Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Aug 11-12 FOMC Minutes

FOMC Minutes

In their discussion of the economic situation and outlook, meeting participants agreed that the incoming data and anecdotal evidence had strengthened their confidence that the downturn in economic activity was ending and that growth was likely to resume in the second half of the year. Many noted that their baseline projections for the second half of 2009 and for subsequent years had not changed appreciably since the Committee met in June but that they now saw smaller downside risks. Consumer spending appeared to be in the process of leveling out, and activity in a number of local housing markets had stabilized or even increased somewhat. Reports from business contacts supported the view that firms were making progress in bringing inventories into better alignment with their reduced sales and that production was stabilizing in many sectors--albeit at low levels--and beginning to rise in some. Nonetheless, most participants saw the economy as likely to recover only slowly during the second half of this year, and all saw it as still vulnerable to adverse shocks. Conditions in the labor market remained poor, and business contacts generally indicated that firms would be quite cautious in hiring when demand for their products picks up. Moreover, declines in employment and weakness in growth of labor compensation meant that income growth was sluggish. Also, households likely would continue to face unusually tight credit conditions. These factors, along with past declines in wealth that had been only partly offset by recent increases in equity prices, would weigh on consumer spending. The data and business contacts indicated very substantial excess capacity in many sectors; this excess capacity, along with the tight credit conditions facing many firms, likely would mean further weakness in business fixed investment for a time. Even so, less-aggressive inventory cutting and continuing monetary and fiscal policy stimulus could be expected to support growth in production during the second half of 2009 and into 2010. In addition, the outlook for foreign economies had improved somewhat, auguring well for U.S. exports. Participants expected the pace of recovery to pick up in 2010, but they expressed a range of views, and considerable uncertainty, about the likely strength of the upturn--particularly about the pace of projected gains in consumer spending and the extent to which credit conditions would normalize.

Most participants anticipated that substantial slack in resource utilization would lead to subdued and potentially declining wage and price inflation over the next few years; a few saw a risk of substantial disinflation. However, some pointed to the problems in measuring economic slack in real time, and several were skeptical that temporarily low levels of resource utilization would reduce inflation appreciably, given the loose empirical relationship of economic slack to inflation and the fact that the public did not appear to have reduced its expectations of inflation. Participants noted concerns among some analysts and business contacts that the sizable expansion of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet and large continuing federal budget deficits ultimately could lead to higher inflation if policies were not adjusted in a timely manner. To address these concerns, it would be important to continue communicating that the Federal Reserve has the tools and willingness to begin withdrawing monetary policy accommodation at the appropriate time to prevent any persistent increase in inflation.

Developments in financial markets during the intermeeting period were again seen as broadly positive...