The Federal Open Market Committee voted Wednesday not to raise interest rates, but it has dropped “patient” from its guidance, setting the stage for a rate hike in the second or third quarter.
The FOMC members said that they believe that economic growth has moderated somewhat since January, and while labor market conditions have improved further, conditions don’t warrant a change.
Above all, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that while she’s “losing patience” she’s still patient, and the pace of rate hikes will be slow.
"Just because we removed the world patience doesn't mean we are going to be impatient," Yellen said. “Wage growth remains sluggish, suggesting some cyclical weakness persists.”
However, overall the Fed is optimistic on economic growth, though it is a modest optimism. Further, wage growth picking up is not a precondition to raising rates, Yellen said.
“A range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources continues to diminish. Household spending is rising moderately; declines in energy prices have boosted household purchasing power,” the Fed said. “Business fixed investment is advancing, while the recovery in the housing sector remains slow and export growth has weakened. Inflation has declined further below the Committee's longer-run objective, largely reflecting declines in energy prices. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.”
The FOMC further stated that they expect that economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, with labor market indicators continuing to move toward levels the committee judges consistent with its dual mandate of employment growth and price stability.
“Inflation is anticipated to remain near its recent low level in the near term, but the Committee expects inflation to rise gradually toward 2% over the medium term as the labor market improves further and the transitory effects of energy price declines and other factors dissipate,” the statement from the FOMC said.
The FOMC said that the current 0-0.25% target range for the federal funds rate remains appropriate, and that it will likely remain the same in April as well.
The members also said the FOMC is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction.
“When the committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2%,” the FOMC said. “The committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the committee views as normal in the longer run.”
Afterward, during the Q&A session, Yellen fielded a question about the ongoing move to audit the Fed and bring it under better scrutiny.
“Of course we're ready to provide information that the Congress needs to evaluate the Fed's decision-making in monetary policy," she said.