December Rate Hike Becomes More Likely Despite Inflation Worries

The Federal Reserve said the US labor market had continued to strengthen and economic activity had been rising solidly despite hurricane-related disruptions. Several policymakers still consider appropriate to raise the federal funds rate in the near term if the economy stays on track despite concerns regarding persistently low inflation.

Excerpts from the minutes of the FOMC's October 31-November 1, 2017:

Many participants observed, however, that continued low readings on inflation, which had occurred even as the labor market tightened, might reflect not only transitory factors, but also the influence of developments that could prove more persistent. A number of these participants were worried that a decline in longer-term inflation expectations would make it more challenging for the Committee to promote a return of inflation to 2 percent over the medium term. These participants' concerns were sharpened by the apparently weak responsiveness of inflation to resource utilization and the low level of the neutral interest rate, and such considerations suggested that the removal of policy accommodation should be quite gradual. In contrast, some other participants were concerned about upside risks to inflation in an environment in which the economy had reached full employment and the labor market was projected to tighten further, or about still very accommodative financial conditions. They cautioned that waiting too long to remove accommodation, or removing accommodation too slowly, could result in a substantial overshoot of the maximum sustainable level of employment that would likely be costly to reverse or could lead to increased risks to financial stability. A few of these participants emphasized that the lags in the response of inflation to tightening resource utilization implied that there could be increasing upside risks to inflation as the labor market tightened further.

Participants agreed that they would continue to monitor closely and assess incoming data before making any further adjustment to the target range for the federal funds rate. Consistent with their expectation that a gradual removal of monetary policy accommodation would be appropriate, many participants thought that another increase in the target range for the federal funds rate was likely to be warranted in the near term if incoming information left the medium-term outlook broadly unchanged. Several participants indicated that their decision about whether to increase the target range in the near term would depend importantly on whether the upcoming economic data boosted their confidence that inflation was headed toward the Committee's objective. A few other participants thought that additional policy firming should be deferred until incoming information confirmed that inflation was clearly on a path toward the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective. A few participants cautioned that further increases in the target range for the federal funds rate while inflation remained persistently below 2 percent could unduly depress inflation expectations or lead the public to question the Committee's commitment to its longer-run inflation objective.

In their discussion of monetary policy for the period ahead, members judged that information received since the Committee met in September indicated that the labor market had continued to strengthen and that economic activity had been rising at a solid rate despite hurricane-related disruptions. Although the hurricanes depressed payroll employment in September, the unemployment rate declined further. Household spending had been expanding at a moderate rate, and growth in business fixed investment had picked up in recent quarters. Gasoline prices rose in the aftermath of the hurricanes, boosting overall inflation in September; however, inflation for items other than food and energy remained soft. On a 12-month basis, both inflation measures had declined this year and were running below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remained low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations were little changed, on balance.

December Rate Hike Becomes More Likely Despite Inflation Worries

Federal Reserve | Joana Taborda |
11/22/2017 7:34:29 PM