Category Archive for: Monetary Policy [Return to Main]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Natural Rate of Interest: Estimates for the Euro Area

From Adrian Penalver at the Bank of France's Eco Notepad:

Billet_11_-_figure_2_-_eng[More at The natural rate of interest: estimates for the euro area.]

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fed Watch: Is Bank Lending A Concern?

Tim Duy:

Is Bank Lending A Concern?, by Tim Duy: I have seen some angst recently over declining growth in commercial bank lending. See, for example, the Wall Street Journal:
Bank loans across all categories are increasing 4.6% annually, the slowest pace since 2014, according to weekly Fed lending data from March 1. The trend is particularly marked in business loans, which are increasing 3.9% annually, a rate that is a nearly six-year low.
A number of factors are at play, including rising interest rates; bankers also said some business clients put borrowing on hold before the U.S. election and aren't confident enough to jump back in.
The slowdown is noteworthy because it is occurring when many metrics show the U.S. economy strengthening.
Looking at the weekly data, there does on the surface look to be some reason for concern:

Busloans5

These low rates of growth are rarely seen outside of recessions. Still, optical econometrics suggests this is more of a lagging than leading indicator. Moreover, we have another indicator that also exhibited behavior only seen in recessions. Spot the odd man out:

Busloans7

Recall a year ago when weak industrial production numbers raised recession concerns that proved unfounded. We could be seeing something similar in bank lending. Consider that industrial production might be a leading indicator for bank loans:

Busloans4

Here I focus on the post-1984 period (the Great Moderation). Optical econometrics again suggests to me that lending lags industrial production. To quantify that a bit more, I converted the data to log differences (multiplied by 100), and ran it through a 13 lag vector autoregression. Granger causality tests (the f-tests here) indicate that loans (DLOANS) do not cause (or are predictive of) industrial production (DIND):

Busloans1

Impulse response functions (in this case, the responses are converted to impacts on the levels of the variables) illustrate the dynamics of the system:

Busloans3

The impact of a shock to industrial production on commercial lending (lower left chart) is delayed six months and then builds gradually over the next 18 months. The impact of a shock to lending on industrial production (upper right chart) is negligible. Ordering of the variables does not affect these results. If I use the full sample (data begin 1947:1), both variables Granger cause each other, but the impact of loans on industrial production in the short-run is minimal and dies out in the long-run:

Busloans6

Bottom Line: The fall in commercial lending growth looks more consistent with a lagged impact from the industrial slowdown that weighed on the US economy last year than with a warning about future activity. Something to keep an eye on, to be sure, but if past history is a guide, it is more likely than not that lending will pick up over the next year.

Friday, March 17, 2017

FRBSF: The Current Economy and the Outlook

From the FRBSF:

FRBSF FedViews: Fernanda Nechio, research advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, stated her views on the current economy and the outlook as of March 9, 2017.
Real GDP grew at an annual pace of 1.9% in the fourth quarter of 2016, consistent with an ongoing moderate expansion. Going forward, we expect GDP growth to continue at a similar rate, between 1½% and 2% over the next couple of years.

Continued moderate economic growth

Recent employment gains remain solid. Nonfarm payroll employment in January rose by 227,000 jobs, partly due to a mild winter which boosted construction. Over the past six months, payroll gains have averaged around 190,000 jobs per month.

Recent employment growth is robust

The labor market remains near its sustainable, full employment level. January’s unemployment rate of 4.8% is close to 5%, our estimate of the natural rate of unemployment. If economic growth continues at its projected pace and monetary policy continues to normalize over the next 2 to 3 years, we expect unemployment to move gradually toward 5% over this period.

Economy is near full employment

Inflation has remained below the Federal Reserve’s 2% objective for several years, but has been gradually increasing towards the target rate since early 2016. Overall inflation in the twelve months through January, as measured by the price index for personal consumption expenditures was 1.9%, up from 1.6% in December, as energy prices accelerated. Core inflation, which excludes changes in food and energy prices, rose more gradually. The price index of core personal consumption expenditures was 1.7% higher than a year ago. Given the robust labor market conditions, we expect overall and core consumer price inflation to rise gradually to 2% over the next couple of years.

Inflation is rising toward target

Interest rates rose sharply in the weeks after the November 2016 election, but have stabilized in recent months. The Federal Reserve raised its Federal funds target rate by ¼ percentage point in December. Based on futures markets, financial market participants expect two or three more quarter-point increases in the target rate in 2017.

Interest rates are up since the election

U.S. trade policy is an important factor for our near-term outlook. New policies under consideration include the introduction of border adjustment taxes, changes to import tariffs, and renegotiations of existing trade agreements. These measures are intended to boost both U.S. exports and employment.
Exports of goods and services help support jobs in the United States. According to the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, exports accounted for an estimated 11.5 million jobs in 2015. The relative importance of the export sector, however, varies substantially across states, with jobs related to exports of goods ranging from about 10% of total employment in Washington and Texas to near 0% in Colorado and New Mexico.

Export-related jobs vary across states...

The share of jobs related to exports also varies across industries. As of 2014, jobs related to exports accounted for 26% of jobs in the manufacturing sector, but only about 8% in the service sector.

...and across industries

Few goods or services can be classified as purely export- or import-related because of the role of global supply chains. For example, many domestically manufactured goods, such as airplanes, may be exported or sold domestically but also have an import content through their use of foreign-made materials and intermediate goods.
Imports are also important for supporting jobs. For example, the apparel and computer equipment sectors rely heavily on imported goods, but generate domestic jobs in transportation, retail, advertising, and financial and insurance services. To add further complexity, many U.S. imports start their product lives as American intellectual property, which are then modified and produced abroad, before being imported back into the United States. As these goods move through their different stages of production, they add U.S. jobs all along the product cycle.
The variation in the relative importance of imports and exports across states and industries poses a challenge in assessing the effects of trade policy changes on the overall U.S. economy. Possible changes in the value of the dollar and trade prices associated with these policy changes also complicate the outlook.

Policy effects vary within sectors as well

Some sectors, such as manufacturing, have increasingly relied on technology to increase production, at the cost of reducing the number of employed workers. Trade policy changes are unlikely to affect the long-run trend of a declining number of jobs in this sector.

        Manufacturing jobs affected by technology

The views expressed are those of the author, with input from the forecasting staff of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. They are not intended to represent the views of others within the Bank or within the Federal Reserve System.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Fed's Bank Bailout

New research on the Fed's bank bailout during the financial crisis:

The fed's bank bailout, EurekAlert!:...While many Americans know the Fed for its role in making monetary policy, it serves another lesser-known but hugely important purpose: providing temporary, short-term funds to banks as a "lender of last resort."
During the financial crisis from 2007-09, the Fed took drastic steps to ensure that banks had access to liquidity so they could continue lending. ...
For the first time, new research from Washington University in St. Louis examines data from the crisis to show how the Fed can effectively assist banks in times of financial uncertainty. No matter the program or the bank size, this infusion of liquidity spurred lending that ultimately reached homes and businesses, thereby benefiting the economy, the researchers found in their analysis.
"Perhaps contrary to popular beliefs, our research shows that the Fed's actions were effective in encouraging banks to lend. This suggests that the credit crunch we witnessed could have been a lot worse in the absence of these facilities," said Jennifer Dlugosz, assistant professor of finance at Olin Business School, and a former economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. ...
During the course of their research, Dlugosz and her co-authors [Allen Berger, professor of banking and finance at the University of South Carolina, Lamont Black, assistant professor of finance at DePaul University, and Christa Bouwman, associate professor of finance at Texas A&M University] found a total of 20 percent of small U.S. banks and 62 percent of bigger U.S. banks -- more than 2,000 in all -- used the Discount Window or the Term Auction Facility at some point during the crisis. The access to liquidity increased bank lending of almost all types. Meanwhile, they found no evidence that banks were making riskier loans.
"We examined whether or not the Discount Window and the Term Auction Facility helped encourage banks to lend during the crisis," Dlugosz said. "We find that it did. It looks like one extra dollar in liquidity support from the Fed to a bank results in somewhere between 30 to 60 cents in additional lending by the bank, depending on its size.
"It wasn't obvious at the time whether this was going to work. ..."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

FOMC Press Conference March 15, 2017 (Video)

FOMC Raises the Target Range for the Federal Funds Rate

No surprises, except perhaps the dissent by Neel Kashkari -- the Fed "decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 3/4 to 1 percent," with indications of more rate increases to come:

Press Release, Release Date: March 15, 2017: Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in February indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has continued to expand at a moderate pace. Job gains remained solid and the unemployment rate was little changed in recent months. Household spending has continued to rise moderately while business fixed investment appears to have firmed somewhat. Inflation has increased in recent quarters, moving close to the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective; excluding energy and food prices, inflation was little changed and continued to run somewhat below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further, and inflation will stabilize around 2 percent over the medium term. Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced. The Committee continues to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments.
In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 3/4 to 1 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.
In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. The Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected inflation developments relative to its symmetric inflation goal. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.
The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction, and it anticipates doing so until normalization of the level of the federal funds rate is well under way. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Lael Brainard; Charles L. Evans; Stanley Fischer; Patrick Harker; Robert S. Kaplan; Jerome H. Powell; and Daniel K. Tarullo. Voting against the action was Neel Kashkari, who preferred at this meeting to maintain the existing target range for the federal funds rate.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Fed Watch: Shifting Dots

Tim Duy:

Shifting Dots, bt Tim Duy: The Federal Reserve begins its two-day meeting today. The outcome of the meeting is no longer in debate. A 25bp rate hike is widely expected after a round of Fedspeak in the week prior to the blackout period and the February employment report. More important now is what signal the Fed sends with the statement, the press conference, and the dots. I anticipate the overall message to signal general confidence in the economic outlook while reinforcing the idea that the Fed is neither behind the curve nor intends to fall behind the curve. The combination will give the Fed room to tighten policy at a gradual pace. I think that four hikes this year would still be considered gradual from the Fed's perspective. After all, the expectation of four hikes a year was considered gradual at the beginning of 2016. Not sure why it shouldn't be considered gradual now. 
At the end of last year, the Fed's median interest rate projection anticipated 75bp of rate hikes in each of 2017 and 2018. That translated into my 2017 baseline of two rate hikes with an option on a third, basically including a bias to account for the fact that the Fed's forecast has fallen short in recent years. If economic conditions were such, however, that the Fed pulled forward the first hike to March, I said that my expectation would shift to a baseline of three with an option on four. What that means, in effect, that I expect the dots to shift upward to reflect an anticipation of four rate hikes in 2017.
With March likely, will the dots move as I expect? Not everyone thinks so. Morgan Stanley, for instance, expects the dots will show higher rates in 2018 and 2019 instead. Via Business Insider:

  Goldman

 So why do I think it is more likely than not that the Fed raise the dots for 2017? Consider first the projections for output growth, unemployment, and inflation. Those should play directly into the rate hike forecast in a systematic fashion. So it you think the odds favor some combination of a higher expect growth gap (the difference between actual and longer run output growth), a lower than anticipated unemployment gap (the difference between actual and longer run unemployment), and a higher inflation forecast, then you should anticipate the dots will shift upward. 
In practice, of course, these estimates depend in part on the Fed's estimate of potential growth and the natural rate of unemployment. I don't think either has likely change, so the relevant factors should be the forecasts of the actual variables. Overall, I think it reasonable to believe that at least one, and likely two factors will point to higher rates.
Second, the Fed clearly believes that the balance of risks has tilted at least to completely balanced if not toward the upside. External risks have waned, incoming data both soft and now, with the employment report, hard have been solid, and Fed officials are captured by the allure of fiscal stimulus. FOMC participants whose rate forecasts incorporated a heavy downside risk (reasonable given what happened in 2016) will likely pull their rate forecasts up in a sigh of relief. In essence, these members will believe that without pulling forward rate hikes, they will be in danger of overshooting their targets.
Third, the financial markets were particularly buoyant in recent months even as expectations of tighter policy intensified. I think some FOMC members - yes, New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley, I am looking at you - will want to push back on those easier conditions in the name of financial stability. So that argues for pulling rate hikes forward.
Fourth,  estimates of the longer-run natural rate could rise. I don't anticipate this, as I don't see they have evidence to suggest this is the case, but I did not anticipate the small bump upward in the neutral rate estimates in the December Summary of Economic Projections. 
Altogether then I see more reasons likely to raise the 2017 rate projections than to hold them steady. Hence my expectations for the dots to nudge upward. Basically, it just puts the Fed back to where they started in 2016, expect with more cause to believe it will actually work out this time.
Of course, the rate projection is not a promise, and given recent history I tend to shade down my expectation from what the Fed projects. Hence my three with an option on four. I also am not entirely sure how they will integrate balance sheet reduction with rate hikes? Do they announce a balance sheet reduction at the same meeting they raise rates? Or do they pass on a rate hike to announce a balance sheet reduction? It seems like they would what to avoid the latter because it would equate the balance sheet tool with a rate hike a little too directly. Instead, I expect they would want everyone to think the balance sheet reduction is no big deal. So that argues for both at say the September meeting and that then places an option on the December meeting. If would be nice to have better guidance on this issue.
I tend to think the balance sheet issue is another reason to front load hikes in 2017 if possible. Then they have room to pause in 2018 if balance sheet reduction is a bit sloppier than anticipated.
Bottom Line: I see more reasons that not that the Fed will push up its 2017 rate hike projections. Lots of different factors - external, data flow, fiscal stimulus, and financial conditions - to say that with the economy hovering near potential output, the time is right to make a slightly faster move toward the neutral rate. Indeed, I have a hard time seeing why they would pull forward a rate hike if they weren't trying to create room for an additional hike this year. Note that this would really be just moving the ball down the field a bit quicker, not changing the goal posts - the estimate of the neutral rate. A higher estimate of the neutral rate would be much more hawkish than just quickening the pace slightly to that rate. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fed Watch: Green Light

 

Green Light, by Tim Duy: If there was truly any potential impediment to a rate hike from the Fed this week, it would have come from a weak employment report. The employment report was decidedly not weak. Instead, it finished paving the way to a Fed rate hike. Not enough yet, however, to justify a dramatic acceleration in the pace of future rate hikes, implying only a 25bp upward nudge in the Fed's rate projections for 2017.
Nonfarm payroll growth came in above expected at 235k:

