In a notable departure from the expected course, the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee voted a bit earlier this afternoon to stay the course on its popular $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program. Most economists had been expecting a shift in monetary course, with such purchases having been forecast to decline by some $10 billion to $15 billion a month, and to do so immediately.
In making its decision, the FOMC voted almost unanimously in favor of this stand-pat policy, with just one FOMC member, Esther L. George, voting to start the tapering program at this time. Her concerns were ''that the continued high level of monetary accommodation increased the risks of future economic and financial imbalances and, over time, could cause an increase in long-term inflation expectations.''
Such concerns aside, and comments to the effect that since the FOMC's last meeting in July the economy had been expanding at a moderate pace, and amidst indications that labor conditions had shown further improvement, the Fed still opted to hold the line.
The apparent rationale for the surprise non-move by the Fed was that while ''the Committee sees the downside risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as having diminished, on net, since last fall, the tightening of financial conditions observed in recent months, if sustained, could slow the pace of improvement in the economy and labor market.'' The low inflation rate--now below 2%--also poses risks to the nation's aggregate economic performance, according to the FOMC.
Taken together, and even as it sees progress being made since it undertook this asset purchasing program a year ago, the FOMC has decided to await more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of its purchases. As such, the Committee will, for now, continue to purchase a combined $85 billion in debt securities a month.
Our sense is that the original timetable, set for later this year on a Fed tapering, will likely continue, unless Fed Chairman Bernanke opts to sway the Committee to decide otherwise in the next couple of months.
At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.