Federal Reserve policy makers, meeting a few days after the Fed's discount rate had been cut from 8 percent to 7 1/2 percent, agreed not to ease monetary policy further, according to a record of the May 21 meeting released yesterday.
However, a majority of the group -- the Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC -- was concerned about the economy's relatively weak performance and strains in financial markets and "believed that policy implementation should be alert to the potential need for some easing of reserve conditions," the statement said.
Such language indicates a shading of FOMC sentiment toward an easier policy course rather than a neutral or a tighter position. The Fed seeks to influence financial markets and the economy in part by varying the availability of reserves -- cash -- to financial institutions.
Different members of the FOMC had varying views about the importance of the fact that the money measure M1 was well above its target range. In the end, one voting member, Robert Black, president of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, dissented from the majority position because "he preferred to direct policy implementation in the weeks immediately ahead toward achieving somewhat slower expansion in M1," the statement said.
The majority expected that the policy course they laid out would be consistent with growth of M1 -- the money measure that includes currency in circulation and checking deposits at financial institutions -- at a 6 percent annual rate or a little more between March and June.
Figures released Thursday showed that M1 in fact grew at a 13.3 percent rate over that three month period. The Fed nevertheless apparently did not take any overt steps to slow money growth, presumably because of the members' continuing concern over the economy and the financial system, analysts said.
At the same time, many financial market analysts had expected that the discount rate -- the interest rate the Fed charges when it loans reserves to financial institutions -- would be cut again to 7 percent or perhaps even lower. It has not been, and it may be that the rapid growth of M1 and the faster growth of two more inclusive money measures, M2 and M3, caused the Fed to keep the discount rate at 7 1/2 percent, the analysts speculated.
The recent decline in the value of the U.S. dollar in foreign exchange markets, which could add to inflation in the United States, may have been a factor, too, they said.
The FOMC met again this week to reexamine its money growth targets and set policy for the next several weeks. The Fed will release its mid-year monetary policy report to Congress Tuesday afternoon and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker will testify on it before the House Domestic Monetary Policy Subcommittee on Wednesday.
Analysts found no signs in financial markets or in Fed interventions in the markets on Thursday or yesterday to suggest that any policy changes that would have an immediate impact were made at this week's FOMC meeting.
"In discussing policy implementation for the weeks ahead," the policy record of the May meeting said, "committee members taking account of the recent reduction in the discount rate generally favored maintaining about the same degree of pressure on bank reserve positions in recent weeks . . . It was recognized that the recent decline in market rates and the lower discount rate would tend to increase the demands for money and credit under those circumstances as compared with what they otherwise would be.
"Most members found this acceptable particularly in view of the recent weakness in the broader monetary aggregates and sluggishness in the overall economy," it said.