Federal Reserve policy makers decided at a two-day meeting that began Feb. 11 not to change monetary policy, but discussed the possibility that a cut in the central bank's discount rate might be needed soon, according to the record of the meeting released yesterday.
The vote of policy-making group, the Federal Open Market Committee, not to make a change was 10 to 2. Vice Chairman Preston Martin and governor Martha Seger, who 12 days later pushed to cut the discount rate over the strong objections of Chairman Paul A. Volcker, wanted to lower interest rates because of "risks they saw of unacceptably sluggish economic conditions," the statement said.
The discount rate, the interest rate the Fed charges when it loans money directly to financial institutions, is set by the seven-member Federal Reserve Board, whose members all are on the FOMC. On Feb. 24, Martin, Seger and two other members, Wayne Angell and Manuel Johnson, voted 4 to 3 to cut the rate from 7 1/2 percent to 7 percent. Before the action was announced, Angell changed his mind and the reduction was postponed until after discount rates in Japan and West Germany had also dropped.
The documents released yesterday said Martin, who resigned after losing the showdown with Volcker, and Seger wanted to reduce the rise of a sluggish expansion "by lower short-term interest rates, which had not declined in line with recent reductions in long-term interest rates and in inflation expectations."
"They also believed some modest easing could lead to market conditions that would facilitate a reduction in the discount rate," the statement continued.
Meanwhile, in his weekly comments on credit markets, economist Henry Kaufman of Salomon Bros. said that a "lackluster economic performance" and continuing problems in the agriculture and energy sectors could lead the Fed to cut the discount rate again sometime this month.
"The lower market interest rates and the sluggish demand for credit insure that any move toward accommodation would not be viewed as overly aggressive," Kaufman said. However, he also cautioned that international considerations could once again lead to postponement of any further reduction.
At the February FOMC meeting, most of the members did not want to do anything that might "signal or encourage higher interest rates or impede the tendency for some market rates to decline," the policy record said.
"At the same time, there was concern that policy implementation be sensitive to a situation in which a decline in the dollar might tend to feed upon itself, leading to an exaggerated fall with disturbing implications for inflation, financial markets, and the economy over time," the statement continued.
"In that connection it was noted that the desirability of a discount-rate action would depend on evolving economic and financial circumstances; among other factors, in the light of the risks for the dollar in foreign exchange markets, such action would need to take account of the willingness of major central banks abroad to take broadly similar actions," the statement continued.