Fed pressed ahead with rate hike plan as it debated guidance

Wed Jan 7, 2015 2:46pm EST
 
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By Howard Schneider and Michael Flaherty

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve pressed ahead at its last policy-setting meeting with plans to begin raising interest rates later this year despite an apparently vigorous debate over how to communicate its intentions.

According to minutes of the Fed's Dec. 16-17 meeting, released on Wednesday, U.S. central bankers reviewed a broad set of data showing the United States was holding its own as other parts of the global economy turned in the wrong direction.

Plummeting oil prices were pushing the United States further from the Fed's inflation target, but consumers appeared poised to spend, jobs were being created, and business investment seemed steady.

"Many participants pointed to relatively high levels of consumer confidence as signaling near-term strength in discretionary consumer spending, and most participants judged that the recent significant decline in energy prices would provide a boost," the minutes said.

"Industry contacts pointed to generally solid business conditions, with businesses in many parts of the country expressing some optimism about prospects for further improvement in 2015. Manufacturing activity was strong."

But with inflation still low, and the economic outlook for the euro zone and Japan darkening, the Fed struggled for how best to square the circle - acknowledging improvement in the United States while not committing to any particular timetable for raising rates.

The solution produced a statement that tried to have it both ways. New guidance was offered saying the Fed could be "patient" in deciding when to close the next chapter on the financial crisis and begin raising rates.

However, the central bank also said it considered that language "consistent" with its prior guidance that there could be a "considerable time" before rates actually rose.   Continued...

 
An eagle tops the U.S. Federal Reserve building's facade in Washington, July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst