U.S. Federal Reserve meeting minutes from September show that officials held off on raising interest rates due to worries over the global economic slowdown.
In particular, the central bank fears that the lag in regions such as China and other emerging markets has the potential to derail U.S. growth and inflation. The September minutes say, “Some participants judged that the downside risks to the outlook for [U.S.] economic growth and inflation had increased.”
As such, “Although the time for policy normalization might be near, it would be appropriate to wait for […] further improvement in the labor market, confirming that the outlook for economic growth had not deteriorated significantly.”
Some Fed members also expressed concerns that a premature rate hike could harm the central bank’s credibility. This would the case, say the minutes, “if inflation stayed at a rate below 2 percent for a prolonged period.”
Further, one major concern for Fed officials is the fact that “the international environment [is] making them less certain that U.S. inflation [will] return to target,” says CIBC World Markets economist Andrew Grantham in a recent release. However, he notes, “Only a couple of members were concerned about how low market-based inflation expectations [have] gotten. Members sounded more confident […] regarding labour market improvement, with conditions improving considerably since earlier in the year.”
Still, Grantham points out we saw a “pretty weak September payroll release,” following the Fed’s meeting. So, overall, “The minutes [show] most see a move [in rates] this year, but concerns regarding the international environment and US-dollar strength [have] increased. Our call remains for a December hike, although U.S. data has deteriorated.”
Activity following Fed meeting
At the time of the September meeting, Fed Chair Janet Yellen told reporters that a rate hike was still likely this year—a prediction she repeated two weeks ago during a speech in Massachusetts.
But, the government recently released economic data that could give Fed officials further pause: employers added just 142,000 jobs in September, and officials lowered their estimate of job gains in July and August by a combined 59,000. That left monthly job growth at a mediocre 167,000 over the July to September period, down from 231,000 over the April to June period.
So, many economists say the weak job report has eliminated the possibility of a rate hike at the Fed’s next meeting. Some believe the Fed could end up waiting until next year to begin raising rates.
The Fed’s two final meetings of this year will occur on October 27th and 28th, and on December 15th and 16th.