April 10, 2013 at 9:40 AM ET
The Federal Reserve released the minutes of its March policy review earlier than anticipated Wednesday after the central bank emailed them inadvertently to congressional staffers and trade lobbyists on Tuesday.
The Federal Open Market Committee minutes, as the review is called, is a snapshot into the Fed's thinking on interest rate policy and the economy. It can be a motivation for trading in financial markets.
According to the Fed, the minutes were mistakenly released sometime after 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday to about 100 congressional staffers and trade lobbyists. The minutes had been scheduled to be released at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
The Fed has contacted the Securities and Exchange, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and its inspector general to see if there was any trading tied to this early release of information.
In the minutes, Fed policy makers worried about increased risks due to the central bank's aggressive monetary stimulus, though most view those dangers as "manageable" for now.
Minutes from the most recent Fed meeting suggest that members have grown increasingly concerned that things could get messy if it continues its policies too far into the future.
Among those concerns are instability to the financial system, a sudden rise in interest rates and inflation.
"In particular, participants pointed to possible risks to the stability of the financial system, the functioning of particular financial markets, the smooth withdrawal of monetary accommodation when it eventually becomes appropriate, and the Federal Reserve's net income," the March meeting minutes state. "Their views on the practical importance of these risks varied, as did their prescriptions for mitigating them.
Market reaction was fairly muted despite the seeming discontent among Fed board members.
The release of the minutes comes as Wall Street tries to anticipate when the Federal Reserve will begin scaling back its asset-buying program, known as quantitative easing.
Under the latest version of QE, the central bank is buying $85 billion a month in Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities, while critics warn of potential asset bubbles and inflation problems.
The comments as reported in the minutes reflect some of the strongest misgivings yet about Fed policy.
Members indicated a general tone that the moves have been necessary to stabilize the economy following the financial crisis that began in 2008.
The Fed aggressively drove down interest rates to the point where mortgage borrowing hit historic lows. At the same time, the stock market has soared, sending both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor's 500 have hit record highs.
But some also said that the costs are escalating the longer the program continues.
"A number of participants remained concerned about the potential for financial stability risks to build," the minutes said.
The discussions also provided a clearer path for how the Fed intends to unwind its $3.2 trillion balance sheet, though an exit from the zero interest rate policy remains less clear.
At least as far as the $1.1 trillion mortgage-backed securities portion is concerned, the Fed is unlikely to sell those back into the marketplace, opting instead to hold that debt to duration. Members felt that would minimize marketplace disruptions.
"A few participants noted that curtailing the purchase program was the most direct way to mitigate the costs and risks," the minutes said.
That reflected a growing sentiment that the best way to manage policy risks was to stop.
"A few participants noted that they already viewed the costs as likely outweighing the benefits and so would like to bring the program to a close relatively soon," the minutes said. "A few others saw the risks as increasing fairly quickly with the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet and judged that the pace of purchases would likely need to be reduced before long."
Nevertheless, the final vote saw only dissent, coming from Esther L. George, while the other 11 members affirmed the policy statement.
CNBC.com senior writer Jeff Cox contributed to this report.