Fed to publish interest rate forecasts

By Chris Isidore @CNNMoney
January 3, 2012: 2:56 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The Federal Reserve is about to give even more detailed forecasts about where it expects its key interest rate to be years from now.

The minutes of the Fed’s December meeting released Tuesday revealed that policymakers have decided to include estimates for the fed funds rate when it releases its summary of economic projections four times a year. In the past those Fed forecasts included estimates for unemployment, inflation and economic growth, but not interest rates.

The Fed will also reveal policymakers’ current projections of the likely timing of the first rate increase given their projections of future economic conditions. The first rate estimates will come Jan. 25, at the conclusion of its next meeting.

The fed funds rate, which has been at a record low of between 0% and 0.25% since December of 2008, is the Fed’s key interest rate that it uses to try to spur or slow economic growth. It is used by banks and other lenders as a benchmark to set interest rates on a wide variety of consumer and business loans.

The Fed said most but not all policymakers liked the idea of adding the interest rate target to the forecasts, saying they believed it “would help the public better understand the committee’s monetary policy decisions and the ways in which those decisions depend on members’ assessments of economic and financial conditions.”

But some policymakers expressed worries that the rate forecast would confuse the public, and be taken as an interest rate course the Fed planned to follow rather than an estimate on the rate level that would be justified by conditions in the future.

The Fed has been trying to be more transparent about its interest rate expectations.

For over two years after cutting rates to near 0%, the Fed statements said that it believed conditions were “likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period.” Then in August of 2011, the central bank became more explicit, saying it expected low rates would be in place “at least through mid-2013.”