Nfp031017a

The number may have been boosted by mild weather in February. Still, the underlying pace of growth in recent months is around 200k/month. This is faster than the Fed expects necessary to hold unemployment steady after the cyclical boost to labor force participation plays out. So far, however, labor supply continues to respond. Labor force participation edged up during the month, leaving the decline in the unemployment rate a modest 0.1 percentage points to 4.7 percent. This is just a touch below the Fed's estimate of NAIRU.
Underemployment numbers to continue to improve, as the Fed expects:

Nfp031017c

The economy is at something of a sweet spot, with job growth strong enough to prod along continued healing of the labor market but slow enough that the Fed can continue to remove accommodation at a gradual pace.
Wage growth rebounded in February, continuing to hover in the 2.5-3 percent range:

Nfp031017b

Should we be expecting much faster wage growth? Probably not. It strikes me that we are closing in on pre-recession rates:

Nfp031017e

If inflation rises to two percent (and here I am thinking core inflation), and wages rise with it, that adds about 30bp which pushes wage growth a bit above three percent. Note also, real wage growth was likely a touch higher prior to the recession, but not much:

Nfp031017d

And this needs to be taken in context of falling productivity growth over the past two decades:

Nfp031017g

So in order to expect substantially faster wage growth, we need to expect substantially higher productivity growth or substantially higher inflation. The Fed is betting against the former and actively tries to contain the latter. Indeed, on the latter they are only looking to get another 30bp or so. Which suggests to me that a meaningful acceleration of wages at this point would be interpreted by the Fed as evidence they had overshot the full employment mandate and needed to tighten policy more aggressively to contain inflationary pressures. But we are not there yet.
Bottom Line: Looks like the Fed knew what it was doing by signaling a rate hike in recent weeks. The earlier than expected rate hike should correspond to a bump up in this week's "dots." Some participants with two dots will switch to three, some with three to four. I expect the median rate hike projection of Fed participants will be four, which I translate into a baseline case this year of three with an option on four. The Fed will want to front load these hikes to stay ahead of the curve, which means March, June, and September if the data allows. Then December if needed. Data as of yet does not suggest a need by itself to step up the pace of hikes even more quickly. Watch the longer-run rate forecast. A rise in the end game dots would have much more hawkish implications than just a small acceleration in the near-term pace of hikes.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Long-Run Money Demand Redux

Luca Benati, Robert Lucas, Juan Pablo Nicolini, and Warren E. Weber:

Long-run money demand redux: Most economists and central bankers no longer consider money supply measures to be useful for conducting monetary policy. One reason is the alleged instability of the relationship between monetary aggregates. This column uses data from 32 countries and spanning up to 100 years to argue that the long-run demand for money is alive and well. Results show a remarkable stability in long run money demand, both within and across countries. Nonetheless, short-run departures can be large and persistent, and further research is needed.
Over the last three decades, most economists and central bankers have come to doubt the usefulness of money supply measures for conducting monetary policy, and have turned to macroeconomic models in which monetary aggregates have no role.
What was the main reason behind this move away from monetary aggregates? In our view, it was the alleged disappearance, starting from the early 1980s, of any previously identified stable relationship between monetary aggregates, GDP, and interest rates. For the US, for example, researchers such as Friedman and Kuttner (1992) have documented the breakdown during those years of any stable long-run demand for several alternative monetary aggregates. By the same token, in the Eurozone, the ECB’s so-called monetary pillar (a reference value for the annual growth rate of M3 derived from a money demand equation) has come to be seen as too unreliable to be of any use at all.
There is a clear sense in which this move away from monetary aggregates has left monetary policy untroubled. Over the same decades, there was a surge in the number of central banks that were explicitly or implicitly following inflation-targeting policies in which the monetary policy instrument was the short-term interest rate. And the result has clearly been remarkable – inflation has been defeated. This has been the case for developed economies that saw their inflation rates climb to two digits for a few years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, for emerging economies that experienced hyperinflation during the same years, and for everything in between. In 2015, with a yearly inflation rate of around 30%, Argentina had one of the highest inflation rates in the world – a rate that, ironically, would have been one of the lowest in Latin America in the 1980s.
In this column, we first review recent work on the long-run demand for money, and argue that it is alive and well. We then explain why we believe that this finding may contribute to the monetary policy debate. ...

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Fed Watch: Employment Report Ahead

Tim Duy:

Employment Report Ahead, by Tim Duy: Arguably, the Fed took the mystery out of this next FOMC meeting by fairly clearly signaling a rate hike is coming. What could hold them back at this point? Only a complete disaster of an employment report. And today's ADP number suggests that's very, very unlikely. Indeed, if the ADP number translates into a blowout employment report, the Fed probably didn't need to signal as aggressively as they did about this next meeting. The data would have brought market expectations to the same place. 

Calculated Risk provides a preview of the February employment report, concluding that he will take the "over" on the current forecast of a 195k gain in nonfarm payrolls within a range of 162k to 220k. I concur. Feeding recent data into my quick and dirty forecasting model suggests a gain of 273k for the month:

NFPfor030817

That said, I would not put too much emphasis on the point forecast itself. The change in payrolls is notoriously difficult to forecast. Almost a fool's game. That said, I do read this as a signal that there is substantial upside risk to the consensus forecast.

As important, if not more, is the unemployment rate and wage growth. A large gain in payrolls suggests a drop in the unemployment rate unless labor force responds positively. The Fed expects that as the recovery progresses, growth in the labor force will slow as demographic effects dominate cyclical effects. If this happens before job growth slows, the unemployment rate will decrease sharply and the Fed will undershoot the natural rate of unemployment. Faster wage growth would help confirm such an undershoot.

Bottom Line: A surge in hiring coupled with a decline in unemployment would be a red flag for the Fed. If that happens, expect the Fed to be more aggressive this year. It will give them more reason to front load rate hikes, and, if repeated in the next employment report, would open up the possibility of a May hike. Monetary policy is not on a preset course, and gradualism is not a promise, only an expectation.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Fed Watch: More on Dudley

Tim Duy:

More on Dudley, by Tim Duy: Following up on my piece this morning at Bloomberg, it is worth going into a little deeper detail on New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley’s comments. I think in this interview Dudley is doing a good job explaining policy in terms of the forecast. That is something the Fed needs to keep pushing. It doesn’t sound like the forecast or the risks have moved sufficiently to change the number of rate hikes expected this year. But he sure seems to be leaning toward pulling forward those hikes.

The CNN interview starts hawkish. What does “fairly soon” mean? According to Dudley:

President Dudley: I think it means what it says. It doesn't say it's a week, a month, a couple months. Fairly soon means in the relatively near future…

Quest: And that's obviously fairly soon, which implies sooner rather than later?

Dudley: I think that's fair.

March is sooner than June. May is sooner than June. March is sooner than May. June is sooner than December. Compared to last year, the next rate hike will certainly come sooner in the year. But given the context Dudley must be aware of how his comments would be received.

On the forecast Dudley says:

We've basically been saying that if the economy continues on the trajectory that it's on, slightly above-trend growth, gradually rising inflation, we're going to continue to remove monetary policy accommodation. So let's look at what we've actually gotten. It seems to me that most of the data we've seen over the last couple months is very much consistent with the economy continuing to grow at an above-trend pace, job gains remain pretty sturdy, inflation has actually drifted up a little bit as energy prices have increased. So we're very much on the trajectory that we said -- that we thought we'd be on and we said if we were on that trajectory we're going to gradually remove accommodation.

This is how I how been viewing the situation. The forecast seems pretty much intact, so there seems to be little reason to pull policy hikes forward. But then he adds:

What else have we seen? We've also seen things that should make us even more confident that this is going to continue in the future. After the election we've seen very large increases in household and business confidence, we've seen very buoyant financial markets -- the stock market is up, credit spreads are narrow. And we have the expectation that fiscal policy will probably move in a more stimulative direction. So, put it all together, I think the case for monetary policy tightening has become a lot more compelling.

Three issues are on the top of his mind – confidence measures, easier financial conditions, and fiscal policy. Arguable, these all distill down to expectations of stimultive fiscal policy. While none of these have yet translated into hard data, they have raised the probability of upside risk to the forecast. Indeed, he says this explicitly:

But we do know that fiscal policy is going to move in a more stimulative direction. So what that says to me is that the risks to the outlook are now starting to tilt to the upside. So while I haven't really built it into my GDP forecast, when I think about the balance of risks -- up or down in terms of economic activity -- I think the fiscal side tends to push things -- the risks to the upside.

And raising that upside risk thus makes the case for a preemptive rate hike more compelling.

All of this sounds like a strong push for March. As the interview continues on, however, he seems to walk back his own outlook:

Quest: But you can't wait for it to happen, can you? I mean the whole question of monetary lag. I know you've got to think about many of these policies not coming into force until 2018, but you have to plan now.

Dudley: Well, look, I think monetary policy is pursued on the basis on the economic outlook. Fiscal policy outlook obviously affects that -- the trajectory of GDP, unemployment and inflation. So that's a factor weighing on us but the fact that we have so little specifics yet about what's going to happen -- it's got to wind its way through Congress -- means I don't put a lot of weight on it in terms of my modal forecast. I just think it makes the risks to the outlook a little bit tilted to the upside at this point.

But Dudley said earlier that the case for policy tightening was “a lot more compelling.” So how does a “little bit tilted to the upside” translate to “a lot more compelling?”

What about financial conditions? Surely that demands an immediate response.

Quest: Into this difficult area we have the financial markets. They're on a tear. I mean today could be the 13th record high, we could be in record territory, you know the numbers better than myself. You can't wait for the fiscal plans completely until next year, but you have to take into account what's happening in the markets at the moment, don't you?

Dudley: Well, financial conditions are very important in terms of how they influence economic activity. So if the stock market is up, credit spreads are narrow, financial conditions are more buoyant, that's going to tend to make the economy stronger. The important thing for us, though, is not to overreact to every little movement in the stock market. It's got to be something that lasts for a period of time for it to actually affect household and business behavior. So if the stock market goes up, and then goes right back down, it's not going to have much consequence for the economic outlook. But if it goes up and stays up, then that's going to support, presumably, consumption through higher household wealth.

It important not to “overreact” because there is a lag between the stock market and the real economy. Stocks could head back down. Maybe the Trump rally will fade (but maybe it is less about Trump and more about cyclical improvement). In that case, it would not affect the outlook and thus shouldn’t influence the Fed’s policy decision.

But those confidence surveys, that’s the ticket, right? Well, maybe not:

Quest: What do you believe you're seeing at the moment?

Dudley: Well, there's no question that animal spirits have been unleashed a bit post the election. Stock market is up a lot. Household and business confidence have increased significantly. There's a survey of small businesses that showed a very large increase in December and sustained that increase in January. So, there's no question that sentiment has improved quite markedly post the election.

Quest: That -- animal spirits or whatever you want to call it -- that market influence. It transmits itself around to the entire economy, doesn't it?

Dudley: Well, we would expect to have some consequence for economic activity. But we'll have to see if that actually -- one if the confidence is sustained, and whether it actually materializes in terms of increases in spending. I would say so far we haven't seen much effect of the improvement in confidence actually leading into greater spending. I think the economy is still on about a 2% GDP track, which about what it's been over the last year or so.

So sentiment is a lot better, but it might not hold and even if it does it needs to be felt in the real economy to change the forecast.

Notice that in all three case he emphasizes that those factors have yet to change his forecast. And he downplays the likelihood of those points even translating into something that might change his forecast. So why then does he lead with the case for rate hikes is “a lot more compelling?” It doesn’t sound like it about the number of hikes for him, at least not yet. It is about the timing of the hikes. It seems to have less to do with the forecast itself and more to do with his desire to take preemptive action.

Bottom Line: When I read the interview, it is hard for me to see that he has a strong conviction for drawing forward the rate hike to March. It seems odd to do so if he sees no change in the forecast and downplays the impact of the upside risks. If he does want to move in March, it tells me then it has little to do with either factor and is entirely about staying ahead of the curve. It is about the need for a preemptive rate hike. If his forecast is for three hikes and he wants to hike in March, then his patience has ended and he wants those hikes frontloaded. If for FOMC participants as a whole the forecast has yet to change much, then it is possible that the even if they raise in March, the median projection of three rate hikes this year remains steady.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Whom to Listen to in the Fed Minutes

Tim Duy:

Whom to Listen to in the Fed Minutes: When it comes to the meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee, not all central bank policy makers are created equally. There are “participants” -- all the policy makers in the room -- and there are “members,” those who have a vote. It is important to keep this distinction in mind when reading the minutes of the FOMC meetings -- especially because many of the more hawkish members of the Fed are participants, not members.
Continued at Bloomberg Prophets...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How the Fed's Rate Hikes Might Play Out

Tim Duy:

How the Fed's Rate Hikes Might Play Out: The U.S. economy is poised to deliver on the Federal Reserve’s economic forecast for this year. That means a baseline outlook for three interest-rate increases remains in play -- though not the way market may be anticipating. Think of it as two rate hikes, one each in June and December, with an option for a third in September.
Continued at Bloomberg Prophets....

