The Federal Reserve is the most important central bank in the world. This is because the US dollar is the world’s reserve currency and is therefore used in all major international transactions. For this reason, any decision that the Fed makes ends up having major implications around the world. For example, when the Fed raised rates last year, the emerging market economies like Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey had a tough period. This is because these countries have large dollar-denominated debt. As such, if their currencies weaken and the dollar strengthens, their interest rates payments become extremely high.
Yesterday, the Fed released the minutes of the last meeting, which happened on March 19-20. These minutes were highly anticipated because they would shed more light on the Fed’s decisions going ahead.
The minutes showed that the first topic was the normalization of the balance sheet. As you recall, in response to the financial crisis of 2008/9, the bank moved to boost the economy by lowering interest rates and printing money, through the process of Quantitative Easing (QE). This led to a ballooning of the balance sheet from less than a trillion dollars to more than $4.5 trillion. In the meeting, the officials discussed the various options of reducing this balance sheet. At the end, they decided to reduce the pace of the balance sheet reduction. In this plan, the bank intends to slow the reduction of its holdings of treasuries by reducing the cap of monthly redemptions from $30 billion to $15 billion starting from May. Investors have been worried that the bank is doing this very fast.
The officials also discussed the recent developments in the American and global economy. The information they had showed that the labor market remained quiet strong, with the unemployment rate remaining at 3.8%. The headline GDP has slowed down while consumer prices as measured by the YoY change in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) has below the target of 2% in December. Industrial production has slowed down while household spending appeared to be slowing down. The same is true with the real residential investment. This slowdown was also seen in the real private expenditures for business equipment and intellectual property. The US trade deficit has widened while economic conditions in foreign markets has slowed down. The minutes added:
After assessing current conditions and the outlook for economic activity, the labor market, and inflation, members decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 percent. Members agreed that in determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee would assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to the Committee’s maximum-employment and symmetric 2 percent inflation objectives.
After the statement, the USD index declined as shown below. This is because the members left open the chance of cutting interest rates. Therefore, the USD could continue moving lower as investors wait for more data from the US and around the world.