Investors and traders keep watching the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee for new signals on monetary policy but the curtains remain closely drawn. The statement issued by the FOMC Wednesday after its two-day meeting shed little light from the March 19 meeting. Other than the first paragraph, the statement was identical to the one released after the March meeting, said Sterling Smith, futures specialist and vice president for Commodity Research at the Citibank Institutional Client Group in Chicago.
“The first paragraph was different, talking about the economy picking up,” said Smith. “Other than that it was basically unchanged.”
That first paragraph said that economic activity “has picked up recently, after having slowed sharply during the winter in part because of adverse weather conditions.” Earlier Wednesday, the Commerce Department released gross domestic product preliminary figures for the first quarter of 2014, showing little growth. Many analysts expect activity to increase in coming months. The FOMC also said that Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement. It said the unemployment rate remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment continued to advance, the FOMC statement said. But it noted the recovery in the housing sector remained slow.
“Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint is diminishing,” the statement said. “Inflation has been running below the Committee’s longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.”
Smith said he saw nothing surprising in the statement, noting that they are continuing their pace of tapering. The FOMC trimmed the amount of its bond-buying program by $10 billion again to $45 billion — which has been the pace recently. In one of the paragraphs brought over from the March statement, the FOMC reiterated that it will monitor closely economic and financial developments and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities. It said it will employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability.
The FOMC said if economic information continues to be good, it will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings. “However, asset purchases are not on a preset course, ” the statement said. “And the Committee’s decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee’s outlook for the labor market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases.”
The next FOMC meeting will be June 17-18 and analysts said the market “will just keep waiting and watching.” The June meeting, however, will include a news conference by Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and a Summary of Economic Projections. Perhaps media questions of the chairwoman can open a crack in the curtain and let in at least a ray of policy light. The timing of a rate hike will continue to be high on the list of topics the markets want to figure out.