 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fed Watch: Takeaways From Fischer Speech

Tim Duy:

Takeaways From Fischer Speech, by Tim Duy: Federal Reserve Governor Stanley Fischer gave a very nice speech this weekend that shed light on the current monetary policymaking process. I found three points particularly notable. First:
One important but underappreciated aspect of the SEP is that its projections are based on each individual's assessment of appropriate monetary policy. Each FOMC participant writes down what he or she regards as the appropriate path for policy. They do not write down what they expect the Committee to do. Yet the public often misinterprets the interest rate paths we write down as a projection of the Committee's policy path or a commitment to a particular path.
The interest rate projections in the SEP do not represent the Committee’s forecast because there is no such forecast. And they certainly do not represent a policy commitment. It is often easy, however, to use the shorthand of referring to the median of the SEP projections as the Fed’s forecast, which is why we fall in the habit of doing so. It is important to realize, however, that this is not an official forecast, and even if it were, it can change over the year so it is not a promise.
My preference is to view the median SEP projection as a baseline to assess policy shifts throughout the year. For instance, I do not believe that incoming data suggests that the Fed will raise its projection relative to the baseline at the upcoming March FOMC meeting. In other words, the median projection is not likely to shift from three to four hikes. This further suggests that given the Fed’s predilection to delay rate hikes in favor of further labor market gains, there is no pressing reason for the Fed to hike in March. They still have plenty of time to raise rates three times this year if necessary and the data do not suggest they need to move early to act on the possibility of needing four rate hikes this year. So no rate hike is likely in March.
A second point from Fischer:
Figure 2 reproduces panels from the April 2011 Tealbook that show the staff's baseline forecast--the solid black line--as well as prescriptions from three simple policy rules that were generated using the FRB/US model. The panel on the left shows the paths for the federal funds rate, while the panels on the right show the implications of those policy prescriptions for the unemployment rate and core PCE (personal consumption expenditures) price inflation, respectively…
… How does the FOMC choose its interest rate decision? Fundamentally, it uses charts like those shown in figure 2 as an important input into the discussion. And in their discussion, members of the FOMC explain their policy choices, and try to persuade other members of the FOMC of their viewpoints.
The chart:

Fischer

An important takeaway here is that the Fed makes monetary policy decisions on the basis of a medium term forecast. In other words, they tailor policy to meet their objectives over the medium term. This stands in contrast with criticism that the Fed either only sees the short-term outcomes of their actions or that they base policy only on the last piece of data. In reality, they are incorporating that most recent data into the medium term forecast and adjusting policy appropriately.
This process, however, is challenging for the public to understand. Moreover, I do not think the Fed has spent sufficient time explaining their actions in terms of the forecast. I suspect that the Fed may not be doing itself any favors with the opening paragraph of the FOMC statement, which is backwards-looking in nature and portrays the impression that the most recent data is the basis of policymaking. I thus appreciate that Fischer is using charts like these to explain policy choices and hope to see more of it in the future.
A final point from Fischer:
As the August 2011 meeting illustrates, the eureka moment I thought I had 50-plus years ago was a chimera. Why is that? First, the economy is very complex, and models that attempt to approximate that complexity can sometimes let us down. A particular difficulty is that expectations of the future play a critical role in determining how the economy reacts to a policy change. Moreover, the economy changes over time--this means that policymakers need to be able to adapt their models promptly and accurately in real time. And, finally, no one model or policy rule can capture the varied experiences and views brought to policymaking by a committee. All of these factors and more recommend against accepting the prescriptions of any one model or policy rule at face value.
The Fed relies on models, but not only models. Moreover, those models, or the underlying components of those models, such as the natural rate of interest, change over time. This is not a weakness of policymaking, it is a strength. The Fed responds to a ;changing economy. It is not possible to place the Fed in the straightjacket of a simplistic Taylor Rule and expect good outcomes for the economy. Clearly this is intended to push back at ongoing efforts to limit the Fed’s independence.
Bottom Line: Read Fischer’s speech for a greater understanding of the interplay between models, forecasts, data and judgment that governs the Fed’s policy choices.

Will Trump Bankrupt the Fed as an Institution?

I have a new column:

If Trump Stacks Its Board, He Politicizes the Fed and Demeans Its Independence: Daniel Tarullo announced on Friday that he is resigning from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in early April, nearly five years before his term expires on January 31, 2022. Governor Tarullo, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009, led the effort to plug the holes in financial regulation that allowed the housing bubble and financial panic to occur. So his resignation comes at an inopportune time for those of us worried about Trump’s plans for wholesale deregulation of the financial sector and the vulnerability to another financial crisis that comes with it. 
Trump could also have a large impact on how the Fed conducts monetary policy..., the Fed could be permanently damaged...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fed's Bullard Knows His Treasury Yield Curve

Tim Duy:

Fed's Bullard Knows His Treasury Yield Curve: Having tipped their toes in the water with two interest-rate hikes -- and more expected to come -- the Federal Reserve officials have begun the discussion about reducing the size of the central bank’s $4.45 trillion balance sheet. To date, they have tended to look at interest rate-policy as separate from balance-sheet policy. Once the former is heading toward normalization, then they can begin the latter... Continued at Bloomberg Prophets ...

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Do Consumers Respond in the Same Way to Good and Bad Income Surprises?

Philip Bunn, Jeanne Le Roux, Kate Reinold and Paolo Surico at Bank Underground:

Do consumers respond in the same way to good and bad income surprises?: If you unexpectedly received £1000 of extra income this year, how much of it would you spend? All? Half? None? Now, by how much would you cut your spending if it had been an unexpected fall in income? Standard economic theory (for example the ‘permanent income hypothesis’) suggests that your answers should be symmetric. But there are good reasons to think that they might not be, for example in the face of limits on borrowing or uncertainty about future income. That is backed up by new survey evidence, which finds that an unanticipated fall in income leads to consumption changes which are significantly larger than the consumption changes associated with an income rise of the same size ...
The asymmetry that we document could have important implications for the way that households respond to changes in their income that are brought about by monetary and fiscal policies. For example, changes in monetary policy redistribute income between borrowers and savers (Cloyne, Ferreira & Surico (2016)). Borrowers reported higher MPCs than savers out of both positive and negative income shocks, as is typically assumed, but the asymmetry in MPCs was clearly present for both groups. Such an asymmetry in MPCs implies that, at least in the short term, a given interest rate rise would have a larger contractionary effect on spending than the expansionary effect from an equivalent fall in rates, although households may respond differently to small changes in rates than they do to large changes in income.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Fed Watch: FOMC, Employment Report, Warsh

Tim Duy:

FOMC, Employment Report, Warsh, by Tim Duy: The FOMC meeting came and went with little fanfare this week. As expected, there was no policy change, with only small modifications to post-meeting statement. With only small changes, it is a struggle to read much into the statement. Some thoughts:
1. Business investment. The Fed drew attention to weak business investment. The recent gains in core capital goods orders and improving ISM manufacturing numbers could be pointing to an upturn in the months ahead, possibly enough to boost growth estimates. Keep an eye on this space.
2. Business/Consumer Confidence. The Fed cited the post-Trump improvement in confidence. These gains, however, could easily prove to be ephemeral. The Fed will see them as a risk to their outlook, but will need actual data before changing their outlook.
3. Inflation expectations. The Fed noted that market-based inflation compensation estimates remain low. I think this means that they are not panicking about the recent rise in such expectations; they remains well below pre-recession levels:

5Y5Y

If they aren't panicking, neither should you. For what it's worth, I suspect that they will only address market-based inflation numbers when convenient and ignore them when inconvenient.
4. Inflation confidence. The Fed deleted the factors (energy, import prices) restraining inflation. This could be viewed as confidence in their inflation outlook (my initial response). Alternatively, it could be interpreted as saying they don't have any more excuses if inflation remains below target. Or, it could mean the former to some at the table, the latter to others at the table.  
All that said, the changes were relatively minor and provide no concrete clues about the Fed's next move. My thoughts on March remains unchanged - without more supportive data, the odds of a March rate hike remains low.
Could the January employment report start building the case for a March hike? It sure can - if, in particular, the ADP report is a reliable predictor. But regardless of ADP, the case was building for a solid number - see Calculated Risk. The consensus expectation is 175k within a range of 155k to 190k. Taking the ADP number at face value suggests the report will prove to be better than expected: 

NFPfor020217

I think there is upside risk to the consensus forecast this month. (Note the error bands. Forecasting the monthly NFP change is risky business). If that is indeed the reality, the Fed will take notice. They will certainly take notice if unemployment dips lower or wages spike higher.
This week I wrote a detailed response to former Federal Reserve Governor Kevin Warsh's recent WSJ op-ed. One interpretation of this puzzling op-ed is that auditions for the Fed Chair require you to find fault with the Fed regardless of whether or not you actually find fault. Hence he lists supposed reforms that more than anything already reflect current policy, knowing that if chosen to be Chair he would be able to maintain much of that policy. This, however, is something of a dangerous game because it undermines the credibility of the Fed - how much can we trust the Fed if one of their own is so critical of their policies? That credibility is especially vulnerable now given the extent of the current threats to Fed independence. In effect, he is giving the Fed's critics ammunition to weaken the institution he reportedly is in the race to lead. One would think this is then a counterproductive approach. Moreover, he is doing the public and market participants no favors  by misrepresenting the Fed and its policies.
Bottom Line: And now we await the employment report...

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

"The Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/2 to 3/4 percent"

No change:

Press Release, Release Date: February 1, 2017, For release at 2:00 p.m. EST: Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in December indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has continued to expand at a moderate pace. Job gains remained solid and the unemployment rate stayed near its recent low. Household spending has continued to rise moderately while business fixed investment has remained soft. Measures of consumer and business sentiment have improved of late. Inflation increased in recent quarters but is still below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; most survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further, and inflation will rise to 2 percent over the medium term. Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced. The Committee continues to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments.
In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/2 to 3/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a return to 2 percent inflation.
In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. In light of the current shortfall of inflation from 2 percent, the Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected progress toward its inflation goal. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.
The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction, and it anticipates doing so until normalization of the level of the federal funds rate is well under way. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Lael Brainard; Charles L. Evans; Stanley Fischer; Patrick Harker; Robert S. Kaplan; Neel Kashkari; Jerome H. Powell; and Daniel K. Tarullo.
Implementation Note issued February 1, 2017

Fed Watch: Was Kevin Warsh Really A Fed Governor?

Tim Duy:

Was Kevin Warsh Really A Fed Governor?, by Tim Duy: Former Federal Reserve Governor Kevin Warsh’s column in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal was so riddled with errors and misperceptions that it is hard to believe he was actually a governor.
Warsh wants the Fed to announce a “practicable long-term strategy and stick to it,” claiming they have offered many such plans but never stuck to them. I don’t agree. The Fed has a plan, but Warsh just refuses to see it.
The former governor’s first critique:
A year ago around this time, the U.S. stock market fell about 10%. The Fed reacted precipitously, reversing its announced plan for 2016 of four quarter-point rate increases. But when prices rallied near the end of the year, the Fed decided it wouldn’t look good to let the moment pass without raising rates. It raised its key interest rate by a quarter point in December.
The Fed did not reverse its announced plan. The rate forecast contained within the Fed’s Summary of Economic Projections is just that, a forecast, not a plan. Incoming data triggered a revision of that forecast. And, contrary to the narcissistic belief of many market participants, it wasn’t all about them. Falling equity prices were just one of many data points that changed the course of policy. The Fed faced a very real slowdown in activity. Andrew Levin, former Fed economist, for instance, described the economy as operating at stall speed. Note that output growth slowed markedly during 2015 and into 2016:

Gdp013117

The unemployment rate stalled out:

EMPc0117

And inflation remained tepid:

PCEb013017

If the Fed updated their forecast, it was for good reason.
Warsh follows with another instance of the Fed supposedly reversing course:
In late October, Fed Chair Janet Yellen expressed willingness to run a “high-pressure economy” to push the unemployment rate lower and inflation higher. Yet in a speech two weeks ago, she said that allowing the economy to run “persistently ‘hot’ would be risky and unwise.”
Yellen never expressed a willingness to run a high-pressure economy. That was always a complete misrepresentation of her comments. In that speech, she was simply proposing a research agenda for macroeconomists, including the topic of the influence of aggregate demand on supply. Had anyone actually read the speech (and I have to assume Warsh did not), they would see that she did not provide any policy proposals. Her subsequent comments were nothing more than an effort to set the record straight, not a shift in position.
Warsh uses the above episodes to claim that the Fed lacks a strategy:
Changes in judgment should be encouraged, but they ought to indicate something other than day trading or academic fashion. They must be rooted in strategy. Otherwise, the real economy winds up worse off…
…The Fed’s technocratic expertise is no substitute for a durable strategy. This make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach causes many Fed members to race to their ideological corners, covering themselves as hawks and doves…
The problem here is that the Fed does have a strategy, but Warsh refuses to see it. Specifically, incoming information alters the Fed’s economic forecast and, in accordance with a basic Taylor Rule, the Fed’s rate forecast with the goal of meeting the dual mandates over the medium term. Indeed, San Francisco Federal Reserve economists Fernanda Nechio and Glenn Rudebusch show that the Fed altered its rate forecast systematically in response to incoming data in this manner. That data brought the Fed’s original forecast for four rate hikes down to the actual one rate hike.
There is indeed a strategy. It is not the Fed that is too focused on the near-term. It is Warsh that is too focused on the near-term.
Warsh proposes five reforms for the Federal Reserve, beginning with:
First, the Fed should establish an inflation objective of around 1% to 2%, with a band of acceptable outcomes. The current 2.0% inflation target offers false precision. According to the Fed’s preferred measure, inflation is running at 1.7%, only a few tenths below target. The difference to the right of the decimal point is too thin a reed alone to justify the current policy stance. It also undermines credibility to claim more knowledge than the data support.
This one reveals Warsh’s true intentions – the current inflation target does not support his desire for higher rates, so he wants to move the target! Moreover, the current target does not offer false precision. No one at the Fed believes they can consistently hit two percent. And being below two percent has not stopped them from raising rates. In practice, the Fed will tolerate misses within a reasonable (25bp) range around two percent as long as forecasted inflation is trending toward target. That’s the medium-term strategy Warsh claims to be so concerned about.
Next:
Second, the Fed should adjust monetary policy only when deviations from its employment and inflation objectives are readily observable and significant. The Fed should stop indulging in a policy of trying to fine-tune the economy. When the central bank acts in response to a monthly payroll report, it confuses the immediate with the important. Seeking in the short run to exploit a Phillips curve trade-off between inflation and employment is bound to end badly.
It is a misperception that the Fed acts impetuously on the most recent data. They use that data to update their forecast in a systematic fashion (see above). I generally excuse most people from not understanding this distinction. It is a difficult concept and, quite frankly, one that the Fed does a poor job communicating. Warsh, however, has no such excuse.
For his third reform:
…the Fed should elevate the importance of nonwage prices, including commodity prices, as a forward-looking measure of inflation. It should stop treating labor-market data as the ultimate arbiter of price stability…A material catch-up in wages after a long period of stagnation need not trigger a panicky response.
I don’t think Warsh understands the foundations of Fed’s approach to inflation forecasting. From Yellen’s lengthy discussion of the topic in September 2015:
To summarize, this analysis suggests that economic slack, changes in imported goods prices, and idiosyncratic shocks all cause core inflation to deviate from a longer-term trend that is ultimately determined by long-run inflation expectations. As some will recognize, this model of core inflation is a variant of a theoretical model that is commonly referred to as an expectations-augmented Phillips curve. Total inflation in turn reflects movements in core inflation, combined with changes in the prices of food and energy.
Wages aren’t in that description. Wages are primarily a guide to estimating full employment (economic slack). Rising wage growth indicates the economy is approaching full employment. Wage growth in excess of the inflation target plus productivity growth raises warning signs that the economy is operating beyond full employment. Also, commodity prices are included as idiosyncratic shocks. Finally, the labor market data is very clearly not the ultimate arbiter of price stability. In the long-run, inflation expectations are the ultimate arbiter of price stability.
Warsh’s next reform:
Fourth, the Fed should assess monetary policy by examining the business cycle and the financial cycle. Continued quantitative easing—which Fed leaders praise unabashedly—increases the value of financial assets like stocks, while doing little to bolster the real economy. Finance, money and credit curiously are at the fringe of the Fed’s dominant models and deliberations. That must change, because booms and busts take the central bank farthest afield from its objectives.
Note that earlier Warsh complained that the Fed reacted to the financial cycles – easing policy when equity prices were falling and vice-versa. Now he wants the Fed to react to those cycles? In actuality, the Fed does take financial considerations seriously. See, for example Governor Jerome Powell here. Vice Chair Stanley Fischer here. Governor Daniel Tarullo here. Go back to the work of former Governor Jeremy Stein. And with regards to quantitative easing, the Fed would argue that their actions have indeed bolstered the real economy. And while busts in particular do take the Fed far away from its mandate, so too would strangling the economy to address a theoretical financial risk. Incorporating a financial stability term in the Taylor Rule is easier said than done.
Finally:
Fifth, the Fed should institutionalize its new strategy and boldly pursue it with a keen eye toward the medium-term.
As I noted earlier, the Fed does have a strategy, the focus of that strategy is the medium run forecast, and the Fed changes their behavior in a systematic way to pursue that strategy. In short, the Fed’s already acts in accord with this supposed “reform.” Move along, folks, nothing to see here.
Bottom Line: If you want to understand the Federal Reserve and monetary policy, I don’t think reading Warsh’s op-ed gives you much to work with.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fed Watch: FOMC Preview

