Federal Reserve meeting minutes released Wednesday show policymakers are focused not on the United States, but overseas. Risk abroad is what's paralyzing central bank officials, preventing them from raising U.S. interest rates, according to Ellen Zentner, chief U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley.
"This is what gives policymakers indigestion, is that something is going to knock us off track from overseas," Zentner told CNBC's Worldwide Exchange on Thursday. "And that makes it feel like it's not in our control."
Expansion in the U.S. has been strong, but the sense is that something out of China, or a U.K. exit from the European Union could drag down the economy, Zentner said.
"We've never been in this environment before," she said. "What happened outside of our borders never mattered before."
The Fed minutes from the March 16 meeting underline that global risk does matter to policymakers, she added.
"When the Fed says we're data dependent, they clarified in the minutes that that data dependency also means what's going on abroad," Zentner said, highlighting political actions, and fiscal and monetary policy. "The policymakers here are just buffeted every single day by what they have to take into account."