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Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is happy with the progress the economy has made so far but cautions that the trajectory of the pandemic could derail things.

Driving the news: According to the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee policy-setting meeting July 27-28, "various" participants said that tapering of the Fed's asset purchases should start relatively soon, while "several others" said it should start "early next year."

Why it matters: Unemployment has been coming down while prices have been inflating, conditions that are on track to meet the Fed’s definition of "substantial further progress."

  • When the economy meets this vaguely defined milestone, the Fed is expected to taper its quantitative easing program.
  • Taken together, "most" FOMC participants noted that if the economy continues growing the way it has been lately, then tapering should start by the end of the year.

Yes, but: The group agreed risks to economic growth were "skewed to the downside" and that uncertainty was "elevated."

  • "In particular, the probability that the course of the pandemic would turn out to be more adverse than the staff's baseline assumption was viewed to be higher than the probability that a more favorable outcome would occur," the minutes read.

State of play: On a webcast Tuesday, Fed chair Jerome Powell acknowledged that COVID is "still casting a shadow on economic activity."

The big picture: The minutes released on Wednesday reflect what the Fed was thinking almost a month ago, and so the information is arguably a bit stale. That said, they are in line with expectations that a tapering announcement will come in one of the Fed’s upcoming FOMC meetings.

What to watch: The next major update we’ll get from the Fed is when Powell speaks at the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium, Aug. 26-28.

Go deeper

Changing the inflation conversation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Inflation looks like it’ll run hot for longer than plenty of smart people thought it would. The conversation over just how much more Americans will have to pay for their stuff has taken on a new intensity, as supply problems show few signs of fading.

Why it matters: The rate of price growth has remained consistently strong in recent months — a time that some thought would bring cooling prices after an initial reopening spike. What goes on with prices will influence the decisions made by Congress, the Biden Administration, and the Federal Reserve.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under de Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.

4 hours ago - Health

Study: Common antidepressant guards against COVID hospitalization

A COVID-19 intensive Care Unit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on May 27, 2021. Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The readily available antidepressant fluvoxamine significantly reduced COVID-related hospitalizations, according to a large study published Wednesday.

Why it matters: The clinical trial suggests that a cheap, readily available drug could dramatically reduce serious illness and death when prescribed early.