Fed Minutes: Downside Risks Increased, Worried Balance Sheet Runoff Hit Stocks

Amid today's "inclement weather" FOMC minutes delay, which prevented the Fed from releasing the Jan Fed meeting minutes to a media lockup ahead of their public release, thus making impossible the dissemination of headlines and prepared news stories to go alongside the minutes release at 2:00 pm, there was a bit of a scramble to grab the most salient highlights from the Fed minutes for a meeting that was seen as pivotal for the Fed, one where the US central bank surprised with a dovish reversal, effectively putting on hold any further rate hikes while cautioning that it was prepared to adjust its balance sheet unwind which until that moment was said to be on "autopilot."

With that in mind, and with traders desperate to find any further hints of either renewed hawkish sentiment or a more pronounced dovish reversal, here is what has emerged as the key highlights from today's minutes.

On General economic conditions:

  • *FED OFFICIALS NOTED SOME DOWNSIDE RISKS HAD INCREASED
  • *FED OFFICIALS SEE CONTINUED SUSTAINED EXPANSION
  • *FED OFFICIALS SAY RECENT HOUSEHOLD DATA HAVE BEEN STRONG
  • *FED OFFICIALS SEE STRONG LABOR MARKET, INFLATION NEAR TARGET
  • *FED OFFICIALS NOTE BUSINESS INVESTMENT HAD MODERATED

On the market's influence over the Fed:

  • *FED OFFICIALS NOTED VOLATILITY, TIGHTER FINANCIAL CONDITIONS
  • *FED: IMPORTANT TO CONTINUE MONITORING FINANCIAL MKT DEVELOPMENT

And the punchline:

  • participants raised a number of questions about market reports that the Federal Reserve's balance sheet runoff and associated "quantitative tightening" had been an important factor contributing to the selloff in equity markets in the closing months of last year

On the key issue of balance sheet reduction:

  • Consistent with recent communications that the FOMC would be flexible in its approach to balance sheet normalization, the survey results also suggested that the respondents anticipated that the Committee would slow the balance sheet runoff in scenarios that involved a reduction in the target range for the federal funds rate.
  • Some market reports suggested that investors perceived the FOMC to be insufficiently flexible in its approach to adjusting the path for the federal funds rate or the process for balance sheet normalization
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