The Federal Reserve cut its target for overnight interest rates to zero to 0.25 percent, bringing it closer to unconventional action to lift the economy out of a year-long recession.
With the Fed's key rate now essentially zero, the central bank is moving into uncharted territory. Nonetheless, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has made it clear the Fed isn't running out of ammunition to fight the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.
It is exploring using tools—other than rate cuts—to revive the economy. New insights on that front could be revealed when Bernanke and his colleagues wrap up a two-day meeting Tuesday.
"The message is simply the Fed stands ready to do everything in its power to stop the economy's free fall," said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research. Below is the statement released by the Federal Open Market Committee after its Dec. 15-16 meeting on interest rate policy:
"The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to establish a target range for the federal funds rate of 0 to 1/4 percent.
The Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington, DC.
Since the Committee's last meeting, labor market conditions have deteriorated, and the available data indicate that consumer spending, business investment, and industrial production have declined. Financial markets remain quite strained and credit conditions tight. Overall, the outlook for economic activity has weakened further.
Meanwhile, inflationary pressures have diminished appreciably. In light of the declines in the prices of energy and other commodities and the weaker prospects for economic activity, the Committee expects inflation to moderate further in coming quarters.
The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability. In particular, the Committee anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time.
The focus of the Committee's policy going forward will be to support the functioning of financial markets and stimulate the economy through open market operations and other measures that sustain the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet at a high level. As previously announced, over the next few quarters the Federal Reserve will purchase large quantities of agency debt and mortgage-backed securities to provide support to the mortgage and housing markets, and it stands ready to expand its purchases of agency debt and mortgage-backed securities as conditions warrant. The Committee is also evaluating the potential benefits of purchasing longer-term Treasury securities.
Early next year, the Federal Reserve will also implement the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to facilitate the extension of credit to households and small businesses. The Federal Reserve will continue to consider ways of using its balance sheet to further support credit markets and economic activity.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; Christine M. Cumming; Elizabeth A. Duke; Richard W. Fisher; Donald L. Kohn; Randall S. Kroszner; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Gary H. Stern; and Kevin M. Warsh.
In a related action, the Board of Governors unanimously approved a 75-basis-point decrease in the discount rate to 1/2 percent. In taking this action, the Board approved the requests submitted by the Boards of Directors of the Federal Reserve Banks of New York, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. The Board also established interest rates on required and excess reserve balances of 1/4 percent."