Fed Minutes Show Most Officials Flagged Risks of Cutting Rates Too Quickly

Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest gathering show most officials remained more worried about the risk of cutting interest rates too soon than keeping them high for too long and damaging the economy.

A summary of the Jan. 30-31 Federal Open Market Committee meeting released Wednesday showed policymakers want to see more evidence inflation is firmly on a path to their 2% target before lowering interest rates, with some raising concerns that progress could stall. Together, the minutes reinforced expectations that borrowing costs will remain high for the foreseeable future.

Fed officials agreed interest rates were likely at their peak, but the exact timing of the first rate cut remained unclear. That said, the minutes indicated growing support among a group of policymakers for slowing the pace at which the Fed shrinks its asset portfolio. Such a move would work with rate cuts to start easing policy.

“Most participants noted the risks of moving too quickly to ease the stance of policy and emphasized the importance of carefully assessing incoming data in judging whether inflation is moving down sustainably to 2%,” according to the meeting minutes released Wednesday.

Only a “couple” of officials pointed to risks to the economy from waiting too long to cut. Participants highlighted the uncertainty of how long monetary policy would need to remain restrictive.

“The minutes confirmed the Fed is quite reluctant to start easing if it means it might have to backtrack by slowing down cuts or, worse, hiking again,” said Derek Tang, an economist with LH Meyer/Monetary Policy Analytics. “They would rather start cuts later even if they have to speed cuts up to catch up.”