FED WATCH….The Federal Reserve just released the minutes from its March 18th meeting:

In the forecast prepared for this meeting, the staff substantially revised down its projection for the pace of real GDP throughout 2008….The staff projection showed a contraction of real GDP in the first half of 2008 followed by a slow rise in the second half. The recently enacted fiscal stimulus package was expected to boost real GDP in the second half of 2008, but that effect was projected to unwind in 2009.

Two comments. No — three. First, this means that the Fed staff officially thinks we’re currently in a recession. Second, do they really think that this year’s fiscal stimulus package, which consists of tax rebate checks mailed out in Q2, is going to have a noticeable effect on GDP in Q3 and Q4? Most of the economists I read, liberal and conservative alike, seem to agree that its effect on consumer demand will be pretty minuscule.

And third, don’t click the link and read the whole thing unless you’re made of fairly stern stuff. It’s a fantastic litany of bad news and lousy economic indicators. Housing, inflation, durable goods, nondurable goods, employment, industrial production, consumer sentiment — you name it, they thought it sucked. These guys are just not optimistic about much of anything.