The latest Fed minutes were released on Wednesday (in fact, they were released five hours early), and this month we’ll see more of the same from the U.S. Central Bank: $85 billion in Treasury bond purchases.
But this time, we’re seeing a growing divide between the hawks on the board—those who want to favor higher rates because they keep inflation in check, even if it means slower economic growth—and the doves—those who prefer keeping rates low to spur economic growth, even if it encourages inflation. When it comes to monetary policy, policymakers walk a tightrope in crafting a policy that favors economic (and now, jobs) growth without creating an inflationary environment.
As we all know, the Fed has been promoting dovish policies for quite some time now. The general consensus was that the Fed would continue priming the money pump until the national unemployment rate hit 6.5%. Earlier estimates put that at somewhere during 2015.
But if the latest minutes are any indication, the Fed could change course much sooner. Now that fourth-quarter GDP has been revised up to a 0.4% annual rate (remember, the first estimate called for a 0.1% contraction), and that the unemployment rate has fallen to 7.6%, some policymakers are pushing to slow bond purchases over the next several months.
That’s because there are growing concerns that these policies are sowing the seeds of inflation. To date, these policies have swollen the Fed’s balance sheet to a record $3.22 trillion.
In fact, last week, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker (a hawk), stated: “I will say that given the policies we have adopted, I see upside [inflation] risks starting a year and half to two years from now.” And recently, San Francisco Fed President John Williams (a dove), shocked Wall Street when he remarked: “If all goes as hoped, we (the Fed) could end the purchase program sometime late this year.”
Then again, Chairman Ben Bernanke has made it clear that he needs to see sustained job growth before scaling back bond purchases; in the near-term, it looks like this pro-growth stance still dominates the FOMC.
And it looks like Wall Street was largely pleased with these findings. As I’ve covered earlier, the artificially low interest rates are boon to investors, so it’s no secret why the Dow and S&P 500 both rallied to close at all-time highs.