Excerpts from the minutes of the FOMC's September 19-20 meeting:
Participants raised a number of important considerations about the implications of persistently low inflation for the path of the federal funds rate over the medium run. Several expressed concern that the persistence of low rates of inflation might imply that the underlying trend was running below 2 percent, risking a decline in inflation expectations. If so, the appropriate policy path should take into account the need to bolster inflation expectations in order to ensure that inflation returned to 2 percent and to prevent erosion in the credibility of the Committee's objective. It was also noted that the persistence of low inflation might result in the federal funds rate staying uncomfortably close to its effective lower bound. However, a few others pointed out the need to consider the lags in the response of inflation to tightening resource utilization and, thus, increasing upside risks to inflation as the labor market tightened further.
In their discussion of monetary policy, all participants agreed that the economy had evolved broadly as they had anticipated at the time of the June meeting and that the incoming data had not materially altered the medium-term economic outlook. Consistent with those assessments, participants saw it as appropriate, at this meeting, to announce implementation of the plan for reducing the Federal Reserve's securities holdings that the Committee released in June. Many underscored that the reduction in securities holdings would be gradual and that financial market participants appeared to have a clear understanding of the Committee's planned approach for a gradual normalization of the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet. Consequently, participants generally expected that any reaction in financial markets to the start of balance sheet normalization would likely be limited.
With the medium-term outlook little changed, inflation below 2 percent, and the neutral rate of interest estimated to be quite low, all participants thought it would be appropriate for the Committee to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate at this meeting, and nearly all supported again indicating in the postmeeting statement that a gradual approach to increasing the federal funds rate will likely be warranted. Nevertheless, many participants expressed concern that the low inflation readings this year might reflect not only transitory factors, but also the influence of developments that could prove more persistent, and it was noted that some patience in removing policy accommodation while assessing trends in inflation was warranted. A few of these participants thought that no further increases in the federal funds rate were called for in the near term or that the upward trajectory of the federal funds rate might appropriately be quite shallow. Some other participants, however, were more worried about upside risks to inflation arising from a labor market that had already reached full employment and was projected to tighten further.
Consistent with the expectation that a gradual rise in the federal funds rate would be appropriate, many participants thought that another increase in the target range later this year was likely to be warranted if the medium-term outlook remained broadly unchanged. Several others noted that, in light of the uncertainty around their outlook for inflation, their decision on whether to take such a policy action would depend importantly on whether the economic data in coming months increased their confidence that inflation was moving up toward the Committee's objective.