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Comment: When the FOMC said they were uncertain — extracts from FOMC meeting statements

The FOMC statement of June 19 was the first time in several years in which the word “uncertain” or “uncertainties” appeared in an FOMC statement. Typically the Committee does not use it unless there is a great than normal sense that the outlook for monetary policy is clouded. In most instances it refers to the inflation forecast and/or the impact of geopolitical events on the US economy.

Below are extracts from FOMC meeting statements in which the word has appeared.

A history of FOMC meeting statements is available in the Whetstone Analysis Reference Library.

June 19, 2019 – The Committee continues to view sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes, but uncertainties about this outlook have increased. In light of these uncertainties and muted inflation pressures, the Committee will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2 percent objective.

March 19, 2014 -Voting against the action was Narayana Kocherlakota, who supported the sixth paragraph, but believed the fifth paragraph weakens the credibility of the Committee’s commitment to return inflation to the 2 percent target from below and fosters policy uncertainty that hinders economic activity.

September 16, 2008 – Inflation has been high, spurred by the earlier increases in the prices of energy and some other commodities. The Committee expects inflation to moderate later this year and next year, but the inflation outlook remains highly uncertain.

August 5, 2008 – Inflation has been high, spurred by the earlier increases in the prices of energy and some other commodities, and some indicators of inflation expectations have been elevated. The Committee expects inflation to moderate later this year and next year, but the inflation outlook remains highly uncertain.

June 25, 2008 – The Committee expects inflation to moderate later this year and next year. However, in light of the continued increases in the prices of energy and some other commodities and the elevated state of some indicators of inflation expectations, uncertainty about the inflation outlook remains high.

April 30, 2008 – Although readings on core inflation have improved somewhat, energy and other commodity prices have increased, and some indicators of inflation expectations have risen in recent months. The Committee expects inflation to moderate in coming quarters, reflecting a projected leveling-out of energy and other commodity prices and an easing of pressures on resource utilization. Still, uncertainty about the inflation outlook remains high. It will be necessary to continue to monitor inflation developments carefully.

March 16, 2008 – Inflation has been elevated, and some indicators of inflation expectations have risen. The Committee expects inflation to moderate in coming quarters, reflecting a projected leveling-out of energy and other commodity prices and an easing of pressures on resource utilization. Still, uncertainty about the inflation outlook has increased. It will be necessary to continue to monitor inflation developments carefully.

December 11, 2007 – Recent developments, including the deterioration in financial market conditions, have increased the uncertainty surrounding the outlook for economic growth and inflation. The Committee will continue to assess the effects of financial and other developments on economic prospects and will act as needed to foster price stability and sustainable economic growth.
September 18, 2007 – Developments in financial markets since the Committee’s last regular meeting have increased the uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook. The Committee will continue to assess the effects of these and other developments on economic prospects and will act as needed to foster price stability and sustainable economic growth.

September 20, 2005 – Output appeared poised to continue growing at a good pace before the tragic toll of Hurricane Katrina. The widespread devastation in the Gulf region, the associated dislocation of economic activity, and the boost to energy prices imply that spending, production, and employment will be set back in the near term. In addition to elevating premiums for some energy products, the disruption to the production and refining infrastructure may add to energy price volatility.

While these unfortunate developments have increased uncertainty about near-term economic performance, it is the Committee’s view that they do not pose a more persistent threat. Rather, monetary policy accommodation, coupled with robust underlying growth in productivity, is providing ongoing support to economic activity. Higher energy and other costs have the potential to add to inflation pressures. However, core inflation has been relatively low in recent months and longer-term inflation expectations remain contained.

May 6, 2003 – Although the timing and extent of that improvement remain uncertain, the Committee perceives that over the next few quarters the upside and downside risks to the attainment of sustainable growth are roughly equal. In contrast, over the same period, the probability of an unwelcome substantial fall in inflation, though minor, exceeds that of a pickup in inflation from its already low level. The Committee believes that, taken together, the balance of risks to achieving its goals is weighted toward weakness over the foreseeable future.

March 18, 2003 – While incoming economic data since the January meeting have been mixed, recent labor market indicators have proven disappointing. However, the hesitancy of the economic expansion appears to owe importantly to oil price premiums and other aspects of geopolitical uncertainties. The Committee believes that as those uncertainties lift, as most analysts expect, the accommodative stance of monetary policy, coupled with ongoing growth in productivity, will provide support to economic activity sufficient to engender an improving economic climate over time.
In light of the unusually large uncertainties clouding the geopolitical situation in the short run and their apparent effects on economic decisionmaking, the Committee does not believe it can usefully characterize the current balance of risks with respect to the prospects for its long-run goals of price stability and sustainable economic growth. Rather, the Committee decided to refrain from making that determination until some of those uncertainties abate. In the current circumstances, heightened surveillance is particularly informative.

September 24, 2002 – Over time, the current accommodative stance of monetary policy, coupled
with still robust underlying growth in productivity, should be sufficient to foster an improving business climate. However, considerable uncertainty persists about the extent and timing of the expected pickup in production and employment owing in part to the emergence of heightened geopolitical risks.

August 13, 2002 – The softening in the growth of aggregate demand that emerged this spring has been prolonged in large measure by weakness in financial markets and heightened uncertainty related to problems in corporate reporting and governance.

May 7, 2002 – The information that has become available since the last meeting of the Committee confirms that economic activity has been receiving considerable upward impetus from a marked swing in inventory investment. Nonetheless, the degree of the strengthening in final demand over coming quarters, an essential element in sustained economic expansion, is still uncertain.

March 19, 2002 – The information that has become available since the last meeting of the Committee indicates that the economy, bolstered by a marked swing in inventory investment, is expanding at a significant pace. Nonetheless, the degree of the strengthening in final demand over coming quarters, an essential element in sustained economic expansion, is still uncertain.

January 30, 2002 – The degree of any strength in business capital and household spending, however, is still uncertain. Hence, the Committee continues to believe that, against the background of its long-run goals of price stability and sustainable economic growth and of the information currently available, the risks are weighted mainly toward conditions that may generate economic weakness in the foreseeable future.

November 6, 2001 – Heightened uncertainty and concerns about a deterioration in business conditions both here and abroad are damping economic activity.

October 2, 2001 – The terrorist attacks have significantly heightened uncertainty in an economy that was already weak. Business and household spending as a consequence are being further damped. Nonetheless, the long-term prospects for productivity growth and the economy remain favorable and should become evident once the unusual forces restraining demand abate.

May 15, 2001 – The erosion in current and prospective profitability, in combination with considerable uncertainty about the business outlook, seems likely to hold down capital spending going forward. This potential restraint, together with the possible effects of earlier reductions in equity wealth on consumption and the risk of slower growth abroad, continues to weigh on the economy.

April 18, 2001 – Nonetheless, capital investment has continued to soften and the persistent erosion in current and expected profitability, in combination with rising uncertainty about the business outlook, seems poised to dampen capital spending going forward.

December 21, 1999 – Nonetheless, in light of market uncertainties associated with the century date change, the Committee decided to adopt a symmetric directive in order to indicate that the focus of policy in the intermeeting period must be ensuring a smooth transition into the Year 2000.

June 30, 1999 – Owing to the uncertain resolution of the balance of conflicting forces in the economy going forward the FOMC has chosen to adopt a directive that includes no predilection about near-term policy action. The Committee, nonetheless, recognizes in the current dynamic environment it must be especially alert to the emergence, or potential emergence, of inflationary forces that could undermine economic growth.

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