Markets Rallied on Fed Minutes Interpreted as Dovish

Earlier today we got the release of the latest Federal Open Market Committee minutes and before the minutes came out (they come out at 2pm Eastern Time). Prior to the release, all the stock markets were down; the Dow was down maybe about 150 points or so, and when the minutes came out, we got a rally, and the Dow closed up about 50 points.  So, a 200-point rally on the minutes, and the reason the minutes acted as a catalyst for the rally is that they were interpreted to be a bit more dovish than expected.

The Fed’s Symmetrical Inflation Target

To me, the minutes were as expected; I had already been talking about the Fed’s view that inflation can go above 2%. That they were willing to allow for some kind of “symmetrical” inflation.  The symmetry in this case meaning, we were below 2% for a long time and so now we can be above 2%. I guess for some reason the markets focused in on that.
Specifically, the minutes read that

“A temporary period of inflation modestly above 2 percent would be consistent with the Committee’s symmetric inflation objective and could be helpful in anchoring longer-run inflation expectations at a level consistent with that objective.”

What does “Modest” Mean?

Now, I don’t know why allowing inflation to be higher than 2% is somehow helpful toward achieving their 2% objective. To me, It would be more helpful if they just kept it at 2%, if indeed that was their real objective.  But, even if you look at the language that they use, they don’t really define what symmetrical could mean.  They talk about inflation being “modestly” above 2%: What is “modestly”? Is is 2.1%? What about 2.5%? Is .5% “modest”? They don’t really define what “modest” is.  I have a feeling, again, that there’s never going to be a definition, that it is going to be an ever-moving goal post.  Even 3% could be “modest”.  “Hey, it’s only 1%, right that’s “modest”, right?

Fed Is Impotent When It Comes to Inflation

But on a percentage basis, you wouldn’t consider 3% modest.  You’re above 2% by 50%.  50% is not a modest percentage, but they could say 1% is a modest percentage. Who knows?  I think the Fed is going to be looking for every excuse not to raise interest rates aggressively, no matter how high inflation gets.  Of course, they’re not going to be that transparent. The last thing they would want to do is to let the markets know that they are that impotent when it comes to inflation.