To no one’s surprise, the FOMC didn’t make the first policy move off its zero-rate policy at the meeting this week. Much has been made of both the removal of the reference in the Committee’s September statement to downward pressures from international markets and to the Committee’s attempt to keep open the possibility of a rate move at its December meeting. But by issuing only a short statement after the meeting, the FOMC misses two important opportunities to enhance its communications policies and to provide additional insights to markets of committee participants’ current thinking about the economy and possible rate changes as yearend approaches.
We believe the Committee should make forecasts in the form of its Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) at every meeting and not just four times a year. The last SEP we have was from the September meeting, at which time 13 of the 17 participants thought rates would rise by the end of the year; three thought the first move would take place in 2016; and one thought it would occur in 2017. Is it possible that all 13 of those participants still think the first move will be made in 2015? Wouldn’t be useful to know how many participants still think 2015 is really on the table? Additionally, the dot chart in the SEP release shows that 6 of the 13 participants think the funds rate will be between 50 and 100 basis points. It is unrealistic to believe that the FOMC’s first move would be a 50-basis-point increase in the target fed funds range, so these six participants must have envisioned at least two moves in 2015. Certainly, given the lack of action in both September and October, it is problematic to think those participants would still see rates that high. Similarly, given the prospective lack of action during the last quarter of this year, one would expect that the envisioned path for rates in 2016 would be different now than it was in September. Given the Committee’s desire to shape expectations, a new set of SEP forecasts would go a long way to helping markets form an informed set of expectations for the path of interest rates.
The second lost opportunity lies in the delay in releasing the minutes of the Board of Governors discount rate meetings. At least two more meetings have occurred since the release of the August 31 and September 15 meeting minutes. As we have argued – and this is confirmed in Chairman Bernanke’s recently released memoir (Courage to Act)– there is a close relationship between discount rate change requests and how the bank presidents may be leaning when it comes to proper positioning of the federal funds rate target. Any changes in the set of recommendations would provide another source of information to markets.
More timely release of the minutes of the discount rate meetings and more frequent SEP forecasts and press conferences would be important and positive contributions the Committee could make that would increase transparency and help markets better position themselves in uncertain times. This course would be a better one than leaving market participants twisting in the wind.