The outcome of this week's Federal Reserve policy meeting was quite predictable: Interest rates remain unchanged. But the two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee left the door open for a potential interest rate hike when the FOMC reconvenes on Dec. 15-16, and that's the big news.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the FOMC said that "in determining whether it will be appropriate to raise the target range at its next meeting, the Committee will assess progress -- both realized and expected -- toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation."
What's important in that passage was the direct mention of the "next meeting."
According to the world's most influential central bank, this evaluation will be based on information such as "measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments."
Interestingly, the Fed did not lay much emphasis on the recent emerging-market turmoil or China's role, which Fed Chair Janet Yellen had discussed in the news conference that followed the September FOMC meeting. Then, the concerns had been about "China and emerging markets leading to volatility in financial markets," a fall in equity prices, a strong dollar and a "widening in risk spreads."
However, in its current meeting the Fed minimized the role of emerging markets and briefly mentioned that despite the risks to its outlook of economic activity and the labor market are "nearly balanced," it will continue to monitor "global economic and financial developments."
The Fed policymakers said that even though the job gains remained slow, the unemployment rate "held steady" and household spending and business investment have increased "at solid rates in recent months."
Staying more on the optimistic side, the Fed further added that labor indicators showed "underutilization of labor resources has diminished since early this year."
Speaking of inflation, the Fed maintained that inflation has been below the target rate due to price declines in energy and nonenergy imports.
But the central bank stated that inflation would move toward the target levels once the "labor market improves further and the transitory effects of declines in energy and import prices dissipate." The Fed reasserted that the current effective federal funds rate (0% - 0.25%) "remains appropriate".
In conclusion, the Committee "currently anticipated" that even if employment and inflation reach the "mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run."
The markets fixated on the possibility of a December rate hike, and stocks rose on Wednesday afternoon.
With the central bank's current statement, investors might start to shift their focus toward the Fed's December meeting, its last of 2015.
Global financial markets may continue to remain volatile until December, as pending and uncertain monetary policy decisions of some major central banks such as the Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan and European Central Bank become clearer.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.