Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)

What Is the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)?

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is the branch of the Federal Reserve System (FRS) that determines the direction of monetary policy specifically by directing open market operations (OMOs). The committee is made up of 12 members: the seven members of the Board of Governors; the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; and four of the remaining 11 Reserve Bank presidents on a rotating basis.

Key Takeaways

  • The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is the branch of the Federal Reserve System that determines the direction of monetary policy specifically by directing open market operations.
  • The FOMC is composed of the Board of Governors, which has seven members and five Federal Reserve Bank presidents.
  • The Committee has eight regularly scheduled meetings each year that are the subject of much speculation on Wall Street.

Understanding the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)

The 12 members of the FOMC meet eight times a year to discuss whether there should be any changes to near-term monetary policy. A vote to change policy would result in either buying or selling U.S. government securities on the open market to promote the growth of the national economy.

Members of the committee are typically categorized as hawks favoring tighter monetary policies, doves who favor stimulus, or centrists/moderates who are somewhere in between. Traditionally, the chair of the FOMC is also the chair of the Board of Governors.

The current chair of the Federal Reserve Board is Jerome Powell, who was sworn in on Feb. 5, 2018, and is serving a four-year term. Powell is considered a moderate. Other Federal Reserve Board members include Lael Brainard, Michelle Bowman, and Christopher Waller. Three seats are vacant as of March 17, 2022.

The vice chair of the FOMC is also the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a position currently filled by John C. Williams, who took office on June 18, 2018, as the 11th president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Second District, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York serves continuously, while the presidents of the other Reserve Banks serve one-year terms on a three-year rotating schedule (except for Cleveland and Chicago, which rotate on a two-year basis).

The one-year rotating seats of the FOMC are always comprised of one Reserve Bank president from each of the following groups:

  • Boston, Philadelphia, and Richmond
  • Cleveland and Chicago
  • St. Louis, Dallas, and Atlanta
  • Kansas City, Minneapolis, and San Francisco

The geographic-group system helps ensure that all regions of the United States receive fair representation. Here are the current FOMC members:

Current FOMC Members
Name Position
Jerome H. Powell Chair of the Federal Reserve Board (FOMC Chair)
John C. Williams President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank (FOMC Vice Chair)
Michelle W. Bowman Member of Federal Reserve Board
Lael Brainard Member of Federal Reserve Board
Currently Empty Vice Chair of Federal Reserve Board
Thomas I. Barkin President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
Raphael W. Bostic President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Mary C. Daly President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
Charles L. Evans President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Currently Empty Vice Chair of Supervision of Federal Reserve Board
Christopher J. Waller Member of Federal Reserve Board
Currently Empty Member of Federal Reserve Board

FOMC Meetings

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has eight regularly scheduled meetings each year, but they can meet more often if the need should arise. The meetings are not held in public and are therefore the subject of much speculation on Wall Street, as analysts attempt to predict whether the Fed will tighten or loosen the money supply with a resulting increase or decrease in interest rates. In recent years, FOMC meeting minutes have been made public following the meetings. When it is reported in the news that the Fed has changed interest rates, it is the result of the FOMC's regular meetings.

During the meeting, members discuss developments in the local and global financial markets, as well as economic and financial forecasts. All participants—the Board of Governors and all 12 Reserve Bank presidents—share their views on the country’s economic stance and converse on the monetary policy that would be most beneficial for the country. After much deliberation by all participants, only designated FOMC members get to vote on a policy that they consider appropriate for the period.

At the FOMC’s March 15-16, 2022, meeting the Fed announced it would increase the target range of the federal funds rate for the first time since 2018 to help combat rising inflation. The target range was increased by 25 basis points from 0-0.25% to 0.25-0.50%.

FOMC Operations

Through OMOs, adjusting the discount rate, and setting bank reserve requirements, the Federal Reserve possesses the tools necessary to increase or decrease the money supply. The Fed's Board of Governors is in charge of setting the discount rate and reserve requirements, while the FOMC is specifically in charge of OMOs, which entails buying and selling government securities. For example, to tighten the money supply and decrease the amount of money available in the banking system, the Fed would offer government securities for sale.

Securities bought by the FOMC are deposited in the Fed's System Open Market Account (SOMA), which consists of a domestic and a foreign portfolio. The domestic portfolio holds U.S. Treasuries and federal agency securities, while the foreign portfolio holds investments denominated in euros and Japanese yen.

The FOMC can hold these securities until maturity or sell them when they see fit, as granted by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and Monetary Control Act of 1980. A percentage of the Fed's SOMA holdings are held in each of the 12 regional Reserve Banks. However, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York executes all of the Fed's open market transactions.

Simply put, the process begins with the results of the meeting being communicated to the SOMA manager, who relays them to the trading desk at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which then conducts transactions of government securities on the open market until the FOMC mandate is met.

The interaction of all of the Fed's policy tools determines the federal funds rate, or the rate at which depository institutions lend their balances at the Federal Reserve to each other on an overnight basis. The federal funds rate, in turn, directly influences other short-term rates and indirectly influences long-term interest rates; foreign exchange rates, and the supply of credit and demand for investment, employment, and economic output.

Example of FOMC Policy

On Jan. 29, 2019, at its annual organizational meeting, the FOMC unanimously reaffirmed its "Statement of Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy" with an updated reference to the median of participants' estimates of the longer-run normal rate of unemployment in its "Summary of Economic Projections" (December 2018).

This statement is based on the FOMC's commitment to fulfilling a statutory mandate from Congress to promote maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates. Because monetary policy determines the inflation rate over the long term, the FOMC can specify a longer-run goal for inflation. In the statement, the FOMC reaffirmed its analysis that a 2% target inflation rate was the rate most consistent with its statutory mandate.

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