Tim Duy:

FOMC Preview, by Tim Duy: The Fed will take a pass at this week’s FOMC meeting. The median policy participant forecasts just three 25bp rate hikes this year and incoming data offers no surprises to force one of those this month. March, however, remains in play.
The three forecasted rate hikes is not a promise. It could be one hike or could be four or more. The actual outcome will depend on the path of actual economic outcomes and what those outcomes imply for the forecast.
The Fed is aware that crosscurrents in the economy – such as potentially significant changes to fiscal and economic policy – create substantial uncertainties about the course of monetary policy this year. From the most recent minutes:
…many participants emphasized that the greater uncertainty about these policies made it more challenging to communicate to the public about the likely path of the federal funds rate.
Translation: The Fed’s crystal ball is as cloudy as everyone else’s, but that’s hard to explain. For example, the potential positive demand shock from expected deficit spending could be overwhelmed by a potential negative supply shock from an increasingly xenophobic Trump Administration.
What does this mean for March? Currently, market participants place low odds of a March rate hike. The underlying bet is that if the Fed moves three times this year, the most likely timing will be June, September, and December. I think this is reasonable; bringing March into that mix requires a change in the tone of the data.
Specifically, to pull a rate hike forward, the Fed needs evidence that either inflation is firming more than anticipated or that unemployment is more significantly undershooting its natural rate. Both would be cause for concern for policymakers. But, in practice, given the inflation inertia evident in recent years, the labor market would most likely be the driving force of behind a March rate hike. From the minutes:
Several members noted that if the labor market appeared to be tightening significantly more than expected, it might become necessary to adjust the Committee's communications about the expected path of the federal funds rate, consistent with the possibility that a less gradual pace of increases could become appropriate.
The December labor report was largely consistent with the Fed’s forecasts, and thus will have little impact on the March meeting. The same is true for the GDP report for the final quarter of 2016. Notable is that domestic demand has held up well the last three quarters:

GdpA012717

They will also be heartened that equipment investment, broke a string of four consecutive negative quarters with a 3.1 percent gain. Also, note that core durable goods orders are finally back to making year over year gains:

CoreoredersA012717

This too is consistent with the small uptick in growth anticipated by the Fed for 2017.

But we still have plenty of data between now and March. In particular, watch incoming data and how they impact the forecast of key variables such as unemployment and inflation. The Fed will pay close attention to:
  • Nonfarm payrolls. They expect payroll growth to continue slowing to something close to 100k a month. A re-acceleration would raise eyebrows on Constitution Ave.
  • The unemployment rate. The Fed’s estimate of the natural rate of unemployment firmed over the past year. Hesitation to drop it lower means that surprise falls in unemployment would prompt more aggressive Fed action.
  • Faster wage growth. Some policy makers argued in December that subdued wage growth gave them more time to respond to an unemployment overshoot. But wage growth accelerated in December to 2.9% annually, the highest pace since 2009. Watch this space (and see this from Bloomberg on competition for workers in the fast food industry).
  • Inflation numbers. Although, as noted earlier, inflation has been fairly inertial, that could change at the economy settles further into full employment/potential output.
  • Acceleration? The Fed is not anticipating a large acceleration in activity this year, so any indication that activity is picking up more than expected will be watched with wary eyes.
At this point I still do not anticipate a March hike. And note that a March move doesn’t guarantee a faster pace of rate hikes; it could be largely pre-emptive, just displacing a subsequent rate hike. But if they could justify a March move and you were anticipating two to three rate hikes this year, you should probably be thinking of three to four. Not to mention some action on the balance sheet added to the mix.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Fed Watch: Quantifying The Changing Rate Forecast

Tim Duy:

Quantifying The Changing Rate Forecast, by Tim Duy: In my last post, I asserted:
The actual amount of tightening will ultimately depend on the evolution of the forecasts for unemployment and inflation. If the expectation for unemployment drifts lower for this year, for instance, the median dots are likely to shift higher to ensure that the Fed continues to meet its mandate.
Can we quantify the impact of a changing economic forecast on the projected amount of tightening this year? Yes, using the methodology of Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco economists Fernanda Nechio and Glenn Rudebusch. In a recent article, they argue the change in the Federal Reserve’s 2016 projected rate increase from 100bp to 25bp was consistent with a simple extension of a Taylor-type policy rule, specifically:
Funds rate revision = neutral rate revision + (1.5 × inflation revision) – (2 × unemployment gap revision).
Recall that the interest rate projections contained in the Fed’s Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) are not policy commitments. They are forecasts that we should expect to change with evolving forecasts of key variables, notably inflation and unemployment. The Fed’s credibility should not be judged on the accuracy of its rate forecast. It should be judged on its ability to meet its mandate. Actual policy should shift relative to the rate forecast as economic conditions change.
We can look to the December 2016 SEP as an example of the Nechio-Rudebusch approach. The Fed’s median rate forecast for 2017 rose 0.3 percentage points relative to the September SEP (Note: There is a rounding issue here. Effectively, the forecast changed from two to three 25bp hikes). The median neutral rate estimate (the longer run forecast of the funds rate) rose 0.1 percentage points. The inflation forecast (Nechio-Rudebusch use core inflation) was unchanged. The unemployment forecast fell 0.1 percentage points while the estimate of the natural rate of unemployment (the longer run forecast of the unemployment rate) remained unchanged. Thus the Fed revised down the unemployment gap estimate by 0.1 percentage points.
Applying the Nechio-Rudebusch policy rule:
0.3 percentage points = 0.1 percentage points + (1.5 x 0.0 percentage points) – (2 x (-0.1 percentage points)
In other words, the changing economic forecast for 2017 explains the magnitude of the change in the 2017 rate projection. Thus, we should watch incoming data for its impact on the forecasts for key variables to estimate its impact on policy.
In practice, we might expect minimal revisions of the longer run rates of interest and unemployment over the course of 2017. The estimate of the neutral interest rate declined substantially in 2015 and early 2016, but I suspect that pattern will not repeat in 2017. The estimate has already held fairly steady since the June 2016 SEP. Also note that the Laubach-Williams estimates of the natural rate of interest are now edging upward:

Real

The era of declining estimates of the natural rate of interest may be over. Likewise, the estimate of the natural rate of unemployment remains at the March 2016 SEP. Assuming these parameters remain constant in 2017, the variation in the fed funds rate projection will depend on the unemployment and inflation and inflation forecasts.
As a practical example, I view the December employment report as consistent with the December SEP economic forecasts. The pace of underlying job growth continues to slow toward a range that is likely consistent with a steady unemployment rate after the demographic impacts on labor participation reassert themselves. This suggests the Fed’s forecast for a fairly small (0.2 percentage points) fall in the unemployment rate is largely unchanged. Hence, the employment report should not impact the median rate forecast for 2017.
Bottom Line: The Fed’s policy stance shifts in consistent manner. Important to understanding these shifts is estimating the impacts of incoming data on the Fed’s medium term forecast. In my opinion, the policymakers spend too little time discussing the impact of incoming data on their forecasts, leading to the perception that policy is more backward than forward looking. The above example illustrates, however, the importance of the latter for monetary policy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Goals of Monetary Policy and How We Pursue Them

Janet Yellen:

The Goals of Monetary Policy and How We Pursue Them: ...it's fair to say, the economy is near maximum employment and inflation is moving toward our goal. The unemployment rate is less than 5 percent, roughly back to where it was before the recession. And, over the past seven years, the economy has added about 15-1/2 million net new jobs. Although inflation has been running below our 2 percent objective for quite some time, we have seen it start inching back toward 2 percent last year as the job market continued to improve and as the effects of a big drop in oil prices faded. Last month, at our most recent meeting, we took account of the considerable progress the economy has made by modestly increasing our short-term interest rate target by 1/4 percentage point to a range of 1/2 to 3/4 percent. It was the second such step--the first came a year earlier--and reflects our confidence the economy will continue to improve.
Now, many of you would love to know exactly when the next rate increase is coming and how high rates will rise. The simple truth is, I can't tell you because it will depend on how the economy actually evolves over coming months. The economy is vast and vastly complex, and its path can take surprising twists and turns. What I can tell you is what we expect--along with a very large caveat that our interest rate expectations will change as our outlook for the economy changes. That said, as of last month, I and most of my colleagues--the other members of the Fed Board in Washington and the presidents of the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks--were expecting to increase our federal funds rate target a few times a year until, by the end of 2019, it is close to our estimate of its longer-run neutral rate of 3 percent. ...

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Fed and Fiscal Policy

Ben Bernanke:

The Fed and fiscal policy: Markets have responded strongly to Donald Trump’s election victory, pushing up equities, longer-term interest rates, and the dollar. While many factors influence asset prices, expectations of a much more expansionary fiscal policy under the new administration—higher spending, lower taxes, and larger deficits—appear to be an important driver of the recent market moves.
The Federal Reserve’s reaction to prospective fiscal policy changes has been much more cautious than that of the markets, however. Janet Yellen in December described the central bank as operating under a “cloud of uncertainty,” and the forecasts of Fed policymakers released after the December FOMC meeting showed little change in either their economic outlooks or their interest-rate projections for the next few years. How does the Fed take fiscal policy into account in its planning? What explains the large difference between the reactions of the Fed and the markets to the change in fiscal prospects since the election? I’ll discuss these questions in this post, concluding that the Fed’s cautious response to the possible fiscal shift makes sense, given what we know so far. ...

Friday, January 06, 2017

Fed Watch: Solid Employment Report Keeps Fed On Track

Tim Duy:

Solid Employment Report Keeps Fed On Track, by Tim Duy: The labor market finished out the year on a solid note. Solid, not spectacular, and largely consistent with the Fed's expectations. Consequently, the final employment report for 2016 should not impact the Fed's median forecast for 75bp of rate hikes in 2017.
Payrolls rose 156k in December and jobs gains the previous two months were revised upwards by 19k. While good numbers, job growth continues to slow:

EMPb0117

Since January 2015, the 12-month moving average of monthly job growth slowed from 262k to 180k. Still, that remains greater than the pace necessary to hold the unemployment rate constant once the demographic impacts again dominate the cyclical factors (Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer estimates that number to be 65k-115k). But the economy continues to trend toward that pace.
Supported by an increase labor force participation, the unemployment rate ticked up to 4.7%, holding just below the Fed's estimate of the natural rate of unemployment:

EMPc0117

Measures of underemployment are now again showing signs of improvement, albeit the pace of improvement has slowed along with the pace of job growth:

EMPa0117

The pace of wage growth accelerated to 2.9%, the highest rates since 2009:

EMPd0117

Overall, the report should win hearts and minds on Constitution Ave. The economy looks to be tracking exactly where the Fed expects it to go, with job growth slowing sufficiently such that the unemployment rate holds steady just below full employment. Such a situation would allow for continued improvement in measures of underemployment while maintaining healthy but not excessive pressure on wage growth. In contrast, recall the concerns about about undershooting the natural rate of unemployment that surfaced during the December FOMC meeting. From the minutes:
...In discussing the possible implications of a more significant undershooting of the longer-run normal rate, many participants emphasized that, as the economic outlook evolved, timely adjustments to monetary policy could be required to achieve and maintain both the Committee's maximum-employment and inflation objectives.
...Several members noted that if the labor market appeared to be tightening significantly more than expected, it might become necessary to adjust the Committee's communications about the expected path of the federal funds rate, consistent with the possibility that a less gradual pace of increases could become appropriate...
The economy is now at a point where a sudden boost in activity would prompt the Fed to accelerate the pace of rate increases. This employment report, however, suggests this isn't happening just yet.
One note of caution, though. Manufacturing employment rose in this latest report by 17k, the largest gain since January 2016. This comes on top of improved data from the manufacturing sector:

