Fed Signals June Liftoff Unlikely Amid Headwinds to Growth

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FOMC Minutes: Many Members Saw June Rate Rise as Unlikely

Federal Reserve officials signaled they are unlikely to raise interest rates in June while leaving open the option of tightening later in the year.

Minutes of their April meeting, released on Wednesday in Washington, also confirmed that the Fed expects growth to pick up after stalling in the first quarter, even as officials fretted about the strength of the consumer spending that makes up two-thirds of the economy.

“The tone is frustration,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. in Chicago. “Why isn’t the economy getting any stronger? They want to raise rates but the data is just too darn weak.”

Bond yields fell as some investors pushed back expectations for a rate increase beyond the September meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. The next signal of Fed intentions will come on Friday, when Chair Janet Yellen gives a speech on the economic outlook in Providence, Rhode Island.

Many participants “thought it unlikely that the data available in June would provide sufficient confirmation that the conditions for raising the target range for the federal funds rate had been satisfied,” according to minutes of the April 28-29 FOMC session.

That sentiment outweighed the opinion of “a few” members who said they anticipated the economy would be ready for a June liftoff, the minutes showed. At the same time, officials didn’t rule out the option of tightening at that time.

‘Moderate’ Growth

While the minutes show officials expect “moderate” growth to resume after the economy stalled early in the year, they also highlight concern that the stronger dollar and lower oil prices could prove to be lasting headwinds.

“They are uncertain,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The data has been soft but the economy feels like it is stronger.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed down less than 0.1 percent to 2,125.85 at 4 p.m. in New York. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes fell four basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 2.25 percent.

Officials last month repeated that they will raise rates when they have seen further improvement in the labor market and are “reasonably confident” that inflation will move back up toward their 2 percent goal over the medium term.

The committee discussed, and ultimately rejected, the idea of providing “an explicit indication” to the public when they believe a rate increase is likely in the near term, and resolved to make their minds up on a meeting-by-meeting basis.

September Liftoff

Most officials projected in March that they would raise the benchmark federal funds rate this year, without specifying a date. Rates will probably be lifted in September, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Gross domestic product rose just 0.2 percent at an annual pace in the three months through March, versus 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The minutes revealed a discussion about how much of the slowdown stemmed from causes that are likely to fade, including harsh winter weather, a labor dispute at West Coast ports and a “pattern” of weak first-quarter data over a number of years.

Still, officials were surprised Americans weren’t spending the windfall from lower gasoline prices, with some voicing “particular concern” because their forecasts for an economic rebound hinge on robust growth in household spending.

Policy makers also worried that liftoff could trigger a sharp rise in yields, as happened in mid-2013, underlining the importance of careful communications on the timing of tightening to damp down market volatility.

“It was suggested that the tendency for bond prices to exhibit volatility may be greater than it had been in the past, in view of the increased role of high-frequency traders, decreased inventories of bonds held by broker-dealers, and elevated assets of bond funds,” the minutes said.

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