Federal Reserve officials said last month that while conditions for raising interest rates were approaching, they saw more room for labour market healing and need more confidence that inflation is moving toward their goal, minutes of their meeting show.
Most meeting participants "judged that the conditions for policy firming had not yet been achieved, but they noted that conditions were approaching that point," according to minutes of the July 28-29 Federal Open Market Committee session, released Wednesday in Washington.
The details come four weeks before the Fed's September meeting, when most economists forecast the central bank will raise its benchmark interest rate for the first time since 2006. Policy makers say a decision to raise rates will hinge on continued improvement in the labour market and confidence that inflation will move higher.
"Almost all members" indicated that "they would need to see more evidence that economic growth was sufficiently strong and labour markets conditions had firmed enough for them to feel reasonably confident that inflation would return to the Committee's longer-run objective over the medium term," the minutes show. "Members" refers to voting participants in the meeting.
Officials last month left the benchmark federal funds rate near zero and said that it will be appropriate to begin tightening policy once they have seen "some further improvement" in the labour market and are reasonably confident that inflation will move up toward their 2 per cent objective. The addition of the modifier "some" was the only change to their language on conditions that would warrant a rate increase.
According to 77 per cent of economists in a Bloomberg survey taken Aug. 7-12, the Fed will act at the Sept. 16-17 FOMC. The market is less confident, with investors on Wednesday forecasting a 40 per cent chance the Fed will tighten next month, based on pricing of federal funds futures contracts. The odds assume the effective rate will rise to 0.375 per cent after liftoff.
The labour market has shown continued progress since the FOMC meeting, with U.S. firms adding 215,000 jobs in July compared with the year-to-date monthly average of 211,000.
Inflation, by contrast, has remained subdued. The Fed's preferred gauge hasn't been above the committee's 2 per cent goal since April 2012 and rose 0.3 per cent in the year through June. Another inflation measure, the consumer price index, rose less than forecast in July, a government report showed today.
The July minutes showed Fed policy makers raising questions about what it would take to get inflation back to their target. Rising demand for labour "still appeared not to have led to a broad-based firming of wage increases," the minutes said.
"It was noted that considerable uncertainty remained about when wages might begin to accelerate and whether that development might translate into increased price inflation," the minutes said.
Still, "most" officials expected that downward pressure on inflation from declines in energy prices and a stronger dollar "would prove to be temporary."
A 30 per cent plunge in oil since its closing peak in June is holding inflation down, along with a slowdown in China that is reducing demand for metals and other commodities. A stronger dollar is also keeping inflation at bay by reducing prices of imported goods.
Meeting participants "generally viewed the risks to the outlook for domestic economic activity and the labour market as nearly balanced," according to the minutes released today, although many continued to see some downside risks arising from economic and financial developments abroad.
The People's Bank of China devalued the yuan last week, a move that spurred speculation that the nation's economy may be more sluggish than expected. Weaker global growth could hurt the U.S. economy by denting demand for its exports.