ISMa0117

This serves as further evidence that the inventory correction process over the past year has run its course. Note also the improvement in the service sector in recent months:

ISMb0117

This suggests to me that risks for growth and hence rates are currently weighted to the upside.
Bottom Line: A solid report largely consistent with expectations among monetary policymakers. Hence it should have little impact on interest rate forecasts for the coming year. But watch out for upside risks to the outlook; the economy gained some traction in the final months of 2016. It is reasonable to believe that traction will hold in 2017.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A World at Risk

Narayana Kocherlakota:

A World at Risk: My last day as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis was on December 31, 2015. I began blogging on January 2, 2016... In my first post, I wrote that “economic policymakers can do better. Indeed, I increasingly believe that they must do better.” In my view, the global political events of 2016 show why I wrote those words.
That first post argued that macroeconomic policy remained much too tight around the developed world. It closed with the following warning and admonition:
“We are only beginning to see the impact of tight policy choices on our economies … Given these kinds of macroeconomic outcomes, it should not be surprising that we see increasing signs of social fracturing and disengagement in many developed countries.”
The process of “social fracturing and disengagement” to which I referred continued apace in 2016. In the UK, Britons voted to break away from the European Union. In the US, a political outsider used a platform of economic isolationism to defeat a string of establishment candidates from both major parties.
There will be elections in France and Germany in 2017. I expect large, and possibly decisive, repudiations of the political establishment in both votes.
Will policymakers begin to engage in the kind of fiscal/monetary easing that is needed to heal our economies and our societies? Possibly – there is talk from the incoming American administration of increases in government spending and tax cuts. But many elected officials (and professional economists) have also expressed strong opposition to these policy choices.
Those opponents should bear in mind that there are grave risks associated with overly tight macroeconomic policy and the accompanying shortfall of aggregate demand. As I wrote on January 8 of this year,
“Much of the world experienced a significant global demand shortfall throughout the 1930s … It is true that if we fast forward to 1950, the demand shortfall had been largely cured. Unfortunately, I suspect that the destruction associated with World War II was an important part of the “solution”. During the course of that War, over 50 million people were killed, and many others were injured severely. Much of the physical capital of Asia and Europe had been destroyed. The world didn’t put [its] “idle men and machines” to work - it destroyed them instead … the experience of the 1930s and 1940s is unfortunately suggestive of how the economic pressures of a global demand shortfall can give rise to highly adverse geo-political outcomes.”
Unfortunately, I see many more signs to support the possibility of “adverse geo-political outcomes” (to use my euphemism) than I did in early 2016.
So, as we enter 2017, the world needs easier fiscal and monetary policy in the form of more government debt, lower taxes (especially on investment), more infrastructure and lower interest rates. But this prescription has been the right one for at least eight years. We can only hope that we have not left the problem unattended for too long.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fed Watch: Is The Fed About To Experience A Repeat of 2016?

Tim Duy:

Is The Fed About To Experience A Repeat of 2016?, by Tim Duy: In the most recent Summary of Economic Projections, Fed officials penciled in three 25bp rate hikes for 2017. The reality, however, could be very different. We all remember how “four” became “one” in 2016. The median dots are neither a promise nor an official forecast. As 2016 progressed, forecasts associated with a lower path of SEP “dots” evolved as the consensus view of policymakers. Will the same happen this year? I don’t think so; it is hard to see the Fed on pause for another twelve months.
As a starting point, I think it best to assume the US economy is near full-employment. But the US economy was near full-employment at this time last year as well. I think the key difference between then and now is that then the after-effect of the oil price slide and dollar surge placed a drag on the US economy sufficient to ease hiring pressure. At the same time, labor force participation perked up, setting the stage for a flat unemployment rate for most of the year. Inflationary pressures eased as well; the January inflation pop proved to be short-lived:

PCE1116

In effect, the US economy settled into a nice little equilibrium in 2016 that obviated the need for additional rate hikes. To expect a repeat scenario in 2017, one would need to assume that the US economy does not pick up speed and threaten that equilibrium by pushing past full employment.
Evidence, however, piles up suggesting that the slowdown of the past year is drawing to a close. ISM manufacturing and nonmanufacturing surveys are stronger, temporary help employment is heading up again, new manufacturing orders for nondefence, nonair capital goods have flattened out, and the broader inventory overhang is easing:

ISRATIO1216

All of this occurs in the context of an unemployment rate that suddenly dipped toward the lower end of the Fed’s estimates of the natural rate of unemployment. And if the demographic forces reassert themselves, there is likely to be further downward pressure on the unemployment rate – job growth is well above estimates necessary to hold unemployment constant.
But would a total of 75bp of hikes be necessary to hold inflation in check? That depends in part the sensitivity of inflation to greater resource utilization. Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal noted last week:
Unlike in 2009, this fiscal stimulus will be hitting when the economy is close to full employment with far less spare capacity. Yet it’s premature to assume inflation will therefore jump. In the last decade inflation, excluding swings due to energy, has proven surprisingly inertial, barely moving in response to high unemployment. The same is likely true if unemployment drops further below its “natural” level.
It is true that inflation is fairly inertial, although some policymakers will dismiss the lack of response to high unemployment as a consequence of downward nominal wage rigidity. Moreover, others will claim the reason for inertial inflation is that the Fed has properly responds to weak or strong economic conditions to hold inflation and, importantly, inflation expectations, in check. In other words, you won’t see inflation if the Fed acts preemptively.
Still, the broader point remains true that while further declines in unemployment will pressure the Fed to hiking rates more aggressively, low inflation like seen in November will temper that response.
In addition, policy going forward depends on the relative tightness of financial markets in general, and the dollar in particular. And the dollar has been on a tear in recent weeks:

Dollar1216

The dollar serves as a break on the US economy. If activity expands as I anticipate, and the economy is near full employment as I believe, then some demand will be offshored as the rising dollar prompts the trade deficit to widen. Consequently, the Fed needs to be wary of feedback effects from the dollar as they tighten policy.
Bottom Line: The economic situation on the ground is very different from December of last year. Whereas the decision to raise rates at that time looked ill-advised, this latest action appears more appropriate given the likely medium-term path of the US economy. Assuming the US economy is near full employment, that path likely contains enough upward pressure on activity to justify more than one more rate increase in 2017. Three I think is more likely than one. That said, the change in administrations and the path of fiscal policy creates uncertainties in both directions.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fed Watch: Fed Turns Hawkish

Tim Duy:

Fed Turns Hawkish, by Tim Duy: The FOMC raised the target range for the federal funds rate by 25bp today, as expected. But the tone of the press conference and the summary of economic projections were more hawkish than I anticipated. The Fed is shifting gears, a shift I did not expect until more data piled up in the first quarter of 2017. 
My error in analyzing this meeting was thinking that the Fed would nudge down the longer term estimate of unemployment - essentially, the natural rate of unemployment - on the basis the 4.6% unemployment rate in November. Such a downward drift happened in 2015:

FOMCgraphic1

I expected something similar given that the pace of inflation and wage gains remains moderate. But the Fed stuck to their prior estimates, 4.8% with a central tendency of 4.7-5.0% and an overall range of 4.5-5.0%. They didn't budge.

What did budge was the rate forecast, the dots. The median dot shifted up 25bp; the September median forecast of 50bp of rate hikes for 2017 is now 75bp. My interpretation is that rather than showing up in a declining estimate of the natural rate, the unemployment drop showed up as a rise in the rate forecast. This is important. It is almost as if the Fed is drawing a line in the sand with an increased confidence that they have the correct natural rate estimate. Their tolerance for further declines below that line is wearing thin.

Assuming that the natural rate forecast does not change - which essentially depends on the path of wages and inflation - this means that you should anticipate that further declines in unemployment will be met with a more aggressive Fed in 2017. I don't think this will be the last increase in the median rate forecast for 2017. 

It is reasonable to argue that the median dot doesn't really represent the Fed's forecast for rates. But I think the shifts in the dots at a minimum reflect general changes in sentiment. Down for more dovish. Up for more hawkish. This is more hawkish.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen exuded confidence in the economic outlook during the press conference. Three points were particularly notable:

  1. The Fed is obviously watching the path of fiscal policy, but it is too early to say what it meant for monetary policy. She did note, however, that fiscal stimulus was not needed to help the economy reach full employment. The implication was that fiscal policy designed to boost demand rather than productivity would be met by a faster pace of rate increases. This sets the stage for a potential conflict with the Trump Administration. 
  2. She repeatedly argued that her run a "high-pressure" economy comments from October were misinterpreted. She was recommending a research program, not a policy path. If you were expecting otherwise, time to get over it.
  3. She did not dismiss the possibility of staying on as a board member after her term as Chair ends. Another potential conflict with the Trump Administration.

Bottom Line: Sentiment on Constitution Ave. is shifting toward a modestly more hawkish stance a few months ahead of my schedule.  Policymakers finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

FOMC Raises its Target Range for the Federal Funds Rate

"the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1/2 to 3/4 percent":

Press Release, Release Date: December 14, 2016, For release at 2:00 p.m. EST: Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in November indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been expanding at a moderate pace since mid-year. Job gains have been solid in recent months and the unemployment rate has declined. Household spending has been rising moderately but business fixed investment has remained soft. Inflation has increased since earlier this year but is still below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices and in prices of non-energy imports. Market-based measures of inflation compensation have moved up considerably but still are low; most survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance, in recent months.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further. Inflation is expected to rise to 2 percent over the medium term as the transitory effects of past declines in energy and import prices dissipate and the labor market strengthens further. Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced. The Committee continues to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments.
In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1/2 to 3/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a return to 2 percent inflation.
In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. In light of the current shortfall of inflation from 2 percent, the Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected progress toward its inflation goal. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.
The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction, and it anticipates doing so until normalization of the level of the federal funds rate is well under way. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Lael Brainard; James Bullard; Stanley Fischer; Esther L. George; Loretta J. Mester; Jerome H. Powell; Eric Rosengren; and Daniel K. Tarullo.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fed Watch: December FOMC Preview

Tim Duy:

December FOMC Preview, by Tim Duy: The Federal Reserve will nudge rates 25bp higher this week. This will not end the policy tension among FOMC members. How will that unfold in 2017? My expectation is that whereas 2016 began with excessively high expectations for rate hikes, 2017 will be the opposite. My tendency is think that the risks to the Fed’s median forecast of 50bp of rate hikes in 2017 are more weighted to the upside than the downside. Beware then of a more aggressive than expected Fed.
The FOMC statement represents a compromise position. Broadly speaking, some policymakers rely on earlier paradigms calling for preemptive policy action as the economy heads toward estimates of full employment. Another group questioned those estimates given the apparent decreased sensitivity of inflation to unemployment in addition to risk management concerns at the zero lower bound.
Slower growth, an uptick in the labor force participation rate, and low inflation in 2016 lent support to the latter group, keeping the Fed on the sidelines since last December. Support from the data, however, has waned.
To be sure, incoming data does not entirely resolve the debate. On one hand, the unemployment rate plunged 0.3 percentage points in November to 4.6 percent:

FOMCgraphic1

This is below the range of the longer-run central tendency (4.7 – 5.0 percent), sufficient to prompt a preemptive rate hike in December without dissent.
Still, unemployment continues to decline in the absence of widespread wage or inflationary pressures. Wage growth declined in November:

FOMCgraphic2

and the October read on inflation was tepid:

FOMCgraphic3

Consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised by a modest downward revision to the Fed’s longer-run estimate of unemployment. Moreover, measures of underemployment remain elevated, suggesting that labor slack remains even near estimates of full employment, allowing for unemployment to dip below those estimates without much concern. These factors provide breathing room to maintain a slow pace of rate hikes of 50bp in 2017 implied by the Fed’s Summary of Economic Projections.
But job growth continues to exceed estimates of that necessary to exert downward pressure on the unemployment rate. Plus, temporary help employment is picking up, suggesting that broad employment growth will accelerate as well:

FOMCgraphic4

Incoming data indicates the Fed should place higher weight on upside risks to the medium run growth forecast. The Institute of Supply Management’s positive manufacturing report for November adds to the evidence in the third quarter GDP report that the sector’s inventory correction process is drawing to a close. The non-manufacturing counterpart also gained traction, including a sharp rebound in the employment component. Finally, the third quarter GDP number – a respectable 3.2 percent – might be underestimating economic strength. Gross domestic income (GDI) jumped a whopping 5.2 percent during the quarter.
And then there is the fiscal picture. Fed policymakers will maintain a careful approach to that topic – see New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley and Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans here. But the prospect of wider fiscal deficits should tilt the balance of risks toward a faster pace of rate hikes as 2017 progresses.
Altogether, whereas in late 2015 the economy passed through an inflection point that derailed expectations for 100bp of rate hike, the economy looks to be hitting in the opposite infection point as 2016 draws to a close. That suggests that the central tendency of the Fed’s rate projections will prove to be too low this year.
In other words maybe, just maybe, this is the year the economy starts to feel “normal.” Rather than the Fed moving closer to the markets, the markets will move to the Fed.
Bottom Line: The Fed will hike rates this week; the unemployment drop will give added weight to case for a preemptive rate hike. They will play it close to the vest regarding future policy; although the stars are beginning to align for stronger growth next year, this represents more of a risk than a reality. Expect Federal Reserve Chair Yellen to emphasize that policy is data dependent.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The In-Betweeners

Frances Coppola (the full post is much longer):

The in-betweeners: How effective is monetary policy?

Highly effective, according to the Governor of the Bank of England. In a speech earlier this week, Mark Carney robustly defended the Bank of England's record...

Well, lots of us might agree that monetary policy did help to offset the damaging effects of bank and household deleveraging in the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. ...

But the most persistent criticism of monetary policy is that it has, in the words of HSBC's Stephen King, "unfortunate distributional effects". It benefits the holders of financial assets - primarily the rich - at the expense of those dependent on interest income, who are believed to be much poorer, though not necessarily the poorest.

Carney is having none of it. He rejected the distributional criticism of monetary policy... He points to these two charts as evidence that the poor have done better than the rich from monetary policy...

