Unemployment √. Inflation √. So… what is the Fed worrying about?

Although the Federal Open Market Committee (hereafter FOMC) March’s meeting on monetary policy focused on what apparently was a disagreement over the timing for modifying the Federal Bonds interest rates, the minutes indicate that the disagreement is not only on timing issues but also on exchange rate challenges. Not only does the Fed struggle with when the best moment is to raise the rate, but also it grapples with the extent to which its policy decisions can reach. The FOMC current economic outlook and their consensus on the state of the U.S. economy have no room for doubts on domestic issues as it does for uncertainties on foreign markets. Thus, the minutes of the meeting held in Washington on March 15th – 16th 2016 unveils an understated intent for influencing global markets by stabilizing the U.S. currency. On one hand, both objectives of monetary policy seem accomplished regarding labor markets and inflation. On the other, the global deceleration is the only factor that concerns the Fed since it could have adverse spillovers on America. The most recent monetary policy meeting reveals a subtle attempt to stabilize the U.S dollar exchange rate at some level, thereby favoring American exports.

Unemployment rate √. Inflation rate √.

The institutional objective of the Federal Reserve Bank seems uncompromised these days. Economic activity is picking up overall, the labor market is at desired levels, and inflation seems somewhat under control. The confidence economists have right now starts by the U.S. Household Sector. Household spending looks healthy, and officials at the Bank are confident such spending will keep on buoying labor markets. As stated in the minutes, “strong expansion of household demand could result in rapid employment growth and overly tight resource utilization, particularly if productivity gains remained sluggish” (Page 6). Indeed, the labor market is showing strong gains in employment level which has made the unemployment rate to decrease down to 5.0 percent by the end of the first quarter of 2016.

Furthermore, FOMC understands the high levels of consumer confidence as a warranty for a sustained path for growth. The committee also pointed out that low gasoline prices are stimulating not only higher level of consumption but also motor vehicles sales. They know of the excellent situation of the relative high household wealth to income ratio. Otherwise, members of the Committee recognize that regions affected by oil prices are starting to struggle while business fixed investment shows signs of weakening. Nevertheless, the consensus among members of the Committee reflects an overall optimism in the resilience of the economy rather than a worrisome situation about the outlook.

By Catherine De Las Salas

By Catherine De Las Salas

The fear comes from overseas.

The transcripts, which were released on April 6th, 2016, show that  Fed officials the concerns stem from global economic and financial developments. The FOMC “saw foreign economic growth as likely to run at a somewhat slower pace than previously expected, a development that probably would further restrain growth in U.S. exports and tend to damp overall aggregate demand” (Pag. 8). They also flagged warnings on wider credit spreads on riskier corporate bonds. In sum, policymakers at the FOMC interpret the current lackluster global situation as a threat to the economic growth of the United States.

To discard choices.

Therefore, the fact that those two conditions overlap has made the Committee anxious to intervene in an arena that perhaps could be out of its reach. By keeping unmoved the interest rate of the federal bonds during March -and perhaps doing so until June-, the FOMC does not aim at stimulating investment domestically. Nor does it at controlling inflation. In fact, the policy choice reveals a subtle attempt for keeping the U.S dollar exchange rate stable overseas, thereby favoring American exports. The latter statement could be inferred from the minutes based on the Committee’s consensus on the state of the economy. First, U.S. labor markets are strong, and the Fed considers that the actual unemployment rate corresponds to the longer-run estimated rate. Second, inflation –either headline or core- are projected and expected to be on target. And third, domestic conditions are in general satisfactory. The only factor that remains risky is the rest of the world. Therefore, whatever action they took last March meeting could be interpreted as intended for influencing global markets.


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