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Fed plans regular rates forecasts

In a major shift, the US Federal Reserve will start updating the public four times a year on how long it plans to keep short-term interest rates at record lows, according to minutes from its December policy meeting.

The first forecast will be included in the central bank's economic projections after its January 24-25 meeting, the minutes said.

The change marks the Fed's latest move to make its communications more open and explicit and could help assure investors, companies and consumers that rates will not rise before a specific time.

This might help lower long-term yields further - in effect providing a kind of stimulus. Lower rates could lead consumers and businesses to borrow and spend more, potentially benefiting the economy. Lower yields on bonds also tend to cause some investors to shift money into stocks, which can boost wealth and spur more spending.

The Fed has left its key short-term rate near zero for the past three years. In August, it said it plans to leave the rate there until at least mid-2013, unless the economy improves.

After its December 13 meeting, the Fed issued a policy statement that portrayed the US economy as improving slightly. The central bank declined to take any additional steps to boost growth.

In January, the Fed will release an interest rate forecast for the fourth quarter of 2012 and for the next few calendar years, the minutes show. It will update that forecast four times a year.

The minutes also suggest that the Fed could be poised to launch a new step to invigorate the economy. Some members of the Fed's policy committee favoured bolder action but wanted to wait until the more explicit communication policy was in place, the minutes show.

Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist with BTIG, said he thinks the Fed will launch another bond buying programme later this year to try to further drive down interest rates.

The plan to forecast interest rates follows a historic decision last year to have Fed chairman Ben Bernanke hold news conferences four times a year. Mr Bernanke has also done a number of interviews and sought other changes to make the Fed's decision-making process more transparent.

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