Many Fed officials saw near-term rate cut, not all convinced: minutes

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - Many U.S. Federal Reserve officials at their last meeting thought more stimulus would be needed soon if risks to the U.S. economy did not let up, and several others leaned in that direction, records from the meeting showed.

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

In their June 18-19 meeting, which for the first time this year introduced the near-term possibility that the Fed might cut rates, multiple policymakers said rates should come down to “cushion the effects” of a U.S. trade war and to firm up inflation that is failing to meet the central bank’s 2%-a-year target, according to the minutes from that meeting released on Wednesday.

But they did not convince all their colleagues.

“Some” policymakers thought “there was not yet a strong case for a rate cut from current levels” and wanted to gather more information before agreeing to a policy that President Donald Trump has demanded and which markets now see as an almost certainty.

The Fed’s last meeting came as policymakers anguished over the possibility that the longest economic recovery in U.S. history might be derailed because of slower global growth and a Trump administration trade war with China.

Policymakers held their target interest rate steady in a range of between 2.25% and 2.5% but dropped promises to be “patient” before changing rates.

Only “a couple” participants thought an immediate cut was necessary at the meeting, but all the policymakers “generally agreed” that the downside risks to the economy had “risen materially,” according to the meeting records.

After the meeting, China and the United States agreed to resume trade talks and Washington promised no new tariffs. But in recent days Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said the uncertainties around trade could still be weighing on business confidence and investment, potentially requiring action.

Policymakers also debated the usefulness and risks that might come with potential new tools to control interest rates.

One change, introducing what is known as a standing repurchase facility, would let financial institutions exchange Treasuries for reserves they keep at the central bank and could ease pressures in short-term borrowing markets that the Fed hopes to influence. No decisions were made.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci