Fed saw weak US growth, financial stress

WASHINGTON - Federal Reserve policy-makers earlier this month saw a weakening economic outlook and financial market stress as supporting the case for steady interest rates despite persistent concerns about inflation pressures.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Wed 27 Aug 2008, 1:49 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:59 AM

At their Aug. 5 meeting, members of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee agreed at that softening labor markets, high energy prices and a continuing housing contraction would weigh on future growth, leaving U.S. economic activity "damped" for several quarters.

"In addition, members saw continuing downside risks to this outlook, particularly reflecting possible further deterioration in financial conditions," the Fed said in the minutes, released on Wednesday.

While the members agreed the next policy move would likely be an increase in rates, most of them did not see the Fed's current monetary stance as "particularly accommodative," because households and businesses were facing tighter credit and higher borrowing costs.

The meeting ended with the Fed keeping its benchmark federal funds rate unchanged at a low 2 percent, where it has been since April, when the U.S. central bank paused a six-month rate-cut campaign.

At the same time, FOMC participants said inflation was expected to moderate in coming quarters, reflecting a "leveling-out" of energy and commodities prices.

"Although measures of core inflation might well edge up later this year, given the pass-through to final goods prices of earlier increases in the prices of energy and other inputs, most participants anticipated that core inflation would edge back down during 2009," the Fed said.

Stocks fell after the release of the minutes, while U.S. Treasury debt remained weaker and the dollar held steady at higher levels.

"I think the statement is pretty dovish on inflation. There is a lot more text discussing the weakness on the economy like consumer spending. There seems more emphasis on the downside risks to growth," said Daniel North, chief economist at Euler Hermes in Owings Mills, Maryland

Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher was the lone dissenter in the 10-1 vote to hold rates steady. He preferred to raise rates to combat rising inflationary pressures, which he saw as a greater risk to the economy. Fisher saw businesses as being more inclined to raise prices to pass on higher input costs and imported goods costs.

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