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Fed to Scale Back by June? (Update 1)

Stocks in this article: ^DJI ^GSPC ^IXIC

    A few members expressed concerns that investor expectations of the cumulative size of the asset purchase program appeared to have increased somewhat since it was launched last September despite a notable decline in the unemployment rate and other improvements in the labor market since then. In contrast, a few other members focused on evidence that market expectations about the total size of the program had changed little, on net, since the program was launched or had responded appropriately to incoming information. Members generally agreed on the need for the Committee to communicate clearly that the pace and ultimate size of its asset purchases would depend on the Committee's continued assessment of the outlook for the labor market and inflation in addition to its judgments regarding the efficacy and costs of additional purchases and the extent of progress toward its economic objectives. To highlight its willingness to adjust the flow of purchases in light of incoming information, the Committee included language in the statement to be released following the meeting that said the Committee was prepared to increase or reduce the pace of its purchases to maintain appropriate policy accommodation as the outlook for the labor market or inflation changes.

    At the conclusion of the discussion, the Committee voted to authorize and direct the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, until it was instructed otherwise, to execute transactions in the System Account in accordance with the following domestic policy directive:

    "Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Federal Open Market Committee seeks monetary and financial conditions that will foster maximum employment and price stability. In particular, the Committee seeks conditions in reserve markets consistent with federal funds trading in a range from 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee directs the Desk to undertake open market operations as necessary to maintain such conditions. The Desk is directed to continue purchasing longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of about $45 billion per month and to continue purchasing agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of about $40 billion per month. The Committee also directs the Desk to engage in dollar roll and coupon swap transactions as necessary to facilitate settlement of the Federal Reserve's agency mortgage-backed securities transactions. The Committee directs the Desk to maintain its policy of rolling over maturing Treasury securities into new issues and its policy of reinvesting principal payments on all agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities. The System Open Market Account Manager and the Secretary will keep the Committee informed of ongoing developments regarding the System's balance sheet that could affect the attainment over time of the Committee's objectives of maximum employment and price stability."

    The vote encompassed approval of the statement below to be released at 2:00 p.m.:

    "Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in March suggests that economic activity has been expanding at a moderate pace. Labor market conditions have shown some improvement in recent months, on balance, but the unemployment rate remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment advanced, and the housing sector has strengthened further, but fiscal policy is restraining economic growth. Inflation has been running somewhat below the Committee's longer-run objective, apart from temporary variations that largely reflect fluctuations in energy prices. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

    Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic growth will proceed at a moderate pace and the unemployment rate will gradually decline toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee continues to see downside risks to the economic outlook. The Committee also anticipates that inflation over the medium term likely will run at or below its 2 percent objective.

    To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate, the Committee decided to continue purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. Taken together, these actions should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative.

    The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months. The Committee will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability. The Committee is prepared to increase or reduce the pace of its purchases to maintain appropriate policy accommodation as the outlook for the labor market or inflation changes. In determining the size, pace, and composition of its asset purchases, the Committee will continue to take appropriate account of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases as well as the extent of progress toward its economic objectives.

    To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6 1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored. In determining how long to maintain a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy, the Committee will also consider other information, including additional measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent."

    Voting for this action: Ben Bernanke, William C. Dudley, James Bullard, Elizabeth Duke, Charles L. Evans, Jerome H. Powell, Sarah Bloom Raskin, Eric Rosengren, Jeremy C. Stein, Daniel K. Tarullo, and Janet L. Yellen.

    Voting against this action: Esther L. George.

    Ms. George dissented because she continued to view monetary policy as overly accommodative and therefore as posing risks to the long-term sustainable growth of the economy. She expressed concern that the stance of policy might be fostering imbalances and excessive risk-taking in some financial markets and institutions, and she cited the potential for the Committee's ongoing asset purchases to complicate the future conduct of policy, raise uncertainty, and affect future inflation expectations. Accordingly, Ms. George preferred to signal a near-term tapering of asset purchases, which would begin to move policy toward a more appropriate stance.

    Review of Exit Strategy Principles

    After the policy vote, participants began a review of the exit strategy principles that were published in the minutes of the Committee's June 2011 meeting. Those principles, which the Committee issued to clarify how it intended to normalize the stance and conduct of monetary policy when doing so eventually became appropriate, included broad principles along with some details about the timing and sequence of specific steps the Committee expected to take. The participants' discussion touched on various aspects of the exit strategy principles and policy normalization more generally, including the size and composition of the SOMA portfolio in the longer run, the use of a range of reserve-draining tools, the approach to sales of securities, the eventual framework for policy implementation, and the relationship between the principles and the economic thresholds in the Committee's forward guidance on the federal funds rate. The broad principles adopted almost two years ago appeared generally still valid, but developments since then--including the change in the size and composition of SOMA asset holdings--suggested a need for greater flexibility regarding the details of implementing policy normalization, particularly because those details would appropriately depend at least in part upon future economic and financial developments. Also, because normalization still appeared to be well in the future, the Committee might wish to wait and acquire additional experience to inform its plans. In particular, the process of normalizing policy could yield information about the most effective framework for implementing monetary policy in the longer run, and thus about the appropriate size of the SOMA portfolio and level of reserve balances. In addition, several participants raised the possibility that the federal funds rate might not, in the future, be the best indicator of the general level of short-term interest rates, and supported further staff study of potential alternative approaches to implementing monetary policy in the longer term and of possible new tools to improve control over short-term interest rates.

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