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FOMC Minutes: Discussion of how to communicate that rates will be low for a long long time

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There was a policy planning discussion on how best to communicate that rates would be low for a long time.

From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, October 29-30, 2013. First an excerpt on fiscal policy: 

Participants generally saw the direct economic effects of the partial shutdown of the federal government as temporary and limited, but a number of them expressed concern about the possible economic effects of repeated fiscal impasses on business and consumer confidence. More broadly, fiscal policy, which has been exerting significant restraint on economic growth, was expected to become somewhat less restrictive over the forecast period. Nonetheless, it was noted that the stance of fiscal policy was likely to remain one of the most important headwinds restraining growth over the medium term.

On asset purchases (taper in “coming months”):

During this general discussion of policy strategy and tactics, participants reviewed issues specific to the Committee’s asset purchase program. They generally expected that the data would prove consistent with the Committee’s outlook for ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and would thus warrant trimming the pace of purchases in coming months.

On forward guidance:

As part of the planning discussion, participants also examined several possibilities for clarifying or strengthening the forward guidance for the federal funds rate, including by providing additional information about the likely path of the rate either after one of the economic thresholds in the current guidance was reached or after the funds rate target was eventually raised from its current, exceptionally low level. A couple of participants favored simply reducing the 6-1/2 percent unemployment rate threshold, but others noted that such a change might raise concerns about the durability of the Committee’s commitment to the thresholds. Participants also weighed the merits of stating that, even after the unemployment rate dropped below 6-1/2 percent, the target for the federal funds rate would not be raised so long as the inflation rate was projected to run below a given level. In general, the benefits of adding this kind of quantitative floor for inflation were viewed as uncertain and likely to be rather modest, and communicating it could present challenges, but a few participants remained favorably inclined toward it. Several participants concluded that providing additional qualitative information on the Committee’s intentions regarding the federal funds rate after the unemployment threshold was reached could be more helpful. Such guidance could indicate the range of information that the Committee would consider in evaluating when it would be appropriate to raise the federal funds rate. Alternatively, the policy statement could indicate that even after the first increase in the federal funds rate target, the Committee anticipated keeping the rate below its longer-run equilibrium value for some time, as economic headwinds were likely to diminish only slowly. Other factors besides those headwinds were also mentioned as possibly providing a rationale for maintaining a low trajectory for the federal funds rate, including following through on a commitment to support the economy by maintaining more-accommodative policy for longer. These or other modifications to the forward guidance for the federal funds rate could be implemented in the future, either to improve clarity or to add to policy accommodation, perhaps in conjunction with a reduction in the pace of asset purchases as part of a rebalancing of the Committee’s tools.

Participants also discussed a range of possible actions that could be considered if the Committee wished to signal its intention to keep short-term rates low or reinforce the forward guidance on the federal funds rate. For example, most participants thought that a reduction by the Board of Governors in the interest rate paid on excess reserves could be worth considering at some stage, although the benefits of such a step were generally seen as likely to be small except possibly as a signal of policy intentions. By contrast, participants expressed a range of concerns about using open market operations aimed at affecting the expected path of short-term interest rates, such as a standing purchase facility for shorter-term Treasury securities or the provision of term funding through repurchase agreements. Among the concerns voiced was that such operations would inhibit price discovery and remove valuable sources of market information; in addition, such operations might be difficult to explain to the public, complicate the Committee’s communications, and appear inconsistent with the economic thresholds for the federal funds rate. Nevertheless, a number of participants noted that such operations were worthy of further study or saw them as potentially helpful in some circumstances.

emphasis added


Calculated Risk

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