Participants discussed the softness in inflation in recent months. Many participants noted that much of the recent decline in inflation had probably reflected idiosyncratic factors. Nonetheless, PCE price inflation on a 12‑month basis would likely continue to be held down over the second half of the year by the effects of those factors, and the monthly readings might be depressed by possible residual seasonality in measured PCE inflation. Still, most participants indicated that they expected inflation to pick up over the next couple of years from its current low level and to stabilize around the Committee's 2 percent objective over the medium term. Many participants, however, saw some likelihood that inflation might remain below 2 percent for longer than they currently expected, and several indicated that the risks to the inflation outlook could be tilted to the downside. Participants agreed that a fall in longer-term inflation expectations would be undesirable, but they differed in their assessments of whether inflation expectations were well anchored. One participant pointed to the stability of a number of measures of inflation expectations in recent months, but a few others suggested that continuing low inflation expectations may have been a factor putting downward pressure on inflation or that inflation expectations might need to be bolstered in order to ensure their consistency with the Committee's longer-term inflation objective.
A number of participants noted that much of the analysis of inflation used in policymaking rested on a framework in which, for a given rate of expected inflation, the degree of upward pressures on prices and wages rose as aggregate demand for goods and services and employment of resources increased above long-run sustainable levels. A few participants cited evidence suggesting that this framework was not particularly useful in forecasting inflation. However, most participants thought that the framework remained valid, notwithstanding the recent absence of a pickup in inflation in the face of a tightening labor market and real GDP growth in excess of their estimates of its potential rate. Participants discussed possible reasons for the coexistence of low inflation and low unemployment. These included a diminished responsiveness of prices to resource pressures, a lower natural rate of unemployment, the possibility that slack may be better measured by labor market indicators other than unemployment, lags in the reaction of nominal wage growth and inflation to labor market tightening, and restraints on pricing power from global developments and from innovations to business models spurred by advances in technology. A couple of participants argued that the response of inflation to resource utilization could become stronger if output and employment appreciably overshot their full employment levels, although other participants pointed out that this hypothesized nonlinear response had little empirical support.
In assessing recent developments in financial market conditions, participants referred to the continued low level of longer-term interest rates, in particular those on U.S Treasury securities. The level of such yields appeared to reflect both low expected future short-term interest rates and depressed term premiums. Asset purchases by foreign central banks and the Federal Reserve's securities holdings were also likely contributing to currently low term premiums, although the exact size of these contributions was uncertain. A number of participants pointed to potential concerns about low longer-term interest rates, including the possibility that inflation expectations were too low, that yields could rise abruptly, or that low yields were inducing investors to take on excessive risk in a search for higher returns.
Several participants noted that the further increases in equity prices, together with continued low longer-term interest rates, had led to an easing of financial conditions. However, different assessments were expressed about the implications of this development for the outlook for aggregate demand and, consequently, appropriate monetary policy. According to one view, the easing of financial conditions meant that the economic effects of the Committee's actions in gradually removing policy accommodation had been largely offset by other factors influencing financial markets, and that a tighter monetary policy than otherwise was warranted. According to another view, recent rises in equity prices might be part of a broad-based adjustment of asset prices to changes in longer-term financial conditions, importantly including a lower neutral real interest rate, and, therefore, the recent equity price increases might not provide much additional impetus to aggregate spending on goods and services.
Participants also considered equity valuations in their discussion of financial stability. A couple of participants noted that favorable macroeconomic factors provided backing for current equity valuations; in addition, as recent equity price increases did not seem to stem importantly from greater use of leverage by investors, these increases might not pose appreciable risks to financial stability. Several participants observed that the banking system was well capitalized and had ample liquidity, reducing the risk of financial instability. It was noted that financial stability assessments were based on current capital levels within the banking sector, and that such assessments would likely be adjusted should these measures of loss-absorbing capacity change. Participants underscored the need to monitor financial institutions for shifts in behavior--such as an erosion of lending standards or increased reliance on unstable sources of funding--that could lead to subsequent problems. In addition, participants judged that it was important to look for signs that either declining market volatility or heavy concentration by investors in particular assets might create financial imbalances. A couple of participants expressed concern that smaller banks could be assuming significant risks in efforts to expand their CRE lending. Furthermore, a couple of participants saw, as possible sources of financial instability, the pace of increase in real estate prices in the multifamily segment and the pattern of the lending and borrowing activities of certain government-sponsored enterprises.
Participants agreed that the regulatory and supervisory tools developed since the financial crisis had played an important role in fostering financial stability. Changes in regulation had likely helped in making the banking system more resilient to major shocks, in promoting more prudent balance sheet management strategies on the part of nonbank financial institutions, and in reducing the degree to which variations in lending to the private sector intensify cycles in output and in asset prices. Participants agreed that it would not be desirable for the current regulatory framework to be changed in ways that allowed a reemergence of the types of risky practices that contributed to the crisis.
In their discussion of monetary policy, participants reaffirmed their view that a gradual approach to removing policy accommodation was likely to remain appropriate to promote the Committee's objectives of maximum employment and 2% inflation. Participants commented on a number of factors that would influence their ongoing assessments of the appropriate path for the federal funds rate. Most saw the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as little changed from their earlier projections and continued to anticipate that inflation would stabilize around the Committee's 2% objective over the medium term.
However, some participants expressed concern about the recent decline in inflation, which had occurred even as resource utilization had tightened, and noted their increased uncertainty about the outlook for inflation. They observed that the Committee could afford to be patient under current circumstances in deciding when to increase the federal funds rate further and argued against additional adjustments until incoming information confirmed that the recent low readings on inflation were not likely to persist and that inflation was more clearly on a path toward the Committee's symmetric 2% objective over the medium term. In contrast, some other participants were more worried about risks arising from a labor market that had already reached full employment and was projected to tighten further or from the easing in financial conditions that had developed since the Committee's policy normalization process was initiated in December 2015.
They cautioned that a delay in gradually removing policy accommodation could result in an overshooting of the Committee's inflation objective that would likely be costly to reverse, or that a delay could lead to an intensification of financial stability risks or to other imbalances that might prove difficult to unwind. One participant stressed that the risks both to the Committee's inflation objective and to financial stability would require careful monitoring. This participant expressed the view that a gradual approach to removing policy accommodation would likely strike the appropriate balance between promoting the Committee's inflation and full employment objectives and mitigating financial stability concerns.