program began in September 2012 and the associated improvement in the outlook for the labor market warranted a reduction in the pace of asset purchases. The most recent data showed that increases in nonfarm payroll employment had averaged around 190,000 per month for the past 15 months, and the unemployment rate had fallen more quickly over that period than most participants had expected. Moreover, participants generally anticipated that the improvement in labor market conditions would continue, and most had become more confident in that outlook. Against this backdrop, most participants saw a reduction in the pace of purchases as appropriate at this meeting and consistent with the Committee’s previous policy communications. Many commented that progress to date had been meaningful, and some expressed the view that the criterion of substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market was likely to be met in the coming year if the economy evolved as expected. However, several participants stressed that the unemployment rate remained elevated, that a range of other indicators had shown less progress toward levels consistent with a full recovery in the labor market, and that the projected pickup in economic growth was not assured. Some participants also questioned whether slowing the pace of purchases at a time when inflation was running well below the Committee’s longer-run objective was appropriate. For some, the considerable slack remaining in the labor market and shortfall of inflation from the Committee’s longer-run objective warranted continuing asset purchases at the current pace for a time in order to wait for additional information confirming sustained progress toward the Committee’s objectives or to promote faster progress toward those objectives. Among those inclined to begin to reduce the pace of asset purchases at this meeting, many favored a modest initial reduction accompanied by guidance indicating that decisions regarding future reductions would depend on economic and financial developments as well as the efficacy and costs of purchases. Some other participants preferred a larger reduction in purchases at this meeting and future reductions that would bring the program to a close relatively quickly. A few proposed that the Committee lay out, either at this meeting or subsequently, a more deterministic path for winding down the program or that it announce a fixed amount of additional purchases and an expected completion date, thereby reducing uncertainty about the trajectory of the purchase program.
Participants also considered the potential for clarifying or strengthening the Committee’s forward guidance for the federal funds rate. In general, participants who favored amending the forward guidance saw a need to more fully communicate how, if the unemployment rate threshold was reached first, the Committee would likely set monetary policy after that threshold was crossed. A number of participants pointed out that the federal funds rate paths underlying the economic forecasts that they prepared for this meeting, as well as expectations for the funds rate path priced into financial markets, were consistent with the view that the Committee would not raise the federal funds rate until well after the time that the threshold was crossed. A few participants discussed the potential advantages and disadvantages of using medians of the projections of the federal funds rate from the SEP as a means of communicating the likely path of short-term interest rates. Some worried that, if the Committee began to reduce asset purchases, market expectations might shift, and they wanted to reinforce the forward guidance to mitigate the risks of an undesired tightening of financial conditions that could have adverse effects on the economy. In light of their concern that inflation might continue to run well below the Committee’s longer-run objective, several participants saw the need to clearly convey that inflation remains an important consideration in adjusting the target funds rate. Participants debated the advantages and disadvantages of lowering the unemployment rate threshold provided in the forward guidance. In the view of the few participants who advocated such a change, a lower threshold would be a clear signal of the Committee’s intentions and was an appropriate adjustment in light of recent labor market and inflation trends. In contrast, a few others expressed concern that any change in the threshold might be confusing and could undermine the credibility of the Committee’s forward guidance. Most were inclined to retain the current thresholds for the unemployment and inflation rates and to instead provide qualitative guidance regarding the Committee’s likely behavior after a threshold was crossed.
Committee Policy Action
Committee members viewed the information received over the intermeeting period as indicating that the economy was expanding at a moderate pace. Labor market conditions had improved in recent months, with monthly gains in payroll employment of more than 200,000 in October and November. The unemployment rate had declined but remained elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment advanced, while the recovery in the housing market slowed somewhat in recent months. Fiscal policy was restraining economic growth, although the extent of the restraint may have begun to diminish. The Committee expected that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic growth would strengthen and the unemployment rate would gradually decline toward levels consistent with its dual mandate. Moreover, members judged that the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market had become more nearly balanced, reflecting in part an easing of fiscal policy concerns and an improvement in the prospects for global economic growth. Inflation was running below the Committee’s longer-run objective, and this was seen as posing possible risks to economic