Federal Reserve officials will start announcing their own forecasts for the central bank’s key interest rate in the latest step in Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s drive for greater transparency.
FOMC “participants decided to incorporate information about their projections of appropriate monetary policy” into their Summary of Economic Projections starting with their next meeting on Jan. 24-25, according to minutes from last month’s Federal Open Market Committee released today.
By releasing their forecasts, central bankers are likely to alter expectations for the timing of the first increase in their benchmark rate, which has been kept near zero since December 2008. Last month, Fed officials repeated their view that economic conditions would warrant “exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through mid-2013.”
When officials publish their rate forecast, it “will absolutely” push out expectations for the first federal funds rate increase, said Julia Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas in New York. “I would expect that the Fed’s consensus forecast will be for the zero to 0.25 percent federal funds rate range to prevail until the fourth quarter of 2013 with the first rate increase sometime in 2014.”
Bernanke, who took office in February 2006, has pushed the Fed toward greater openness at a faster pace than any of his predecessors. He holds press conferences four times a year and has aired his views on monetary policy and the financial crisis in television interviews.
The 58-year former Princeton University professor has also traveled to town hall meetings in locales such as El Paso, Texas. In addition, the FOMC publishes its forecasts four times a year, compared with two under former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan.
“He has really moved the ball up the court in terms of transparency,” said Mickey Levy, chief economist at Bank of America Corp. (BAC) in New York.
The minutes said “a number of members indicated that current and prospective economic conditions could well warrant additional policy accommodation.” Those members also decided that “any additional actions would be more effective if accompanied by enhanced communication” about the FOMC’s longer- run economic goals and policy framework.
Fed officials will show investors their forecast for the federal funds rate in the fourth quarter of 2012 and the next few calendar years, and over the longer run, the minutes said. The quarterly forecasts will accompany projections for growth, the unemployment rate and inflation, already released four times each year.
The summary of forecasts “also will report participants’ current projections of the likely timing of the first increase in the target rate given their projections of future economic conditions.”
Stocks maintained gains after the release of the minutes, buoyed by a report showing that manufacturing in the U.S. expanded at the fastest pace in six months in December. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 1.6 percent to 1,277.06 at the close of trading in New York. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note increased to 1.95 percent from 1.88 percent on Dec. 30.
The FOMC said after its Dec. 13 meeting that the economy “has been expanding moderately,” compared with the Nov. 2 assessment that growth “strengthened somewhat.” The central bank also added a reference to “apparent slowing in global growth,” and said that “strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook.”
The minutes said that the Fed staff forecast was “little changed” for the near-term outlook. The staff’s medium-term forecast was lower than the November projection due to “revisions” for the economic outlook in Europe.
Recent data on manufacturing, housing and jobs indicate the expansion is accelerating.
The Institute for Supply Management’s factory index climbed to 53.9 last month from 52.7 in November, the Tempe, Arizona- based group said today. Fifty is the dividing line between growth and contraction, and economists surveyed by Bloomberg News forecast the gauge would rise to 53.5.
Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits over the past month than at any time in the past three years, Labor Department figures showed last week.
Builders broke ground in November on more houses than at any time in the past 19 months, the Commerce Department said Dec. 20. The Standard & Poor’s Supercomposite Homebuilding Index, which includes Toll Brothers Inc. and Lennar Corp., climbed 34 percent in the fourth quarter, while the broader S&P 500 increased 11 percent.
The S&P 500 was virtually unchanged in 2011, the worst performance since 2008, buffeted by Europe’s debt crisis and the debate over raising the U.S. debt limit. Treasuries rallied in 2011. The yield on the U.S. 10-year note has fallen from 3.3 percent a year ago.
The U.S. economy probably grew at a 3.5 percent rate during the fourth quarter, Macroeconomic Advisers, a St. Louis-based forecasting company, said in a note today. That would be the fastest rate since the second quarter of 2010 and almost double the third quarter’s 1.8 percent growth.
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