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The FOMC Meeting Minutes Reaffirm Continuance of Interest Rate Hikes

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and the Federal Reserve Board have released the minutes of the meeting that was held on September 25th-26th, 2018.

The minutes were all expected lines as Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and others had already publicly discussed most of the key issues.

Key Highlights

  • The minutes contained details about the Committee meeting’s discussion about recent economic activity, which was consistent with the post-meeting statement released in September. The minutes noted that the US economy was evolving about as anticipated.
  • The FOMC has strengthened the outlook for the year’s fourth interest rate hike in December 2018 by noting in the minutes that the meeting participants largely anticipated further gradual increases for the federal funds rate as targeted. The minutes also showed that the third interest rate hike of the year was a unanimous decision.
  • The minutes of the meeting revealed that the FOMC spent more time focusing on the risks to the interest rate outlook from external developments (which include a stronger dollar). These risks have emerged as an outcome of diverging US and international economic growth, and potential stress in the emerging markets.
  • Some of the meeting participants noted that leveraged loan growth and the relaxation in standards on those loans could be potential risks to economic stability despite overall good financial conditions.
  • The FOMC has, of late, become more mindful of the risks arising from financial imbalances. However, the Committee does not believe such concerns are currently influencing policy decisions.
  • The minutes underscored the downside risk to growth from trade policy developments. However, the minutes also note that the downside risks are balanced by accommodative financial conditions, high consumer confidence and better-than-expected effects of fiscal stimulus.

Considering the minutes of the FOMC meeting in totality, most financial experts have not changed their outlook on the Fed’s monetary policy. Analysts continue to expect a fourth rate hike in December, followed by at least two hikes in 2019.

Discussion About the Future Monetary Policy

The Committee meeting minutes showed that the participants expect a continuing economic expansion, robust labor market conditions, and inflation around two percent over the medium term. One of the key elements from the minutes was the discussion among participants about the future of monetary policy.

Most participants were of the view that the Fed may have to go beyond normalization and adopt a more restrictive monetary policy stance. Fed officials in the past have said that the federal funds rate of 3% could be the neutral “long run” rate.

However, the minutes have now shown that the short term outlook is quite unclear. According to the minutes, there is significant uncertainty surrounding the estimates of the federal funds rate.

The FOMC meeting minutes also revealed that nearly all officials had backed the decision to remove the phrase “accommodative” from the statement issued in September. They had argued that it indicated a “false sense of precision” about where the neutral rate exactly is.

View of Market Analysts

Andrew Grantham, Senior Economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said that the minutes suggest that the policymakers are aware that interest rates no longer support growth much, but are still likely to persist with gradual hikes because most of them believe that these hikes will take them a little above the neutral rate.

Paul Ashworth, the Chief US Economist at Capital Economics, said that the minutes do nothing to change their view that the Fed will continue with the gradual approach to hike rates 25bp each quarter.

Gold Price Largely Unaffected

Gold prices edged down slightly following the release of the minutes from the FOMC September meeting, but retain most of the previous gains that had pushed the price to a 10-week high earlier in the week. The Comex gold futures for December were last trading at $1,226.80, registering a decline of 0.34% for the day.

According to analysts, there appear to be no major roadblocks in the yellow metal’s path towards its next milestone of $1,250 an ounce.