US Stocks Sink as Most FOMC Members Took Further Easing Off the Table

April 3, 2012 3:07 PM EDT
US stocks fell sharply upon release of the minutes from the Fed's latest Federal Open Market Committee meeting. The Dow promptly fell about 73 points just seconds after the release. The index is down more than 112 points to 13,152 at last check. The Nasdaq is down about 16 points while the S&P 500 is down 11.

While the minutes showed Fed officials continued to see moderate expansion in the economy, traders are selling stocks this hour as only a couple of FOMC members saw a potential need for further stimulus.

Below are some highlights from the minutes:
  • The information reviewed at the March 13 meeting suggested that economic activity was expanding moderately. Labor market conditions continued to improve and the unemployment rate declined further, although it remained elevated. Overall consumer price inflation was relatively subdued in recent months. More recently, prices of crude oil and gasoline increased substantially. Measures of long-run inflation expectations remained stable.

  • On balance, U.S. financial conditions became somewhat more supportive of growth over the intermeeting period, and strains in global financial markets eased, as domestic and foreign economic data were generally better than market participants had expected and investors appeared to see diminished downside risks associated with the situation in Europe.

  • In the economic projection prepared for the March FOMC meeting, the staff revised up its near-term forecast for real GDP growth a little. Although the recent data on aggregate spending were, on balance, about in line with the staff's expectations at the time of the previous forecast, indicators of labor market conditions and production improved somewhat more than the staff had anticipated. In addition, the decline in the unemployment rate over the past year was larger than what seemed consistent with the modest reported rate of real GDP growth. Against this backdrop, the staff reduced its estimate of the level of potential output, yielding a measure of the current output gap that was a little narrower and better aligned with the staff's estimate of labor market slack. In its March forecast, the staff's projection for real GDP growth over the medium term was somewhat higher than the one presented in January, mostly reflecting an improved outlook for economic activity abroad, a lower foreign exchange value for the dollar, and a higher projected path of equity prices. Nevertheless, the staff continued to forecast that real GDP growth would pick up only gradually in 2012 and 2013, supported by accommodative monetary policy, easing credit conditions, and improvements in consumer and business sentiment. The wide margin of slack in product and labor markets was expected to decrease gradually over the projection period, but the unemployment rate was expected to remain elevated at the end of 2013.

  • Many participants noted that strains in global financial markets had eased somewhat, and that financial conditions were more supportive of economic growth than at the time of the January meeting. Among the evidence cited were higher equity prices and better conditions in corporate credit markets, especially the markets for high-yield bonds and leveraged loans. Banking contacts were reporting steady, though modest, growth in C&I loans. Many meeting participants believed that policy actions in the euro area, notably the Greek debt swap and the ECB's longer-term refinancing operations, had helped to ease strains in financial markets and reduced the downside risks to the U.S. and global economic outlook. Nonetheless, a number of participants noted that a longer-term solution to the banking and fiscal problems in the euro area would require substantial further adjustment in the banking and public sectors. Participants saw the possibility of disruptions in global financial markets as continuing to pose a risk to growth.

  • In their discussion of monetary policy for the period ahead, members agreed that it would be appropriate to maintain the existing highly accommodative stance of monetary policy. In particular, they agreed to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent, to continue the program of extending the average maturity of the Federal Reserve's holdings of securities as announced in September, and to retain the existing policies regarding the reinvestment of principal payments from Federal Reserve holdings of securities.

  • A couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below its mandate-consistent rate of 2 percent over the medium run.
Click here to see the full report from the Fed.

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