It is all very well crowing that the poorest have been supported. They have, to some extent, though perhaps not quite as much as you claim. But it is painfully evident that the "in-betweeners" have had much less support. Relative to the rich, they have lost out both in wealth and in income. And relative to the poor, they have lost out too: they no longer qualify for many benefits and other public support, and they are seeing public money going to people not much poorer than them while they are left to struggle on their own. These are people who see themselves as having done everything right: they have worked hard, saved and paid into the system. Now, they think the system has abandoned them. And with reason.

To be fair, it is not the Bank of England that has abandoned them, though some of them blame you for their woes: "in-betweener" pensioners are those who have been hardest hit by very low interest rates. The real failures lie on the fiscal side, and are of very long standing.

The promise of "cradle to grave" support upon which the British welfare state was founded has been systematically dismantled. Now, only the poorest are supported. The neglected in-betweeners are on their own. And their anger is shaking our political establishment to its foundations.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Recent Economic Developments and Longer-Run Challenges

Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell (for a more optimistic take on the "new normal," see Is Our Economic Future Behind Us? by Joel Mokyr):

Recent Economic Developments and Longer-Run Challenges: ...Longer-Run Challenges Productivity and Growth
Let's turn to longer-run challenges, and start by asking why growth has been so slow, and how fast we are likely to grow going forward. This next slide shows the five-year trailing average annual real GDP growth rate (figure 8). By this measure, growth averaged about 3.2 percent annually through the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. But growth began to decline after 2000 and then nose-dived with the onset of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007 and the slow expansion that followed. Since the financial crisis ended in 2009, forecasters have gradually reduced their estimates of long-run trend growth from about 3 percent to about 2 percent--a seemingly small difference that would make a huge difference in living standards over time.3 
How much of this decline is just a particularly bad business cycle, and how much represents a long-run downshift? To get at that question, let's take a deeper look at the growth slowdown. We can think of economic growth as coming from two sources: more hours worked (labor supply) or higher output per hour (productivity). Hours worked mainly depends on growth in the labor force, which has been slowing since the mid-2000s as the baby-boom generation ages. As you can see, the labor force is now growing at only about 0.5 percent per year (figure 9). Another way to see this is through the sustained increase in the ratio of people over 65 to those who are in their prime working years (figure 10). This long-expected demographic fact has now arrived, and it has challenging implications for our potential growth and also for our fiscal policy.4 
The unexpected part of the growth slowdown reflects weak productivity growth rather than lower labor supply. Labor productivity has increased only 1/2 percent per year since 2010--the smallest five-year rate of increase since World War II and about one-fourth of the average postwar rate (figure 11). The slowdown in productivity has been worldwide and is evident even in countries that were little affected by the crisis (figure 12). Given the global nature of the phenomenon, it is unlikely that U.S.-specific factors are mainly responsible.
A portion of the productivity slowdown is undoubtedly due to low levels of investment by businesses. The financial crisis and the Great Recession left firms with excess capacity, reducing incentives to invest. If businesses expect slower growth to continue, that will also hold down investment.
The other important factor is the decline in what economists call total factor productivity, or TFP, which is the part of productivity that is not explained by capital investment or increases in the skills of the labor force. TFP is thought to be mainly a function of technological innovation and efficiency gains.
There is no consensus about the future direction of productivity.5 The pessimists argue that the big paradigm-changing innovations, such as electrification or the advent of computers, are behind us. If that is so, then our standard of living will increase more slowly going forward. The optimists think that this slowdown is only a passing phase and that the age of robots and machine learning will transform our economy in coming decades. Still others argue that we are currently underestimating productivity and output because of the real difficulties we face in measuring GDP in a modern economy. For example, how do we measure the value-added of free digital services like Facebook or Twitter?6 
The future is, as always, uncertain. But I would sum up the growth discussion as follows. Growth in the labor force has slowed, and we can estimate it with reasonable confidence to be only about 0.5 percent. Growth in productivity is both more important and much harder to predict. Productivity varies significantly over time, as figure 11 showed. If productivity growth returns to, say, 1.5 percent, then the U.S. economy could grow at about 2.0 percent over the long term. Actual growth may turn out to be weaker or stronger, and the choices we make as a society will have something to say about that.
Why Are Long-Term Interest Rates So Low?
Let's turn to the related question of why long-term interest rates are so extraordinarily low in advanced economies around the world. The yield on our own benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury security has increased lately, but at 2.3 percent it is still far below what was normal before the financial crisis. In fact, this next chart shows that, as growth and inflation have fallen, longer term interest rates have fallen as well over the past 35 years (figure 13).
So why are long-term interest rates so low? Many of you will no doubt be thinking, "They are low because you people at the Fed set them low!" While there is an element of truth there, that is not the whole story. The FOMC has considerable control over short-term interest rates. We have much less influence over long-term rates, which are set in the marketplace. Long-term interest rates represent the price that balances the supply of saving by lenders and demand for funds by borrowers, such as businesses needing to fund their capital expenditures. Lenders expect to receive a real return and to be compensated for inflation and for the risk of nonpayment. Meanwhile, borrowers adjust their demand for funds based on their changing assessment of the risks and expected returns of their investment projects. When desired saving rises or investment demand falls, then long-term interest rates will decline. Today's very low level of long-term rates suggests that both of these factors are at play.
Both expectations of slower growth and the aging of our population are having significant effects on desired saving and investment and are thus important causes of lower interest rates. If the economy is expanding more slowly, then the level of investment needed to meet demand will be lower. The lower path of growth reduces future income prospects of households, and they will tend to raise their saving. The pending retirement of baby boomers means higher saving, because people tend to save the most in the years just before their retirement. In addition, the lower rate of return on capital owing to lower productivity growth will lead to less investment and lower interest rates.
As with productivity, the factors behind the fall in U.S. interest rates include an important global component, as rates are low around the world. Indeed, although our rates are near historical lows, U.S. Treasury rates are among the highest among the major advanced economy sovereigns (figure 14).
Is This the New Normal?
What can we do to prevent low growth, low inflation, and low interest rates from becoming the new normal? We need to focus on ways to increase our long-term growth and spread that prosperity as broadly as possible. I hasten to add that these policies are, for the most part, outside the purview of the Federal Reserve. We need policies that support productivity growth, business hiring and investment, labor force participation, and the development of skills. We need effective fiscal and regulatory policies that inspire public confidence. Increased spending on public infrastructure may raise private-sector productivity over time, particularly with the growth of the stock of public infrastructure near an all-time low.7 Greater support for public and private research and development, and policies that improve product and labor market dynamism may also be fruitful.8 Monetary policy can contribute by supporting a strong and durable expansion in a context of price stability.
Monetary Policy
The low interest rate environment presents special challenges for monetary policy. In setting our target for the federal funds rate, a good place to start is to identify the rate that would prevail if the economy were at 2 percent inflation and full employment--the so-called neutral rate. "Neutral" in this context means that the rate is neither contractionary nor expansionary. If the fed funds rate is lower than the neutral rate, then policy is stimulative or accommodative, which will tend to raise growth and inflation. If the fed funds rate is higher than the neutral rate, then policy is tight and will tend to slow growth and reduce inflation.
But we can only estimate the neutral rate, and those estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. Before the crisis, the long-run neutral rate was generally thought to be roughly stable at around 4.25 percent. Since the crisis, estimates have steadily declined, and the median estimate by FOMC participants stood at 2.9 percent in September. Many analysts believe that the neutral rate is even lower than that today and will only return to its long-run value over time.9 The low level of the neutral interest rate has several important implications. First, today's low rates are not as stimulative as they seem--consider that, despite historically low rates, inflation has run consistently below target and housing construction remains far below pre-crisis levels. Second, with rates so low, central banks are not well positioned to counteract a renewed bout of weakness. Third, persistently low interest rates can raise financial stability concerns. A long period of very low interest rates could lead to excessive risk-taking and, over time, to unsustainably high asset prices and credit growth. These are risks that we monitor carefully. Higher growth would increase the neutral rate and help address these issues.
Turning to the outlook for monetary policy, incoming data show an economy that is growing at a healthy pace, with solid payroll job gains and inflation gradually moving up to 2 percent. In my view, the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has clearly strengthened since our previous meeting earlier this month. Of course, the path of rates will depend on the path of the economy. With inflation below target, relatively slow growth, and some slack remaining in the economy, the Committee has been patient about raising rates. That patience has paid dividends. But moving too slowly could eventually mean that the Committee would have to tighten policy abruptly to avoid overshooting our goals.
Conclusion
To wrap up, since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, our economy has recovered slowly but steadily. Today, we are reasonably close to achieving full employment and our 2 percent inflation objective. But we face real challenges over the medium and longer terms. Our aging population will mean slower growth, all else held equal. If living standards are to continue to rise, we need policies that will support productivity and allow our dynamic economy to generate widespread gains in prosperity.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Yellen: The Economic Outlook

Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen:

The Economic Outlook, Before the Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C., November 17, 2016: ...The U.S. economy has made further progress this year toward the Federal Reserve's dual-mandate objectives of maximum employment and price stability. Job gains averaged 180,000 per month from January through October, a somewhat slower pace than last year but still well above estimates of the pace necessary to absorb new entrants to the labor force. The unemployment rate, which stood at 4.9 percent in October, has held relatively steady since the beginning of the year. The stability of the unemployment rate, combined with above-trend job growth, suggests that the U.S. economy has had a bit more "room to run" than anticipated earlier. ...
While above-trend growth of the labor force and employment cannot continue indefinitely, there nonetheless appears to be scope for some further improvement in the labor market. ... Further employment gains may well help support labor force participation as well as wage gains; indeed, there are some signs that the pace of wage growth has stepped up recently. While the improvements in the labor market over the past year have been widespread across racial and ethnic groups, it is troubling that unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanics remain higher than for the nation overall, and that the annual income of the median African American household and the median Hispanic household is still well below the median income of other U.S. households.
Meanwhile, U.S. economic growth appears to have picked up from its subdued pace earlier this year. ...
Turning to inflation... Core inflation, which excludes the more volatile energy and food prices and tends to be a better indicator of future overall inflation, has been running closer to 1-3/4 percent.
With regard to the outlook, I expect economic growth to continue at a moderate pace sufficient to generate some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a return of inflation to the Committee's 2 percent objective over the next couple of years. ... As the labor market strengthens further and the transitory influences holding down inflation fade, I expect inflation to rise to 2 percent.
Monetary Policy I will turn now to the implications of recent economic developments and the economic outlook for monetary policy. The stance of monetary policy has supported improvement in the labor market this year, along with a return of inflation toward the FOMC's 2 percent objective. In September, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/4 to 1/2 percent and stated that, while the case for an increase in the target range had strengthened, it would, for the time being, wait for further evidence of continued progress toward its objectives.
At our meeting earlier this month, the Committee judged that the case for an increase in the target range had continued to strengthen and that such an increase could well become appropriate relatively soon if incoming data provide some further evidence of continued progress toward the Committee's objectives. This judgment recognized that progress in the labor market has continued and that economic activity has picked up from the modest pace seen in the first half of this year. And inflation, while still below the Committee's 2 percent objective, has increased somewhat since earlier this year. Furthermore, the Committee judged that near-term risks to the outlook were roughly balanced.
Waiting for further evidence does not reflect a lack of confidence in the economy. Rather, with the unemployment rate remaining steady this year despite above-trend job gains, and with inflation continuing to run below its target, the Committee judged that there was somewhat more room for the labor market to improve on a sustainable basis than the Committee had anticipated at the beginning of the year. Nonetheless, the Committee must remain forward looking in setting monetary policy. Were the FOMC to delay increases in the federal funds rate for too long, it could end up having to tighten policy relatively abruptly to keep the economy from significantly overshooting both of the Committee's longer-run policy goals. Moreover, holding the federal funds rate at its current level for too long could also encourage excessive risk-taking and ultimately undermine financial stability.
The FOMC continues to expect that the evolution of the economy will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate over time to achieve and maintain maximum employment and price stability. This assessment is based on the view that the neutral federal funds rate--meaning the rate that is neither expansionary nor contractionary and keeps the economy operating on an even keel--appears to be currently quite low by historical standards. ... With the federal funds rate currently only somewhat below estimates of the neutral rate, the stance of monetary policy is likely moderately accommodative, which is appropriate to foster further progress toward the FOMC's objectives. But because monetary policy is only moderately accommodative, the risk of falling behind the curve in the near future appears limited, and gradual increases in the federal funds rate will likely be sufficient to get to a neutral policy stance over the next few years.
Of course, the economic outlook is inherently uncertain, and, as always, the appropriate path for the federal funds rate will change in response to changes to the outlook and associated risks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Is higher inflation just around the corner?

Me, at MoneyWatch:

Why interest rates will likely rise faster than inflation: Is higher inflation just around the corner? That seems to be how the bond market sees it: As soon as traders heard Donald Trump had won the presidency, bond yields spiked (chart below). That’s because it’s widely assumed that inflation and interest rates will be higher under Trump than they would have been under Democrat Hillary Clinton.

There are two reasons to expect higher interest rates and rising inflationary pressure with Trump rather than Clinton as president...

