The current account deficit had narrowed significantly on balance in recent quarters, and still-solid foreign growth was expected to contribute to a further narrowing of the real U.S. trade deficit in coming quarters. However, a few participants commented that this effect might fade over time, as they expected demand in foreign economies to slow.
Participants were concerned about the inflationary consequences of recent increases in the prices of energy, food, and imports, and they expected headline inflation to rise in the very near term. However, core inflation had been stable of late, and participants anticipated that a leveling-out of energy prices and slack in labor and product markets would contribute to a moderation of inflation pressures over time. Reports on the ability of firms to pass cost increases on to customers were mixed, but some participants commented that the global nature of inflationary pressures could make imports more expensive and give firms greater scope to raise prices. Some participants noted that wage growth had been quite moderate, reinforcing a view that longer-term inflation expectations and labor cost pressures had remained fairly well contained. However, others commented that wages might accelerate with a lag only after inflation expectations had moved higher, and that it would be very costly to subsequently bring those expectations back down. Participants' views of the recent evidence on inflation expectations varied. Some noted that the increase was greatest for short-term survey measures of households' inflation expectations, which may be influenced disproportionately by consumers' perceptions of changes in the prices of food and gasoline; those participants judged that underlying inflation trends had not risen nearly as much and anticipated that such survey measures would reverse their recent increases as headline inflation moderated. However, others saw the signs of a rise in inflation expectations as more broad-based and were concerned that this development could signal an erosion of confidence in the Committee's commitment to price stability and, absent effective action by the Committee, could impart greater momentum to the inflation process. Participants agreed that the possibilities of greater pass-through of cost increases into prices, higher long-run inflation expectations feeding into labor costs and other prices, and further increases in energy prices all posed upside risks to inflation that had intensified since the time of the April FOMC meeting.
Some participants noted that certain measures of the real federal funds rate, especially those using actual or forecasted headline inflation, were now negative, and very low by historical standards. In the view of these participants, the current stance of monetary policy was providing considerable support to aggregate demand and, if the negative real federal funds rate was maintained, it could well lead to higher trend inflation. In this view, a significant portion of the easing in monetary policy since last fall was aimed at providing insurance against the risk of an especially severe weakening in economic activity and, with downside risks having diminished somewhat, some firming in policy would be appropriate very soon, if not at this meeting. However, other participants observed that the high level of risk spreads and the restricted availability of credit suggested that overall financial conditions were not especially accommodative; indeed, borrowing costs for many households and businesses were higher than they had been last summer.
In the Committee's discussion of monetary policy for the intermeeting period, members generally agreed that the risks to growth had diminished somewhat since the time of the last FOMC meeting while the upside risks to inflation had increased. Nonetheless, the risks to growth remained tilted to the downside. Conditions in some financial markets had improved, but many financial institutions continued to experience significant credit losses and balance sheet pressures, and in these circumstances credit availability was likely to remain constrained for some time. At the same time, however, the near-term outlook for inflation had deteriorated, and the risks that underlying inflation pressures could prove to be greater than anticipated appeared to have risen. Members commented that the continued strong increases in energy and other commodity prices would prompt a difficult adjustment process involving both lower growth and higher rates of inflation in the near term. Members were also concerned about the heightened potential in current circumstances for an upward drift in long-run inflation expectations. With increased upside risks to inflation and inflation expectations, members believed that the next change in the stance of policy could well be an increase in the funds rate; indeed, one member thought that policy should be firmed at this meeting. However, in the view of most members, the outlook for both economic activity and price pressures remained very uncertain, and thus the timing and magnitude of future policy actions was quite unclear. Against this backdrop, most members judged that an unchanged federal funds rate at this meeting represented an appropriate balancing of the risks to the economic outlook and was consistent, for now, with a policy path that would support an eventual decline in both inflation and unemployment. Nonetheless, members recognized that circumstances could change quickly and noted that they might need to respond promptly to incoming information about the evolution of risks.
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:
"The Federal Open Market Committee seeks monetary and financial conditions that will foster price stability and promote sustainable growth in output. To further its long-run objectives, the Committee in the immediate future seeks conditions in reserve markets consistent with maintaining the federal funds rate at an average of around 2 percent."
The vote encompassed approval of the statement below to be released at 2:15 p.m.:
"The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to keep its target for the federal funds rate at 2 percent.
Recent information indicates that overall economic activity continues to expand, partly reflecting some firming in household spending. However, labor markets have softened further and financial markets remain under considerable stress. Tight credit conditions, the ongoing housing contraction, and the rise in energy prices are likely to weigh on economic growth over the next few quarters.
The Committee expects inflation to moderate later this year and next year. However, in light of the continued increases in the prices of energy and some other commodities and the elevated state of some indicators of inflation expectations, uncertainty about the inflation outlook remains high.
The substantial easing of monetary policy to date, combined with ongoing measures to foster market liquidity, should help to promote moderate growth over time. Although downside risks to growth remain, they appear to have diminished somewhat, and the upside risks to inflation and inflation expectations have increased. The Committee will continue to monitor economic and financial developments and will act as needed to promote sustainable economic growth and price stability."
Votes for this action: Messrs. Bernanke, Geithner, Kohn, Kroszner, and Mishkin, Ms. Pianalto, Messrs. Plosser, Stern, and Warsh.
Votes against this action: Mr. Fisher.
Mr. Fisher dissented because he preferred an increase in the target federal funds rate at this meeting. While the financial system was still frail and downside risks to growth remained, the risk that inflation would fail to moderate as expected by the Committee had increased substantially over the intermeeting period. Relatively strong demand for oil and other commodities abroad, as well as increased labor and other operating costs in the emerging economies, was boosting prices of globally traded goods and services. Mr. Fisher was especially concerned about behavioral changes among business operators that appeared to be accommodating inflationary pressures. In particular, firms increasingly appeared to be planning to pass through their higher input costs to final goods prices in order to protect their profit margins. Overall, Mr. Fisher viewed inflation expectations as becoming less well anchored. To help restrain inflation expectations and inflation, Mr. Fisher felt it would be appropriate for the Committee to tighten the stance of monetary policy.
In a joint session of the Federal Open Market Committee and the Board of Governors, meeting participants turned to a consideration of policy issues regarding investment banks and other primary securities dealers. Participants discussed the financial activities and condition of primary dealers as well as the objectives of, procedures for, and experience to date in administering the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF) and the Term Securities Lending Facility (TSLF). (The PDCF and the TSLF had been established in March in response to unusual and exigent conditions in financial markets.) In view of the continuing significant strains in financial markets, participants also discussed the possibility of extending the PDCF and the TSLF past year-end. In addition, they reviewed progress in negotiations with staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding a memorandum of understanding intended to govern arrangements for sharing information on broker-dealers and for cooperation in the supervision of primary dealers. Finally, participants exchanged views on longer-run issues regarding appropriate arrangements for supervision and regulation of investment banks and other securities dealers and for the access of such firms to central bank liquidity, as well as on possible measures to strengthen financial market functioning and thus enhance financial stability.
It was agreed that the next meeting of the Committee would be held on Tuesday, August 5, 2008.
The meeting adjourned at 1:15 p.m.