The Federal Reserve Board’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) maintained its existing monetary policy actions, as announced in its statement released this afternoon. Much of the wording of this statement was similar to the last two. The only part that changed was the paragraph describing the economy:
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January suggests that the economy has been expanding moderately. Labor market conditions have improved further; the unemployment rate has declined notably in recent months but remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment have continued to advance. The housing sector remains depressed. Inflation has been subdued in recent months, although prices of crude oil and gasoline have increased lately. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.
Aside from the description of an improved economy, much of the rest of the text remained the same. On the topic of inflation, the Fed feels that pricing pressures remain subdued. In particular, the release says the following:
Strains in global financial markets have eased, though they continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook. The recent increase in oil and gasoline prices will push up inflation temporarily, but the Committee anticipates that subsequently inflation will run at or below the rate that it judges most consistent with its dual mandate.
It left intact the policy – enacted at its January meeting – of “exceptionally low” levels of interest rates through late 2014. Because of this action, Jeffrey Lacker, the President of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, dissented once again. All of the other FOMC members voted in favor.
The Fed will also maintain its plan to continue rebalancing its portfolio toward holding more long-term securities (“Operation Twist”) and reinvesting principal payments in mortgage-backed securities. The intent of this policy is to push interest rates – particularly those impacting mortgages – lower.
Overall, it was widely anticipated that the Fed would make no new moves at its March FOMC meeting. Recent improvements in the economy and developments in Europe have tended to lessen the drive for additional stimulus from the Fed, such as another round of quantitative easing. While pricing pressures have begun to accelerate again – led by higher energy and raw material prices – core inflation as a whole remains modest, at least for now.
Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.