Monday, November 14, 2016

Fed Watch: December Still A Go

Tim Duy:

December Still A Go, by Tim Duy: Some back of the envelope calculations: The Fed's long-run real GDP growth estimate - the rate of potential GDP growth - is 1.8%. According to Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stan Fischer last week:
If labor force participation was to remain flat, job gains in the range of 125,000 to 175,000 would likely be needed to prevent unemployment from creeping up. However, if labor force participation was to decline, as might be expected given demographic trends, the neutral rate of payroll gains would be lower. If we assumed a downward trend in participation of about 0.3 percentage point per year, in line with estimates of the likely drag from demographics, job gains in the range of 65,000 to 115,000 would likely be sufficient to maintain full employment.
Labor force growth of 0.3%. Together, these two points imply a productivity estimate of 1.5%. The Fed's inflation target is 2%. The 2% inflation target plus 1.5% productivity growth suggests that the Fed anticipates wage growth of 3.5% when the economy settles into full employment.
Roughly; these are just back-of-the envelope calculations. Notice though that the 3-month moving average for average wage growth ticked up to 3.3% last month:

Nfp1116c

To be sure, 12-month wage growth still lags at 2.8%, but you can see where that trend is headed. Just like inflation, headed higher.
Under these conditions, it is reasonable to believe the economy is very close to full employment. Of course, some slack may still lurk in the background. Perhaps it exists in the underemployment estimates:

Nfp1116d

Or perhaps labor force participation will feel more cyclical pull before demographics begin to dominate again. But that would be a short-term impact. Longer run, the aging population will take its toll on the labor force. Anyway you slice it, the Fed's comfort level with their estimate of full employment must be on the rise:

Nfp1116b

Indeed, given the current pace of job growth, the Fed anticipates the economy is positioned to soon reach their mandates. Perhaps even more so. Fischer from last week:
...the more interesting and important questions relate to the next few years rather than the next few months. They relate in large part to the secular stagnation arguments that were laid out yesterday in Larry Summers' Mundell-Fleming lecture--in particular the behavior of the rate of productivity growth. The statement that the problem we face is largely one of demand--and we do face that problem--seems to imply either that productivity growth is called forth by aggregate demand, or a Say's Law of productivity growth, namely that productivity growth produces its own demand.
That is not an issue that can be answered purely by theorizing. Rather, it will be answered by the behavior of output and inflation as we approach and perhaps to some extent exceed our employment and inflation targets.
The Fed faces a familiar dilemma in December. Act preemptively, or hold still waiting for labor force and productivity growth to comes along? Most likely the Fed will take the opportunity in December to act preemptively and reiterate that doing so allows for them to retain their "move gradually" plan.
Does the election throw a wrench in their plans? Financial markets were buoyed by the prospect of a Republican dominated government, sending stocks higher and bonds lower. Would the bond sell off induce the Fed to take a pass in December, on the theory that higher interest rates imply tighter financial conditions? In this case, I think not. The steepening of the yield curve:

Spread1116

likely reflects the prospect of a reflationary policy mix. Note also that market-based inflation expectations tell the same story:

Break1116

The Fed finally has the chance to chase the yield curve higher; I think they take it.
The situation differs from the steepening of the infamous "taper tantrum." Then the sell-off on the long end reflected a perceived change in the path of monetary policy, a perception the Fed did not share. Hence they needed to act in such a way to communicate their true intentions. In this case, the market is digesting new developments and raising estimates of the medium-run economic outlook and the likely monetary policy path.
Note that the Fed sees the prospect of fiscal stimulus as well. Fischer again, via Reuters:
"On more expansionary fiscal policy, I think many members of the open market committee and of the Federal Reserve Board have commented it would be useful to have a more expansionary fiscal policy," Fischer said.
It is not exactly a secret that the Fed would like a more expansionary fiscal policy to take on more of the macroeconomic policy burden. The Fed believes that a more expansionary fiscal policy would provide them greater room to "normalize" interest rates. Hence they will be closely watching the evolving fiscal agenda. It is too early for them to update their economic projections dramatically, but with regards to the December rate decision, the prospect of substantial fiscal stimulus must count as an upside risk for growth and inflation.
Given that the economy is already near the Fed's estimates of full employment, the risk of fiscal stimulus should imply a risk of a higher rate path in 2017 and beyond. Assuming no change in productivity or labor force growth, it is reasonable to anticipate that the Fed would consider a full monetary offset to any fiscal stimulus; the alternative from their perspective would be substantially higher inflation. President-elect Donald Trump might not take too kindly to such an agenda, thinking that it would undermine his efforts to
"make America great" again. The risk is that he would attempt to further politicize the Fed, nominating friendly governors willing to minimize the monetary offset. Beware of higher inflation in such an environment.
Bottom Line: With the economy hovering near full employment, the Fed will want to press forward with a December rate hike. Market odds of 85% are reasonable. Watch for signs the Fed will feel they have little choice but to offset fiscal stimulus if they want to preserve their inflation target. This is particularly the case for any large stimulus; Republican administrations have historically been pro-deficit spending. The stage is set for a contentious relationship with the next Administration. Watch for increasing politicization of the Federal Reserve.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Fed Watch: Fed Remains On The Sidelines

Tim Duy:

Fed Remains On The Sidelines, by Time Duy: As expected, the Federal Reserve left policy unchanged this month. The statement itself was largely unchanged as well. The near term inflation outlook improved, going from this is in September:

Inflation is expected to remain low in the near term, in part because of earlier declines in energy prices, but to rise to 2 percent over the medium term as the transitory effects of past declines in energy and import prices dissipate and the labor market strengthens further.

To this in November:

Inflation is expected to rise to 2 percent over the medium term as the transitory effects of past declines in energy and import prices dissipate and the labor market strengthens further.

With the year-over-year impacts of oil prices falling out of the data, headline inflation will track back upwards. Not a big surprise. With regards to the timing of the next move, the Fed went from this in September:

The Committee judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened but decided, for the time being, to wait for further evidence of continued progress toward its objectives.

To this now:

The Committee judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has continued to strengthen but decided, for the time being, to wait for some further evidence of continued progress toward its objectives.

See what they did there? Conditions are moving in the right direction, but the Fed still waits for some "further" evidence. Continuation of recent trends is likely sufficient to be that "further" evidence needed to justify a rate hike in December.

What would derail a December rate hike? Greg Ip at the Wall Street Journal speculates that a Trump win in next week's election would do the trick:

...a Trump victory would probably cast enough of a pall over the outlook to give the Fed reason to delay its next rate increase into next year. Ironically, Mr. Trump may discover that he, not Mr. Obama, is the reason the Fed hasn’t tightened.

Agreed, although this doesn't seem likely at this juncture. More likely to stay the Fed's hands would be a slowdown in hiring to something closer to 100k a month. That would probably end the downward pressure on the unemployment rate and raise questions about the Fed's basic forecast that the unemployment rate will continue to decline in the absence of additional rate hikes. We get two employment reports before the December meeting; for the Fed to stay on the sidelines yet again, we probably need to see both reports come in weak. The first one - for October - comes Friday morning. ADP estimates that private payrolls will be up 147k - not surging, but still easily sufficient for the Fed to justify a rate hike. If this comes to pass, we would probably need a deluge of soft numbers to keep the Fed on hold again.

Bottom Line: Fed is looking past the election to the December meeting for its second move in this rate hike cycle. Probably need some unlikely softer numbers to hold them back again.

FOMC Leaves Policy Unchanged

From the FOMC Press Release today, no change in rates but " the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has continued to strengthen":

 ... the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/4 to 1/2 percent. The Committee judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has continued to strengthen but decided, for the time being, to wait for some further evidence of continued progress toward its objectives. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting further improvement in labor market conditions and a return to 2 percent inflation. ...

Full statement: Press Release, November 2, 2016.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Yellen Poses Important Post-Great Recession Macroeconomic Questions

Nick Bunker:

Yellen poses important post-Great Recession macroeconomic questions: Last week at a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conference, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gave a speech on macroeconomics research in the wake of the Great Recession. She ... lists four areas for research, but let’s look more closely at the first two groups of questions that she elevates.
The first is the influence of aggregate demand on aggregate supply. As Yellen notes, the traditional way of thinking about this relationship would be that demand, a short-run phenomenon, has no significant effect of aggregate supply, which determines long-run economic growth. The potential growth rate of an economy is determined by aggregate supply...
Yellen points to research that increasingly finds so called hysteresis effects in the macroeconomy. Hysteresis, a term borrowed from physics, is the idea that short-run shocks to the economy can alter its long-term trend. One example of hysteresis is workers who lose jobs in recessions and then aren’t drawn back into the labor market bur rather are permanently locked out... Interesting new research argues that hysteresis may affect not just the labor supply but also the rate of productivity growth.
If hysteresis is prevalent in the economy, then U.S. policymakers need to rethink their fiscal and monetary policy priorities. The effects of hysteresis may mean that economic recoveries need to run longer and hotter than previous thought in order to get workers back into the labor market or allow other resources to get back into full use.
The other set of open research questions that Yellen raises is the influence of “heterogeneity” on aggregate demand. In many models of the macroeconomy, households are characterized by a representative agent... In short, they are assumed to be homogeneous. As Yellen notes in her speech, overall home equity remained positive after the bursting of the housing bubble, so a representative agent would have maintained positive equity in their home.
Yet a wealth of research in the wake of the Great Recession finds that millions of households whose mortgages were “underwater” and didn’t have positive wealth—a big reason for the severity of the downturn. Ignoring this heterogeneity in the housing market and its effects on economic inequality seems like something modern macroeconomics needs to resolve. Economists are increasingly moving in this direction, but even more movement would very helpful.
Yellen raises other areas of inquiry in her speech, including better understanding how the financial system is linked to the real economy and how the dynamics of inflation are determined. ... As Paul Krugman has noted several times over the past several years, the Great Recession doesn’t seem to have provoked the same rethink of macroeconomics compared to the Great Depression, which ushered in Keynesianism, and the stagflation of the 1970s, which led to the ascendance of new classical economics. The U.S. economy is similarly dealing with a “new normal.” Macroeconomics needs to respond this reality.

Fed Watch: Are Yellen and Fischer Really Worlds Apart?

Tim Duy:

Are Yellen and Fischer Really Worlds Apart?, by Tim Duy: This from Bloomberg surprised me:

Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Plc in New York, said Fischer’s comments “reflect an ongoing divergence of opinion” at the central bank. Fischer “doesn’t see much room for running the economy hot” while Yellen’s views “seem to provide a wide-open door to do that. You have a chair and a vice chair who see policy differently right now,” he said.

I don't think there exists a yawning gap between Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Fischer and Federal Reserve Vice Chair Yellen. The perception of this gap stems in part from what I think was an aggressive reading of Yellen's speech last week. The line in question:

If we assume that hysteresis is in fact present to some degree after deep recessions, the natural next question is to ask whether it might be possible to reverse these adverse supply-side effects by temporarily running a "high-pressure economy," with robust aggregate demand and a tight labor market.

Is this a call for a "high-pressure economy"? My interpretation is somewhat more muted. Note that this was posed as a potential research question, along with three others, that macroeconomists should pursue in the wake of the Great Recession:

The Influence of Demand on Aggregate Supply
The first question I would like to pose concerns the distinction between aggregate supply and aggregate demand: Are there circumstances in which changes in aggregate demand can have an appreciable, persistent effect on aggregate supply?

Heterogeneity
My second question asks whether individual differences within broad groups of actors in the economy can influence aggregate economic outcomes--in particular, what effect does such heterogeneity have on aggregate demand?

Financial Linkages to the Real Economy
My third question concerns a key issue for monetary policy and macroeconomics that is less directly addressed by this conference: How does the financial sector interact with the broader economy?

Inflation Dynamics
My fourth question goes to the heart of monetary policy: What determines inflation?

She does not actually say that the Fed should run a high pressure economy. Nor should this be seen as a defense of current policy because this is decidedly not a high pressure economy. Instead, Yellen argues we need more research on the topic to understand the costs and benefits of such a policy approach:

More research is needed, however, to better understand the influence of movements in aggregate demand on aggregate supply. From a policy perspective, we of course need to bear in mind that an accommodative monetary stance, if maintained too long, could have costs that exceed the benefits by increasing the risk of financial instability or undermining price stability. More generally, the benefits and potential costs of pursuing such a strategy remain hard to quantify, and other policies might be better suited to address damage to the supply side of the economy.

Now, to be sure, she is willing to delay rate hikes to explore the possibility of drawing more supply from the labor market. From the press conference:

But with labor market slack being taken up at a somewhat slower pace than in previous years, scope for some further improvement in the labor market remaining, and inflation continuing to run below our 2 percent target, we chose to wait for further evidence of continued progress toward our objectives.

Does this mean the economy is a running at a high pressure? Later in the conference:

And that is some news that we’ve received in recent months, that the labor market does have that potential to have people come back in without the unemployment rate coming down. So we’re not seeing strong pressures on utilization suggesting overheating, and my assessment would be, based on this evidence, that the economy has a little more room to run than might have been previously thought.

One reason Yellen is willing to delay rate hikes is because the economy is not overheating. Again, this is not a high pressure economy - and if it was, she would not be so willing to delay rate hikes. Indeed, willingness to accept a high pressure economy suggests that Yellen has abandoned preemptive policy. But:

So I think the notion that monetary policy operates with long and variable lags—that statement is due to Milton Friedman, and it is one of the essential things to understand about monetary policy, and it has not fundamentally changed at all. And that is why I believe we have to be forward looking, and I’m not in favor of a “whites of their eyes” sort of approach. We need to operate based on forecasts.

Compare this with Fischer, via the same Bloomberg story:

“If you go below the full employment rate, or peoples’ estimates of full employment, by a couple of tenths of percentage points, I don’t think there’s any danger in that,” Fischer said Monday in response to questions at an Economic Club of New York lunch. “But saying we should keep going until the inflation rate shows us we’re wrong, then you’re going to change too late.”

Then, back to Yellen:

One is the risk that the economy runs too hot, that unemploy—the labor market tightens too much, that unemployment falls to a very low level, that we need to tighten policy in a less gradual way than would be ideal, and in the course of doing that, because that is a very difficult thing to accomplish, to gently create a bit more slack in the labor market, we could cause a recession in the process.

So you get the idea. There is nothing here to suggest that Yellen looks to generate a high pressure economy. She holds the commonly held view within the Fed that policy makers need to prevent the unemployment rate from sinking too low because they cannot just nudge the rate higher. If anything, with the unemployment rate dancing on the edge of Fed estimates of the natural rate, she would almost certainly react to an acceleration in activity with an acceleration in the pace of rate hikes. So too would Fischer. But with growth around 2 percent per tracking estimates, labor force participation rising to meet job growth, and inflation below target, we do not have a high pressure economy and hence the need for immediate rate hikes dissipates. Yellen will let it play out a bit longer. But if the labor force participation rate stalls out and unemployment starts heading back down, Yellen would become nervous that the Fed is poised to fall behind the curve.

