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Last Fed meeting's minutes show talk of paring bond holdings

06 April 2017

Raising interest rates, however, is tied to the Fed reducing its $4.5 trillion balance sheet this year, which includes government bonds and mortgage securities.

Minutes from the March Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting revealed that participants in general felt that the economic outlook had changed little since January with further strengthening of the labour market and progress towards the inflation target.

The Fed undertook its massive asset purchasing program during the global financial crisis as a means of holding down interest rates and spurring growth.

The minutes said that Fed officials agreed that if the economy continued to perform as expected that "a change in the committee's reinvestment policy would likely be appropriate later this year".

Trump has promised to lower corporate tax rates and spend at least $1 trillion on infrastructure but has provided little details.

Elsewhere in the minutes policymakers appeared to see upside risks to the economy while there was still disagreement on how close the Fed was to meeting its 2 percent inflation goal this year.

Fed policymakers have previously indicated that any plan to shrink its portfolio would let the bonds naturally roll off, by not reinvesting them when they mature, once its interest rate hikes were "well under way".

"The FOMC minutes were clear that officials are contemplating beginning to address the balance sheet", said Win Thin, an economist at Brown Brothers Harriman. By then, Ashworth thinks the Fed will have raised its benchmark rate three more times.

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"Participants continued to underscore the considerable uncertainty about the timing and nature of potential changes to fiscal policy", the minutes said. However, several participants now anticipated that meaningful fiscal stimulus would likely not begin until 2018.

Concern about that possibility contributed to a selloff of stocks Wednesday afternoon after the minutes of the Fed's March meeting were released.

"Fed officials remain split on the question of how much inflation pressure is now in the system. but it has become hard for doves to argue that the economy is still some way from full employment", he wrote.

The central bank chose to raise the federal funds rate for the third time since 2008 in a near unanimous call during its meeting in March.

The voting members of the Fed's policy committee said they expected headline inflation might rise a bit above the 2% target in the near term, but only temporarily.

Treasury yields initially rose sharply after the release of the minutes but reversed course.

Uncertainty around them was substantial, the Fed said.