WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — Several Federal Reserve policymakers suggested last month that the Fed might have to scale back its efforts to keep borrowing costs low for the foreseeable future.
Minutes of the Fed’s Jan. 29-30 policy meeting released Wednesday showed that some officials worried about the Fed’s plan to keep buying $85 billion in bonds each month until the job market has improved substantially. They expressed concern that the continued purchases could eventually escalate inflation, unsettle financial markets or cause the Fed to absorb losses once it begins selling its investments.
According to the minutes, some Fed officials thought an ongoing review of the bond purchases might lead the policy committee to slow or end its purchases “before it judged that a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market has occurred.”
In the end, the Fed voted 11-1 last month to keep its bond-buying program open-ended and at the same size.
So although policymakers expressed concern, it still wasn’t enough to sway votes.
The Fed said in a statement that the purchases would continue until the job market improved substantially. The bond purchases are intended to keep interest rates down to encourage borrowing and spending.
Still, the January minutes suggested that the discussion over the risks from the bond buying was more extensive than at the Fed’s December meeting. Minutes of the December meeting had also pointed to divisions among Fed officials over how long the purchases should continue. The debate within the Fed has fueled speculation that the bond purchases might be scaled back or ended altogether this year.
Stock prices fell after the release of the minutes. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down more than 100 points. Before the release of the minutes, the Dow had been down only about 25 points. The prospect of higher interest rates could hurt corporate profits and stock prices over time.
The minutes showed that “several participants” thought the Fed should be ready to vary the pace of its purchases as it adjusts its view of the economy or the benefits and costs of the purchases. The policymakers asked Fed staffers to provide a deeper analysis at upcoming meetings of the issues raised in the discussion.
Private economists seemed divided Wednesday over how to interpret the debate described in the Fed’s minutes.
Some pointed to the Fed’s lopsided 11-1 vote last month for the current level of bond purchases as a sign that Chairman Ben Bernanke commands a large majority for keeping the monthly purchases at $85 billion until the job market strengthens significantly.
Other analysts said the extensive discussion of the purchases at last month’s policy meeting signaled rising concern about the risks of continuing the bond-buying program.
Bernanke may provide more guidance when he gives the Fed’s twice-a-year economic report to Congress next week.
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