Fed officials discussed raising interest rates soon at January meeting

Posted February 24, 2017

The dollar weakened Thursday against most of its rivals after the Federal Reserve said it was confident that the next interest-rate increase would come "fairly soon", but expressed concern about the uncertain fiscal-policy outlook.

The "hawks" at the Federal Reserve are more concerned about the threat of rising inflation, especially if tax cuts and spending fuel the economy, but the "doves" warn of the risk of raising interest rates based on policies that have not been announced, and whose implications can not yet be measured.

Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, said the "fairly soon"' phrase in the minutes "clearly leaves the door open to a March rate hike, although. we still think the Fed will delay until June".

The Fed left its key interest rate unchanged at the 31 January-1 February meeting. The yen climbed 0.1 per cent to 113.19 per United States dollar, extending a 0.3 per cent gain from the previous day.

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Financial markets lost ground immediately after the minutes were released, with investors anxious about a potential March rate hike. But while some members of the committee judged that a tighter labor market could trigger price increases in the future, others argued that inflation remains below the long-run target of 2 percent, and that the threat of rapid inflation was not imminent. Market expectations now are low for a rate hike at that meeting - about a 1 in 5 chance - even though the Fed in December indicated three moves could be on the way this year.

"Overall, the minutes suggest the Fed feels increasingly uncomfortable with being boxed into a path of rates that the markets have determined as "gradual" and will try to keep every meeting as "live" as possible". However, it may also reflect the same uncertainties surrounding fiscal policy and a targeting of the currency that traditionally reserved for "other" central banks. Although chances of a March interest rate hike are still there, chances retreated to 36 percent.

This initially disappointed dollar bulls, who had hoped for a more hawkish tone after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last week that waiting too long to raise rates again would be "unwise". The personal consumption expenditures price index rose 1.6 percent a year ago; excluding food and energy, the index rose 1.7 percent.

Oil futures rose more than 1 percent after OPEC said it was sticking to its deal to reduce output. United States crude prices closed up 55 cents at Dollars 54.33, the best closing level in more than a year.