Federal Reserve punts, for nowJuly 31, 2013: 2:31 PM ET
What's most significant about the Federal Reserve's latest statement is what it did not address: tapering bond-buying and future policy guidance.
By Mohamed A. El-Erian
FORTUNE -- After the discomforting volatility of May and June, the Federal Reserve opted today for market tranquility. As a result, two (if not three) consequential decisions are now pushed to September -- raising the question of whether the current pursuit of market calm will develop deeper roots in the interim or, instead, come at the cost of greater instability down the road.
Here are the three main things that the Fed told us this afternoon at the conclusion of a two-day policy meeting: The U.S. economy continues to improve, though at a moderate pace with unemployment still too high; given the continued need for a "highly accommodative stance of monetary policy," central bankers expect to keep policy interest rates low for a long time; and the economic outlook remains uncertain, including the balance between inflation and disinflation.
More significant is what central bankers decided not to address this time around. Two elements stand out here: They refrained from providing additional information on their inclination to "taper" Fed purchases of market securities; and they abstained from significantly evolving their forward policy guidance.
It is understandable that the Fed decided to hold back on these issues.
The intense market dislocations that followed the May/June mentions of Fed tapering suggest that investors were yet to be sufficiently convinced on the prospects for an orderly handoff from "assisted" growth to "genuine" growth. As such, a lessening of Fed support for the economy was viewed as both premature and disruptive.
It is highly probable that the two issues will be addressed by Fed officials at their next policy meeting. And, by waiting until September, they hope that investor apprehension will be countered by additional data releases confirming that the U.S. economy is approaching "escape velocity."
Such an outcome, were it to materialize, would also facilitate the next evolution of the forward guidance strategy (the other particularly complex component of the institution's highly experimental policy stance). As such, the Fed hopes to enhance the probability of an orderly and gradual reduction in the institution's experimental policies.
In September we may also have greater clarity on who will succeed Ben Bernanke at the helm of the world's most powerful central bank. Accordingly, rather than be mesmerized by the Summers-Yellen media circus, investors could have a better handle on policy continuity at the one economic institution that has stepped up to its policymaking responsibilities in the U.S.
All this makes the next Fed policy meeting a particularly important and tricky one. And it is not as if September was uncertainty-light to begin with.
Remember Europe? Virtually every key economic and financial decision there -- whether national or regional -- has been put on hold awaiting the outcome of German elections in September.
As with the U.S., the operational focus on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is on avoiding anything that could rock the boat. And, again, the result is to postpone important national and eurozone-wide initiatives.
So, let's enjoy this period of tranquility. And let's hope that subsequent developments end up minimizing, rather than amplifying, the risk of a backdraft.
Mohamed A. El-Erian is the CEO and co-chief investment officer of PIMCO.