Federal Reserve officials focused on the impact of potential fiscal stimulus during their December policy meeting, with many starting to worry that the central bank might eventually be forced to quicken the pace of interest-rate increases to head off higher inflation.
Almost all the participants “indicated that the upside risks to their forecasts for economic growth had increased as a result of prospects for more expansionary fiscal policies in coming years,” read the minutes of the Dec. 13-14 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, released Wednesday in Washington.
Despite growing attention to the risks of fiscal policy spurring faster growth than currently forecast, most on the committee reiterated that a “gradual” pace of rate hikes over the coming years would likely remain appropriate.
The minutes of the session, at which officials raised their benchmark lending rate by a quarter percentage point, showed that uncertainties over future fiscal policies weighed heavily in their discussion of the economy and the future path of monetary policy.
President-elect Donald Trump promised higher spending on infrastructure, tax cuts and regulatory reform during his campaign, but has offered few new details of his policy goals since winning the Nov. 8 election. His inauguration is set for Jan. 20.
“Participants emphasized their considerable uncertainty about the timing, size and composition of any future fiscal and other economic policy initiatives as well as about how those policies might affect aggregate demand and supply,” the minutes said.
The committee headed by Chair Janet Yellen was divided on how far unemployment was likely to fall, and over the consequences for inflation if it fell significantly below the Fed’s goal.
“Many participants” judged the risks of a sizeable undershoot on unemployment had increased somewhat, according to the minutes. Still, “most participants” expected the jobless rate would fall only “modestly below their estimates of the longer-run normal rate.”