The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) said in its last statement for 2014 that although economic conditions have improved at a moderate pace, the Fed believes that the target federal funds rate of between 0.00 and 0.25 percent remains “appropriate.” While labor markets show expanding job growth and lower unemployment rates, FOMC members noted that housing markets are recovering slowly.
Inflation remains below the committee’s target rate of two percent; this was attributed to lower fuel costs. Household income and business investment were seen as increasing, and the underutilization of workforce resources was described as “diminishing.” These developments indicate better economic conditions for consumers, business and job seekers, as employers picked up the pace of hiring.
Target Fed Funds Rate Unchanged
No year-end changes in monetary policy were made; the Fed issued its usual statement that developing economic conditions would guide the Committee’s decisions concerning the target federal funds rate. The FOMC statement said that changes could be made according to progress toward or away from achieving the Fed’s dual mandate of maximum employment and price stability. No specific date was given for raising the target federal funds rate. The FOMC statement noted that no change is likely as long as the inflation rate remains below the Fed’s longer-term target of two percent.
The FOMC statement was followed by a press conference given by Janet Yellen, fed chair and Chair of the FOMC.
Fed Chair: Oil Price Influence on Inflation “Transitory”
Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve and FOMC, said that she expects lower oil prices to be a transitory influence on inflation, which continues to run lower than the Fed’s target rate of two percent. Media representatives noted that Chair Yellen replaced the phrase “considerable time” with “patient” in reference to when the Fed might raise the target federal funds rate.
Ms. Yellen said that the gross domestic product (GDP) had increased by 2.50 percent over the prior four quarters ending with the third quarter of 2014, and said that the economy continues to grow at approximately the same pace. Concerning falling inflation, Ms. Yellen said that she expected the inflation rate to increase after transitory influences including oil prices dissipate. The Fed Chair said that she perceived lower oil prices to be a positive development for the U.S. economy on net.
In response to questions about when the Fed would raise the target federal funds rate, Chair Yellen said that it would likely occur sometime in 2015 and also mentioned “sometime after the next couple of FOMC meetings. This suggests that mid 2015 may bring a change, but Ms. Yellen repeated the Fed’s oft-stated position that continual review of economic conditions and developing trends would impact any decision to change or not change the federal funds rate.