The Federal Reserve, which has provided few surprises in recent months, held to that script once more today, as it concluded its two-day Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting by doing the expected, with regard to both bond buying and the level of interest rates.
Specifically, the FOMC voted to do some further modest monetary tapering, opting to add mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $20 billion per month rather than $25 billion and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $25 billion a month instead of $30 billion. In total, that means going forward the central bank will be tapering its monthly purchases from a combined $55 billion a month to $45 billion. Any action other than that would have been a major surprise. Also, no change in interest rates will be forthcoming at this time.
There were no surprises in such action, as noted, even though the day started out with a rather startling economic release of note from the U.S. Commerce Department. On point, this government agency reported that the nation's gross domestic product had risen by a nominal, and certainly disappointing, 0.1% in the first quarter, matching the worst quarterly performance in three years. An uptick of 1.2% had been the forecast. Worse, that showing compared with back-to-back gains of 4.1% and 2.6%, respectively, in the third and fourth quarters of last year.
What helped to calm the jitters in the financial markets was the logical recognition that the first-quarter stumble was largely a weather-related phenomenon--not a deterioration in basic fundamentals. Indeed, much of the data issued since that time, including today's reports on private-sector job growth and regional manufacturing, is indicative of this.
Thus, the Fed was certainly not disposed to overreact to one piece of economic data, however important it was in the overall scheme of things. As to the lead bank's take on the economy, its accompanying statement noted that economic growth had picked up recently, after having "slowed sharply during the winter in part because of adverse weather conditions." As to other observations on the economy, the Fed acknowledged that labor market indicators were still mixed, as was business fixed investment and housing. However, consumer or household spending was on the rise, a fact noted in this morning's GDP issuance.
Finally, the Fed observed that inflation was still running below the central bank's long-range target, which is 2%, although the bank did suggest that "longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable."
Looked at in its entirety, this was a reassuring meeting and consequent report. The Fed seems clearly on board with expecting the economy to continue pressing forward in slow-to-moderate speed.
At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.