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Fed minutes signal December rate hike likely

Federal Reserve officials believed last month that the economic conditions needed to trigger the first interest rate hike in nearly a decade could "well be met" by their next meeting in December

Fed economists say conditions to raise rates could 'well be met' by December

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said earlier this month that a December rate hike was a "live possibility." (The Associated Press)

Federal Reserve officials believed last month that the economic conditions needed to trigger the first interest rate hike in nearly a decade could "well be met" by their next meeting in December.

Minutes of the October discussions released Wednesday revealed Fed officials' view that the job market would improve further and that inflation would begin to move toward their 2 percent annual target.

They also took note of the U.S. economy's resilience through a summer of financial market turbulence and felt that global threats had "diminished."

The Fed has kept its benchmark for short-term rates near zero since late 2008.

In the end, the Fed at its Oct. 27-28 meeting left its key rate unchanged but said further progress could justify a December hike. Officials in the minutes stressed that no decision had yet been made.

The wording in the October statement marked the first time in seven years of ultra-low rates that Fed had ever suggested that it might raise rates at its next meeting.

Markets took the news out of the Fed minutes in stride, rising in the afternoon as if the prospect of rate hikes was no longer worrisome.

Struggle over wording

The minutes showed that Fed officials debated whether to insert the "next meeting" phrase into the statement. A "couple" of officials worried that it might be signaling too strongly the possibility of a December rate hike.

However, most members felt the new wording would underscore that a decision had not been made on a rate hike but that "it may well become appropriate" to start raising rates in December if the economic data showed the economy performing as they expected.

Since the October meeting, a number of Fed speakers have said that a rate hike in December was on the table.

In congressional testimony on Nov. 4, Yellen called a December rate hike a "live possibility" if the economy stays on track. William Dudley, president of the Fed's New York regional bank, seconded that view in a separate appearance that same day.

In a speech last week, Loretta Mester, president of the Fed's regional bank in Cleveland, said that she believed the time to hike rates was "quickly approaching" and argued that waiting too long to begin raising rates could allow inflation to take hold.

Temporary impact from Paris attacks

RBC economist Josh Nye said economic data since the meeting, including the October payroll report that showed a rebound in job growth points towards a rate hike, 

"The hawkish post-meeting statement in October significantly raised the odds of a December rate hike," he said in a note to clients.

Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Fed's Richmond bank, said in a CNBC interview on Wednesday that he believed that any economic impact from the terror attacks last week in Paris would be temporary. He said he had not changed his view that the central bank needs to start raising rates.

Lacker cast the lone dissenting vote at the October and September meetings, arguing in favour of rate hikes at both of those meetings.

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