Goldman FOMC Post-Mortem: "Slightly More Hawkish Then Expectations"

Via Goldman Sachs,

The FOMC decided to cut the pace of its asset purchases to $75bn/mo, but offset this with a qualitative enhancement to the forward guidance. The Committee's assessment of the economic outlook was somewhat more upbeat. We see today's statement as slightly hawkish relative to expectations. The fact that President Rosengren dissented and President George did not is consistent with that.

MAIN POINTS:

1. The Committee reduced the monthly pace of its asset purchases to $75bn, trimming both Treasury and MBS purchases by $5bn. Regarding the forward-looking outlook for further cuts to purchases, the statement indicated that "the Committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings. However, asset purchases are not on a preset course and the Committee's decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee's economic outlook for the labor market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases." The reduced pace of purchases will take effect in January and the allocation of Treasury purchases across maturities will remain unchanged. The Committee likely expects to conclude the asset purchase program in the second half of 2014.

2. Additional qualitative forward guidance was provided. Specifically, "the Committee now anticipates, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate well past the time that the unemployment rate declines below 6-1/2 percent, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal." We see "well past" as potentially representing as much as one-half percentage point. In this sense it is similar to a reduction in the unemployment threshold to 6.0%, although without the degree of commitment that such a reduction would entail.

3. The economic assessment was somewhat brighter. In particular, "labor market conditions have shown some further improvement" was upgraded to "labor market conditions have shown further improvement." In addition, the assessment of the drag on growth due to fiscal policy was slightly more upbeat, noting that "the extent of restraint may be diminishing." The description of inflation was unchanged in the first paragraph, although the Committee added that it is "monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term," indicating slightly higher concern about the inflation outlook.

4. Boston Fed President Rosengren dissented to the decision to taper asset purchases, while Kansas City Fed President George?who had previously been a hawkish dissenter?voted with the Committee.

5. With regard to participants’ economic projections, the mid-point of the central tendency of the unemployment rate was lowered to 7.05% in 2013Q4, 6.45% in 2014Q4, 5.95% in 2015Q4, and 5.55% in 2016Q4. Real GDP growth was raised by 10bp to 2.25% at end-2013, but the longer-run projection was reduced by 5bp to 2.3%. Participants reduced their end-2013 and end-2014 core PCE projections by 10bp to 1.15% and 1.5% and reduced their end-2015 and end-2016 projections by 5bp to 1.8% and 1.9%.

6. The median participant’s forecasts for the funds rate (the “dots”) remained at 0.13% at end-2013 and end-2014, fell 25bp to 0.75% at end-2015, and fell 25bp to 1.75% at end-2016. The median projection for the longer-run rate remained 4.0%. It is possible that Vice Chair Yellen was one of the participants who reduced their federal funds rate projections.