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Fed still 'patient' on rates, debating balance sheet policy

Fed still 'patient' on rates, debating balance sheet policy
FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo   -   Copyright  Leah Millis(Reuters)
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By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve policymakers debated how to manage the U.S. central bank’s massive holding of bonds while agreeing to be patient about any changes to interest rate policy, according to the minutes from their March 19-20 meeting.

The minutes, released on Wednesday, show the Fed saw the U.S. economy weathering a global economic slowdown, and policymakers made clear they saw no recession for the United States in the new few years.

But some policymakers said they could change their minds on whether the Fed’s next move should be to raise or lower rates.

“Several participants noted that their views of the appropriate target range for the federal funds rate could shift in either direction based on incoming data,” according to the minutes.

While policymakers noted that the U.S. labour market appeared strong, some expressed concern about weakness and said a “deterioration” in the U.S. economy could be amplified by large debt burdens at American companies, according to the minutes.

Financial market reaction to the release of March’s meeting minutes was largely muted. U.S. stocks pared their gains and Treasury yields drifted up from the days low. The dollar edged up against the euro.

The Fed took a sharply less aggressive policy posture at its March policy meeting, signalling it will not hike rates this year amid a slowing economy and announcing a plan to end its balance sheet reduction programme by September.

A significant portion of the policymakers’ discussion outlined in the minutes was devoted to how to wind down the Fed’s balance sheet and how to manage it when that process is over.

Some policymakers suggested the Fed should discuss the costs and benefits of new tools for reducing demand for reserves parked at the U.S. central bank, according to the minutes.

The discussion also included comments by several policymakers that the Fed might need to stabilise the level of reserves soon after it finishes its balance sheet runoff. That would involve resuming the purchase of U.S. Treasury securities, according to the minutes.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Paul Simao)

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