Let’s get this out of the way: The Federal Reserve didn’t change short-term interest rates. Nor do they expect to do so before 2024. This and some targeted purchases in the bond market likely mean low mortgage rates for the foreseeable future.
If you’re in the market for a mortgage, Freddie Mac also showed the rates industrywide are at their lowest since the company began its survey. Bottom line, there’s never been a better time to purchase or refi if you’re ready.
Those are the highlights, but the details were pretty juicy (at least as far as Fed statements go). Genuine policy disagreement and debate always makes things a little more interesting. My breakdown is in bold.
The Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time, thereby promoting its maximum employment and price stability goals.
This is boilerplate in the time of COVID-19. Still, it’s good to see the Fed is willing to do everything in its power to help us out.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world. Economic activity and employment have picked up in recent months but remain well below their levels at the beginning of the year. Weaker demand and significantly lower oil prices are holding down consumer price inflation. Overall financial conditions have improved in recent months, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.
This is normally the paragraph where the Committee gives the reader its assessment of the economy. This is still the case, but as with everything now, it has a distinctly COVID-19 tinge to it.
While acknowledging that we’ve got a long way to go, the Fed does say that both economic activity and employment are at least going in the right direction. This seems to acknowledge the help of both fiscal and monetary policy. However, the Fed would like to see overall consumer demand and inflation pick up.
The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus. The ongoing public health crisis will continue to weigh on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term.
Like everyone else turning into amateur epidemiologists these days, the Fed is watching the virus in order to determine the direction and timing of future policy moves.
At the same time, this paragraph acknowledges the breadth of the challenge facing this country to get the economy started while still getting our feet under us from a health standpoint. Right now, there are considerable challenges, and no one knows what the future looks like.
The Committee seeks to achieve maximum employment and inflation at the rate of 2 percent over the longer run. With inflation running persistently below this longer-run goal, the Committee will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2 percent. The Committee expects to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy until these outcomes are achieved. The Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and expects it will be appropriate to maintain this target range until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time. In addition, over coming months the Federal Reserve will increase its holdings of Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities at least at the current pace to sustain smooth market functioning and help foster accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses.
Bear with me. It’s clear to me that the Committee members didn’t get their degrees in any sort of writing because no paragraph that’s this heavy should be this long. I’m going to break this down over the course of several paragraphs.
The Fed’s overarching goal in setting the federal funds rate is to keep inflation around 2% per year. The Fed likes to see a little bit of inflation because it encourages people to buy now, thus creating more jobs and keeping the economy going.
The problem the Fed now has to confront is that inflation has been persistently low for several years now. This is exacerbated when millions of people are suddenly unemployed because they’re even more likely to hold on to whatever money they have rather than spend it.
If prices were to start to go up, people would have an incentive to buy more goods and services now, which encourages hiring.
To that end, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell recently announced a policy change to the effect that the federal funds rate should remain at its current level until the inflation rate is above 2% for a considerable amount of time. The idea is for the catch-up inflation to get the economy on track to 2% inflation over the long term.
There are two things here that should particularly encourage those in the market for a new mortgage anytime in the near future. Firstly, the Fed doesn’t expect to raise short-term rates above their current levels before 2024, according to median projections. This supports low mortgage rates.
Secondly, the Federal Reserve pledged to keep buying agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS). The Fed is a big buyer in that market right now, and more buyers in that market means lower mortgage interest rates because the return on the underlying bond doesn’t have to be as high to attract a buyer.
Yes, that was all in one paragraph. Chairman Powell, I’m offering my services as a freelance writing consultant. We can clean this up.
In assessing the appropriate stance of monetary policy, the Committee will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook. The Committee would be prepared to adjust the stance of monetary policy as appropriate if risks emerge that could impede the attainment of the Committee’s goals. The Committee’s assessments will take into account a wide range of information, including readings on public health, labor market conditions, inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and financial and international developments.
It’s generally nice to know what data the Federal Reserve is looking at in making its policy decisions. The thing I take out of this is that it’s a weird world when the Committee has to look at public health data. Only in 2020.
Voting for the monetary policy action were Jerome H. Powell, Chair; John C. Williams, Vice Chair; Michelle W. Bowman; Lael Brainard; Richard H. Clarida; Patrick Harker; Loretta J. Mester; and Randal K. Quarles.
If you’re a regular reader of these analyses, you’ll notice that not all of the Committee members signed on with the majority this time around. Let’s take a look at the dissenters and their reasons.
Voting against the action were Robert S. Kaplan, who expects that it will be appropriate to maintain the current target range until the Committee is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals as articulated in its new policy strategy statement, but prefers that the Committee retain greater policy rate flexibility beyond that point; and Neel Kashkari, who prefers that the Committee to indicate that it expects to maintain the current target range until core inflation has reached 2 percent on a sustained basis.
Kaplan wants to see flexibility come out of this once we get beyond the current situation. Kashkari would prefer to see the inflation goal centered around core inflation rather than overall inflation. Core inflation takes out food and energy, which avoids a certain amount of variability due to seasonality.
If so, subscribe now for tips on home, money, and life delivered straight to your inbox.