FOMC Minutes: No Asset Sales Until After First Rate Hike

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On the critical question of the Fed's $2.4 trillion balance sheet

Most participants expressed a preference for strategies that would eventually entail sales of agency debt and MBS in order to return the size and composition of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet to a more normal  configuration more quickly than would be accomplished by simply letting MBS and agency securities run off. They agreed that sales of agency debt and MBS should be implemented in accordance with a framework  communicated in advance and be conducted at a gradual pace that potentially could be adjusted in response to changes in economic and financial conditions. Participants expressed a range of views on some of the details of a strategy for asset sales. Most participants favored deferring asset sales for some time. A majority preferred beginning asset sales some time after the first increase in the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) target for short-term interest rates. Such an approach would postpone any asset sales until the economic recovery was well established and would maintain short-term interest rates as the Committee’s key monetary policy tool. Other participants favored a strategy in which the Committee would soon announce a general schedule for future asset sales, with a date for the initiation of sales that would not necessarily be linked to the increase in the Committee’s interest rate target. A few preferred to begin sales relatively soon.

Earlier sales would normalize the size and composition of the balance sheet sooner and would unwind at least part of the unconventional policy stimulus put in place during the crisis before conventional policy firming got under way. Some participants saw advantages to varying the FOMC’s holdings of longer-term assets  systematically in response to economic and financial developments. However, others thought that a preannounced pace of sales that was unlikely to vary much would provide a high degree of certainty about sales, helping to limit disruptions in financial markets.

The views of participants also differed to some extent regarding the appropriate pace of asset sales. Most preferred that the agency debt and MBS held in the portfolio be sold at a gradual pace that would complete the sales about five years after they began. One possibility would be for the pace to be relatively slow initially but to increase over time, allowing markets to adjust gradually. A couple of participants thought faster sales, conducted over about three years, would be appropriate and felt that such a pace would not put undue strain on financial markets. In their view, a relatively brisk pace of sales would reduce the chance that the elevated size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet and the associated high level of reserve balances could raise inflation expectations and inflation beyond levels consistent with price stability or could generate excessive growth of credit when the economy and banking system recover more fully.

Participants saw both advantages and disadvantages to not rolling over Treasury securities as they mature. On the one hand, redeeming Treasury securities would contribute to a more expeditious normalization of the size of the balance sheet and the quantity of reserves. On the other hand, such redemptions could put upward pressure on interest rates and would tend to work against the objective of returning the SOMA to an all-Treasuries composition.

On the half a trillion monthly roll issue:

Participants saw both advantages and disadvantages to not rolling over Treasury securities as they mature. On the one hand, redeeming Treasury securities would contribute to a more expeditious normalization of the size of the balance sheet and the quantity of reserves. On the other hand, such redemptions could put upward pressure on interest rates and would tend to work against the objective of returning the SOMA to an all-Treasuries  composition.

In summary:

No decisions about the Committee’s longer-run strategy for asset sales and redemptions were made at this meeting. For the time being, participants agreed that the Desk should continue the interim approach of allowing all maturing agency debt and all prepayments of agency MBS to be redeemed without replacement while rolling over all maturing Treasury securities. Participants agreed to give further consideration to their longer-run strategy at a later date.

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