The Federal Open Market Committee today released the minutes from its Dec. 17-18 meeting, and the text shows its members offering mixed thoughts on what steps the Fed should take .
Investors and analysts have been eagerly awaiting this release, since it provides a more detailed explanation of the committee's decision last month to cut back slightly on purchases of mortgage-backed and Treasury securities. As of this month, the Fed will make $75 billion in purchases, rather than the previous $85 billion buy.
The minutes note that "most participants" viewed the buyback program's benefits as outweighing its costs and saw no reason to end the purchases "now or relatively soon." However, "a few" participants disagreed, suggesting that the program should end soon, regardless of whether the Fed's macroeconomic goals have been achieved.
The most talked-about threshold continues to be the national unemployment rate, at 7% as of November 2013. The Federal Reserve has consistently maintained that it will continue quantitative easing at least until unemployment dips to 6.5% Most committee members agreed to maintain this threshold, as well as the longer-run 2.5% inflation threshold, so as to remain consistent while providing "qualitative guidance regarding the Committee's likely behavior" after either of these points is reached. The Fed noted that total U.S. consumer price inflation, as measured by the PCE price index, was less than 1% over the 12 months ending in October. Said the Fed: "Inflation continued to run noticeably below the Committee's longer-run objective of 2 percent, but participants anticipated that it would move back toward 2 percent over time as the economic recovery strengthened and longer-run inflation expectations remained steady."