Business

US Federal Reserve cuts 2011 growth forecast

A man shops for toys at the Toys R Us store at Times Square in New York
Image caption Consumer spending boosted growth in the third quarter

The Federal Reserve has cut its 2011 growth forecast for the US economy, newly released minutes of its last policy committee meeting reveal.

The Fed expects growth of 3-3.6% next year, down from its previous 3.5-4.2% estimate.

It also forecasts higher unemployment and lower inflation than before.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the US economy grew faster than first thought in the third quarter of this year, at an annualised rate of 2.5%.

This was revised up from an initial estimate of just 2%, the Commerce Department said.

Dollar target

Earlier this month, the US Federal Reserve said it would buy $600bn (£373bn) of US government debts in order to try to lower long-term interest rates and thereby boost the economic recovery.

The minutes of the Fed's 2-3 November meeting show that support for the move on the policy committee was almost unanimous, with only one member voting against.

Thomas Hoenig of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank voted against, as expected by markets following several public statements over his concern at the risk that the Fed's actions may lead to rising inflation and speculative bubbles.

The minutes also revealed that the central bank committee discussed a number of other policy options, including targeting specific long-term interest rates at which it would be willing to buy government debts.

"It was pretty much as expected," said Jeff Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial.

He said the revised forecasts for 2011 remain more positive than what most private forecasters expect.

"That may mean maybe less aggressive action from the Fed than somewhat expected."

He also notes that the minutes make frequent mention of the dollar.

"They mention that among the positive effects of quantitative easing that they noted was a lower value in the dollar. So clearly the Fed has that in mind."

Growth figures

Meanwhile, the latest data from the Commerce Department on Tuesday showed growth for the July-to-September period this year was much stronger than previously thought.

The 2.5% revised figure was up from an earlier 2% annualised growth estimate.

The data comes some weeks after the Fed meeting for which minutes have only just been released, suggesting that the Fed's own estimates may now have to be raised again in light of the new data.

According to the Commerce Department data, stronger spending by US shoppers, particularly on cars and "big ticket" items, contributed to the upgrade of third quarter growth.

A rise in exports also helped boost growth.

But the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 9.6%.

'Sales momentum'

The upwards revision was slightly bigger than analysts had forecast, with most expecting a figure of 2.4%.

The third quarter's growth marked a rise from the 1.7% seen in the second quarter.

Nigel Gault, chief US economist at IHS Global Insight, said the revision was "good news".

"It's better than expected. A little bit more momentum in sales," he said. "There was more business spending on software, that was one of the surprises, and consumer spending was better than expected.

"I thought inventories were going to be revised up, but they weren't. You had positive surprises in spending to outweigh inventories. Hopefully we can carry that momentum into the fourth quarter."

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