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Fed minutes will help interpret the economic moment

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On Wednesday, February 17, the Federal Reserve releases minutes from its Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting of January 26-27, 2016. The language and tone of the Fed’s minutes will be closely scrutinized by investors, businesspeople, workers’ advocates and economists. They’ll be trying to judge whether interest-rate policy is still on track for several more quarter-point rate hikes by the Fed this year, and whether the sentiment of Fed governors concerning the health and future growth potential of the U.S. economy has turned more cautious or pessimistic in light of turmoil on global equity markets, the collapse of oil and other commodity prices, and the strong U.S. dollar.

Dan Heckman at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Kansas City speculated that after deciding in December 2015 that the U.S. economy was robust and resilient enough to absorb an initial interest-rate hike, some members of the Fed are having second thoughts.

“What really has the Fed kind-of backed up against the wall,” said Heckman, “is that they would like to continue to normalize rates. But as they do, they may continue to create volatility in domestic and international capital markets.”

Economist Tim Duy at the University of Oregon said the continued slide in oil prices has surprised the Fed. He said that indicates the economy may face “a longer path returning to target inflation,” which may suggest to the Fed “a reason to delay the next rate hike.”

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