Considering Jan Hatzius and NY Fed's Bill Dudley are close Pound & Pence drinking buddies, when it comes to assessing what the Fed "meant" to say, one should just throw the embargo-minutes penned Hilstanalysis in the garbage and just focus on what the Goldman chief economist thinks. His summary assessment: the minutes were relatively neutral, March is the most likely first taper date although "December is still possible."
We see the October FOMC meeting minutes as relatively neutral. Members generally did not appear to believe that tapering would be warranted in the immediate term at the time of the meeting, although that was before some recent better-than-expected data. There was discussion of potential enhancements to the forward guidance, but no consensus. We continue to think that March is the most likely date for the first reduction in asset purchases, although December is still possible.
1. With respect to the forward looking outlook for asset purchases, the minutes stated "some [members] pointed out that, if economic conditions warranted, the Committee could decide to slow the pace of purchases at one of its next few meetings." In contrast, participants?including non-voting regional Presidents?generally felt that trimming the rate of purchases would likely be appropriate "in coming months." However, ever the more hawkish language describing participants' views represents a change from the September minutes, in which "most" thought that it would be appropriate to begin reducing the pace of asset purchases by the end of the year. Also suggesting a lack of appetite for near-term tapering, "a number of participants noted that recent movements in interest rates … suggested that financial markets viewed … asset purchases and forward guidance ... as closely linked." However, December remains on the table as a possibility, in particular given stronger incoming data since the October meeting.
2. Participants seemed unenthusiastic about adopting a mechanical rule tying the pace of purchases to a single variable such as the unemployment rate. Some suggested announcing a total size of remaining purchases or a timetable for winding down the program as an alternative. Regarding the composition of tapering, "a number believed that making roughly equal adjustments to Treasury and MBS purchases would be appropriate," suggesting a stronger preference for equal tapering of Treasuries and MBS than that expressed in prior minutes.
3. On potential future enhancements to the forward guidance, "a couple" participants noted the merits of simply reducing the current 6-1/2% unemployment rate threshold, although others noted concerns about such a change. Others brought up the possibility of an inflation floor, although the benefits of such a change were viewed as "uncertain and likely to be rather modest." Several participants concluded that providing more qualitative information regarding the Committee's intentions after the threshold was reached could be most helpful. Overall, we see this discussion as representing a lack of consensus at the time of the October meeting on how the forward guidance should be adjusted in the future.
4. The minutes also noted that "most participants" thought that a reduction in the interest rate paid on excess reserves was "worth considering at some point" although the benefits of such a step were "generally seen as likely to be small except possibly as a signal of policy intentions."