Federal Reserve officials are headed toward another interest rate hike in December, but they are split on the causes of recent low inflation, minutes from their latest meeting released Wednesday reveal.
The account of the Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 meeting published Wednesday afternoon revealed that many of the officials at the central bank expect to raise the target interest rate "in the near term."
Investors see it as a lock that the Fed will raise the target by a quarter percentage point in December to up to 1.5 percent. That would be the third increase of the year.
Yet, the Fed is conflicted over the fact that the higher inflation it seeks has failed to materialize for more than five years.
The central bank targets inflation at 2 percent. But, with one two-month exception, it has failed to hit that target since 2012.
Core inflation, meaning inflation not including the volatile prices of food and energy, stood at 1.3 percent when the Fed last met.
The minutes show that the Fed officials were divided on how to interpret the persistently low prices. Some worried that low inflation might prove more than temporary and would hamper the Fed in its goal of ensuring that the economy is growing as fast as possible and that unemployment is as low as manageable. Others said the country is at full employment and that continued loose money for longer could send inflation soaring in the years ahead.
"I will say I am very uncertain about this," Chairwoman Janet Yellen said of the causes of low inflation Tuesday night at an event at New York University. "My colleagues and I are not certain that it is transitory, and we are monitoring inflation very closely."
The monetary policy committee decided at its meeting to postpone any reckoning related to inflation. But one question offered at the gathering was whether the Fed should target not just a rate of inflation, but also a level, meaning that, if a year or two went by with lower-than-expected inflation, the Fed would make up for it by targeting higher inflation in subsequent years, not limiting itself to 2 percent.