and none of the new voting members took up his dissent. Completely unsurprising. While some policymakers such as Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser believe that QE2 was a mistake, they see the costs –market disruption and loss of credibility – of undoing that mistake as greater than the benefits.

Additional Flexibility: Note the change in the first sentence. From:

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in November confirms that the economic recovery is continuing, though at a rate that has been insufficient to bring down unemployment.

To:

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in December confirms that the economic recovery is continuing, though at a rate that has been insufficient to bring about a significant improvement in labor market conditions.

A focus on a specific data point – unemployment – was replaced with the more general “labor market conditions.” This could signal a willingness to roll back the balance sheet expansion if nonfarm payrolls were growing rapidly but, as workers return to the labor force, unemployment rates remain persistently high. I have difficulty seeing the Fed raise rates as long as unemployment is high, but a return to allowing the balance sheet to contract naturally or directly would not be out of the question.

Commodity Prices: As expected, the FOMC is not poised to follow the path of ECB Head Jean-Claude Trichet and fret about headline inflation. In contrast, the FOMC will focus on the pass-through to core inflation, if any, and the path of longer term inflation expectations.

Bottom Line: No real surprises in this FOMC statement, with the exception of a slight change in language on labor markets that suggests an effort to create additional flexibility.

About Tim Duy 348 Articles

Tim Duy is the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Department of Economics at the University of Oregon and the Director of the Oregon Economic Forum.

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