FOMC Minutes – January 4, 2011

Integral version.

Nothing exciting and new upon first (skim)reading.

On economic situation:

The information reviewed at the December 14 meeting indicated that economic activity was increasing at a moderate rate, but that the unemployment rate remained elevated. The pace of consumer spending picked up in October and November, exports rose rapidly in October, and the recovery in business spending on equipment and software (E&S) appeared to be continuing. In contrast, residential and nonresidential construction activity was still depressed. Manufacturing production registered a solid gain in October. Nonfarm businesses continued to add workers in October and November, and the average workweek moved up. Longer-run inflation expectations were stable, but core inflation continued to trend lower.

On rise in yields:

In the weeks following the November meeting, yields on nominal Treasury securities increased significantly, as investors reportedly revised down their estimates of the ultimate size of the FOMC’s new asset-purchase program. Incoming economic data that were viewed, on balance, as favorable to the outlook and news of a tentative agreement between the Administration and some members of the Congress regarding a package of fiscal measures also reportedly contributed to the backup in yields. Market participants pointed to abrupt changes in investor positions, the effects of the approaching year-end on market liquidity, and hedging flows associated with investors’ holdings of MBS as factors that may have amplified the rise in yields. Futures quotes suggested that the path for the federal funds rate expected by market participants rose over the intermeeting period.

On economic outlook:

Regarding their overall outlook for economic activity, participants generally agreed that, even with the positive news received over the intermeeting period, the most likely outcome was a gradual pickup in growth with slow progress toward maximum employment. However, they held a range of views about the risks to that outlook. A few mentioned the possibility that growth could pick up more rapidly than expected, particularly in light of the very accommodative stance of monetary policy currently in place. It was noted that such an acceleration would likely be accompanied by significantly more rapid growth in bank lending and in the monetary aggregates, suggesting that such indicators might prove to be useful sources of information. Others pointed to downside risks to growth. One common concern was that the housing sector could weaken further in light of the considerable supply of houses either on the market or likely to come to market. Another concern was the ongoing deterioration in the fiscal position of U.S. states and localities, which could lead to sharp cuts in spending and increases in taxes. In addition, participants expressed concerns about a possible worsening of the banking and financial strains in Europe, which could spill over to U.S. financial markets and institutions, and so to the broader U.S. economy. They observed that market stresses in Europe intensified during the intermeeting period, requiring an assistance package for Ireland from the EU and the IMF, and that after that package was announced, market attention appeared to shift to other European countries. Participants noted, however, that the European authorities were taking steps to stabilize conditions in the euro area.

On inflation:

Regarding the outlook for inflation, participants generally anticipated that inflation would remain for some time below levels judged to be most consistent, over the longer run, with maximum employment and price stability. In particular, most participants expected that underlying measures of inflation would bottom out around current levels and then move gradually higher as the recovery progresses. A few participants pointed to the risk that the ongoing expansion of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet and the sustained low level of short-term interest rates could trigger undesirable increases in inflation expectations and so in actual inflation.

On policy action:

The Committee decided to maintain its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings into longer-term Treasury securities. In addition, the Committee agreed to continue buying longer-term Treasury securities with the intention of purchasing $600 billion of such securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011, a pace of about $75 billion per month. While the economic outlook was seen as improving, members generally felt that the change in the outlook was not sufficient to warrant any adjustments to the asset-purchase program, and some noted that more time was needed to accumulate information on the economy before considering any adjustment.

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