Federal Reserve's minutes show worries over depressed housing sector
Even though some bright spots surfaced in the economy from January to March, housing activity remained depressed enough to worry members of the Federal Open Market Committee when they met for their regular meeting on March 15. The FOMC released minutes from that meeting Tuesday. During the gathering, FOMC members began discussing the Fed's expected exit from the expansionary monetary policies implemented by the Fed in November of last year. That discussion revolved around QE2 — the policy authorized in November that allowed the Fed to acquire $600 billion in Treasury securities. When initiated, the plan was scheduled to expire this summer. FOMC members debated whether the Fed should gradually taper the pace of its Treasury securities purchases as the program nears its final phase. The members agreed that "they saw no need to taper the pace" as the program nears its end, according to the FOMC minutes. Federal Reserve members also blamed weak housing activity on low demand and larger inventories of distressed properties while attending the March 15th meeting. This dark spot in the economy was tempered by modest growth in consumer spending in early 2011 and a moderate rise in nominal retail sales, according to the minutes. "In January, starts and permits for new single-family homes remained near the low levels that had prevailed since the middle of 2010," the FOMC said in its minutes. "New home sales moved down in January; existing home sales stepped up somewhat but still were quite low by historical standards. Measures of house prices softened again in December and January." The committee also noted that financing in commercial real estate was tight in the first part of the year even though issuance of CMBS grew at a modest pace. Write to Kerri Panchuk.