Bottom Line: The key debate within the Fed at the moment centers around the need for preemptive rate hikes. The hawks prefer more preemption, the doves favor less. Federal Reserve Lael Brainard pulled the FOMC to the dovish camp, primarily through her influence at Constitution Ave. Yellen is probably somewhat more sympathetic to Brainard than Fischer, but as I said last week, Fischer has moved substantially in Brainard's direction. It is really the presidents that are on the hawkish side of the aisle. There just isn't that much space between Yellen and Fischer at the moment.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Fed Watch: Jobs Data Keeps Hawks Sidelined

Tim Duy:

Jobs Data Keeps Hawks Sidelined: Federal Reserve hawks face an array of labor market data that threatens a key pillar holding up their policy view. That pillar is the assertion that monthly nonfarm payroll growth over roughly 100k will soon force unemployment far below the natural rate, thus placing the US economy in grave danger from inflationary forces. By this view, the decline of unemployment long ago justified further rate hikes. Hawks failed to anticipate that the unemployment rate would flatten out at 5 percent despite steady payrolls growth. This outcome does not fit in their worldview. Fundamentally, they were supply-side pessimists. The recent strength in labor force growth suggests their pessimism was sorely misplaced and undermines their argument for immediate rate hikes. The key elements of the FOMC - the permanent voters - now stand as supply-side optimists and are prepared to hold rates at current levels through the next meeting, and perhaps even longer. A December rate hike is still not a foregone conclusion. 
In recent speeches, Federal Reserve Chair Stanley Fischer appears to be now fully under the sway of Fed doves. Fischer's take on the employment report, from his speech this weekend:
Despite the strong job growth, the unemployment rate, at 5 percent in September, has essentially moved sideways this year as individuals have come back into the labor market in response to better employment opportunities and higher wages. As a consequence, the labor force participation rate has edged up against a backdrop of a declining longer-run trend owing to aging of the population. This increase is a very welcome development.
Four charts deserve attention here. First, "strong job growth:

Nfp

Second, the unemployment rate has "moved sideways":

Unrate

Third: "higher wages":

Wages

Fourth "labor force participation has edged up":

Force

Overall, the October employment report justified the FOMC's decision to hold rates steady in September. The reasoning, according to Fischer:
But with labor market slack being taken up at a somewhat slower pace than in previous years, scope for some further improvement in the labor market remaining, and inflation continuing to run below our 2 percent target, we chose to wait for further evidence of continued progress toward our objectives.
The Fed sees that demand-side policy triggers a supply side response, and consequently does not want to risk leaving millions in the ranks of the unemployed (and remaining workers with sub-optimal wage growth) with a premature tightening of policy. Moreover, the lack of substantial inflationary pressures continues to the bedevil the hawks. As Fischer notes, inflation expectations remain in check, or, if they have moved, have drifted down. And while inflation has indeed edged up in recent months, it remains below target:

  Prices

And I would argue that much of the rise in inflation was attributable to January's gain:

Cpi2

Fischer also undercuts the hawks' argument that preemptive hikes are necessary because without them the Fed will fall behind the curve:
But since monetary policy is only modestly accommodative, there appears little risk of falling behind the curve in the near future, and gradual increases in the federal funds rate will likely be sufficient to get monetary policy to a neutral stance over the next few years.
The key is that he sees policy as only modestly accommodative - a view that follows the Fed's epiphany on the persistence of a low natural rate of interest. Hence no massive catch-up would be needed even if future conditions require a faster pace of rate hikes.
I suspect that the hawks, now derailed by the employment data, will further pivot toward financial stability as they argue for a more rapid reduction of financial accommodation. Here too, however, Fischer is prepared to meet them head on. From last week:
Let me briefly mention a second reason for worrying about ultralow interest rates: The transition to a world with a very low natural rate of interest may hurt financial stability by causing investors to reach for yield, and some financial institutions will find it harder to be profitable. On the whole, however, the evidence to date does not point to notable risks to financial stability stemming from ultralow interest rates. For instance, the financial sector has appeared resilient to recent episodes of market stress, supported by strong capital and liquidity positions.
Overall, sounds to me that Fischer now embraces the intellectual framework pushed for over a year by his colleague, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard. This likely is true also of all the permanent voting members. Within the context to the Board's current framework, the hawkish Fed president can do little more than squawk.  
Bottom Line: A November rate hike remains dead. We have two labor reports until the December meeting. A continuation of recent trends would leave a rate hike at that meeting in doubt. Odds favor that meeting currently, but it is not a foregone conclusion. The doves are supply-side optimists. They want to let this rebound run for as long as possible. And remember, those closest to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen are now those that inhabit the halls of Constitution Ave. Be wary of the words of hawkish Fed presidents; they have been very misleading this year. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Trump’s Mudslinging Puts the Fed in Danger

An editorial at the FT:

Trump’s mudslinging puts the Fed in danger: So many extraordinary accusations and denunciations emanate from Donald Trump... One of the more potentially damaging is the contention that the Federal Reserve is setting policy to ensure the election of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Political criticism of the US central bank has been going on for decades. ...
Yet it is offensive and absurd to suggest that Janet Yellen, the Fed chair, and her colleagues are deliberately trying to engineer the election of another Democratic president. At a time when the Fed has a low standing in the public mind, perhaps more disturbing than Mr Trump’s eccentric claims is that congressional Republicans, who should know better, are joining in. ...
It is beyond hope that Mr Trump will see sense and moderate his attacks. His fellow Republicans, unless they are ready to endanger one of the pillars of US economic stability, should resist the urge to follow his example.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Fed Watch: Hard To Say That November Is Really "Live"

Tim Duy:

Hard To Say That November Is Really "Live," by Tim Duy: If there is one thing that I am fairly sure that monetary policymakers hate, it is the idea that the outcomes of their meetings are preordained. November appears to be just such a meeting. To be sure, Fed hawks want to believe the meeting is "live." The sizable group that dissented - or would have dissented if they were voting members - likely sees the case for a rate hike in November as even more pressing than in September. Remember, it is all about preemptive policy action from that contingent. If you thought delay was bad in September, it must be worse in November. But the doves - including a powerful group of permanent voting members - will likely have none of it. From their point of view, the case for a rate hike is no more pressing in November than September. Indeed, according to the the dot-plot, at least three would be happy taking a pass in December as well. And, although they would be loathe to admit it, within the context of a risk management framework the timing of the election argues against a hike as well. As I see it, the best the hawks can hope for is a strong statement about December. The data would have to very quickly turn very strong to give the hawks an upper hand in November.

I did get a chuckle out of this last week:

The only way to reinforce the idea that November is a "live" meeting is to continue to hold out the hope of a rate hike. But unless the doves budge between now and November, a rate hike is not happening. And the doves aren't likely to budge anymore than the hawks. It's kind of a stalemate at the moment, and everyone knows it. So reinforcing the the idea that a hike is going to happen when it isn't is not really an effective communication strategy. It is not exactly good policy guidance.

Cleveland Federal Reserve President Loretta Master would also like you to believe November is "live." From Monday, via Bloomberg:

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President Loretta Mester said the economy is ripe for an interest-rate increase and repeated that the Fed’s November meeting should be viewed as “live” for a policy decision, despite its proximity to the U.S. presidential election.

“I would expect that the case would remain compelling” for a rate hike when the Federal Open Market Committee gathers in Washington Nov. 1-2, the week before Americans head to the polls, she told Kathleen Hays in an interview on Bloomberg Television Monday. Mester added that politics wouldn’t affect the decision.

Of course she wants November to be "live." She wanted to hike rates at the last meeting. And I suspect she believes that unless the hawks can push up rate hike expectations to something closer to 50% (from the current 13% or so), they have no chance of pushing through a rate hike. Not that I think they have much of a chance even then. Seems that his amounts to trying to manipulate market expectations to obtain an advantage at the FOMC meeting. I sense this is what hawks have attempted more than once this year. In my opinion, this too is not a good communications strategy.

Like the outcome of the November meeting, Mester's dissent is also preordained.

Mester also repeats the "politics are irrelevant" story. And, broadly, I agree. I don't believe, for example, the Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is holding rates low simply to help President Obama or enhance Hillary Clinton's election chances. That is ludicrous. So if you are saying that the Fed won't hike in November for those reasons, I think you are wrong.

But I am going to give some on this issue in another dimension. Elections are risk events, and a risk management strategy thus demands that they be considered when making policy. And we know that in fact the Federal Reserve considers elections when making policy. New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum caught Yellen by surprise at the press conference with this question:

BINYAMIN APPELBAUM. Binya Appelbaum, the New York Times. In the run-up to the Brexit vote earlier this year, several Fed policymakers cited it as a reason that they were reluctant to raise rates in June because of the uncertainty associated with that vote. In the run-up to the presidential election, I have not heard any Fed policymaker give that as a reason that they might want to delay raising rates in November. Could you explain why the Fed regards Brexit as a greater danger to the American economy than the presidential election that’s actually happening here? And, second, there were three dissents at this meeting. Could you explain what the cause of disagreement was, what those policymakers thought?

CHAIR YELLEN. So we are very focused on evaluating, given the way the economy is operating, what is the right policy to foster our goals, and I’m not going to get into politics.

Appelbaum nailed that one - we can't credibly believe that the Brexit vote is a more relevant risk for the US economy than this presidential election. Yet the Fed is asking us to believe exactly that. If you can't comment on how US elections impact Fed policy, you shouldn't comment on how foreign elections impact Fed policy. Just chalk it up to "global economic uncertainty" and move one. The Fed really messed up by identifying the Brexit vote as a reason to hold rates steady.

This also doesn't seem like a win for the Fed's communication strategy. Live and learn.

Finally, when considering the risk management issues, don't let New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley's latest speech slip by you. He questions the effectiveness of unconventional monetary policy:

Given the initial novelty of unconventional monetary policy tools, central banks did not have a well-developed body of research to draw on to design the programs and calibrate their impact. While it will take time to build this body of work, research to date varies in terms of the estimated effectiveness of unconventional policy. Several studies indicate that the FOMC’s first asset purchase program helped to reduce long-term interest rates, while the subsequent programs had smaller though still significant effects on rates. However, Professor Summers, who is participating in our program, has recently questioned the effectiveness of the Fed’s asset purchase programs when financial markets are well-functioning.

And then he considers the implications for monetary policy (emphasis added):

There is a related concern given that the federal funds rate is still close to zero at this point in the expansion. While I’m on record as saying that expansions do not simply die of old age, some economists are concerned that the risk of a recession is increasing. As I indicated earlier, the FOMC was able to reduce the federal funds rate by more than 5 percentage points in an effort to offset the effects of the last recession. If another recession were to happen in the next few years, it is likely that the FOMC would be unable to respond with a cut of such magnitude. In this case, the effectiveness of unconventional monetary policy in providing accommodation would again become a central issue, as Chair Yellen discussed in her recent Jackson Hole speech. A risk management approach to monetary policy would suggest that the more concerned one is with the effectiveness of these policies at the zero lower bound, the more cautious one would be in the process of removing accommodation. So, even though we are now slightly off the zero lower bound, an assessment of the effectiveness of unconventional monetary policy has implications with respect to the current stance of monetary policy.

Recessions don't die of old age, that's true. But the fact that Dudley even mentions rising risks of recession among "some economists" is notable. And note the time horizon of his concerns - the next few years! He must have a tingle in the back of his head saying that we are closer to the end than the beginning, and we still don't have adequate policy room, nor can we get adequate policy room by hiking rates because that will only accelerate the onset of the next recession. So the only thing they can do is delay (although not clear why he should consider a rate hike wise at all if he concedes to recession concerns). Such an argument will continue to dominate over the preemptive strike argument (see Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker for the extreme view on that point) in November.

My takeaways on Fed communications over the last week are thus:

  • If you are only going to hike once a year, it is difficult to see why that hike would come at a meeting without a press conference. Clearly, it is not as if the timing of that one hike is really all that critical. You just have to learn to live with the reality that it will be hard to describe all eight meetings a year as "live" when you hike in only one of them. Live with the fact that at least half will end up effectively as "dead." And guess what? You determined which were "dead" with the decision to only have a press conference at every other meeting.
  • Don't try to talk up a rate hike with the only purpose of keeping the drama surrounding the meeting alive. That is not helping market participants understand the factors driving policy.
  • Don't try to talk up the market odds of a meeting just to attempt to gain a tactical advantage at that meeting. That seems to me to be what Fed hawks have been doing this year. The doves just aren't buying the preemptive strike argument. And they won't if market odds for a meeting are 50% rather than 15%. Wait until December.
  • If US politics are off limits, then foreign politics need to be off limits. It is very hard to explain why US politics don't matter for policy when foreign politics do matter.

Bottom Line: I am hard pressed to see the way forward to a November rate hike. Seems that delay will still dominate over preemptive strikes in November.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fed Watch: December Looking Good. But...

Tim Duy:

December Looking Good. But..., by Tim Duy: FOMC doves squeezed out another victory at last week’s meeting. But can they do it again in December?
As was widely expected, the Fed held rates steady at the September FOMC meeting. That said, the meeting was clearly divisive, with three dissents, all from regional bank presidents. And the accompanying statement leaned in a hawkish direction – the committee noted that near-term risks were “balanced” and that the case for a rate hike had “strengthened.” Moreover, only three of the participants did not expect a rate hike before year end.
And if that was not enough, during her press conference, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen suggested the bar to a December rate hike was low:
…most participants do expect that one increase in the federal funds rate will be appropriate this year and I would expect to see that if we continue on the current course of labor market improvement and there are no major new risks that develop and we simply stay on the current course.
Sounds like December is a go. But markets are not entirely convinced, with participants pricing in a roughly 60% chance of a rate hike. Perhaps this pricing reflects post-election economic risk. Or perhaps it reflects the possibility that the doves can stare down the hawks one more time before the composition of the Board changes next year.
Can they? That question requires understanding what happened to squash the parade of Fed presidents looking for a rate hike in September. What happened were Federal Reserve Governors Lael Brainard and Daniel Tarrullo. Brainard in particular laid down the intellectual framework ahead of the FOMC meeting, arguing that the potential for further labor market improvement and asymmetric policy risks justified a steady hand at this meeting. Yellen and the rest of the Board bought into this story. The hawks could squawk all they wanted, but the votes just weren’t going to go in their favor.
This episode provided two important lessons. The first is that if you haven’t been taking Brainard seriously this past year – ever since her bombshell speech last October – you have been doing it wrong. The second is that a small group of governors can have a much larger influence on policy than a large group of presidents. There are lots of presidents, and they talk a lot, so their message is louder. But the power rests in the Board.
Indeed, this asymmetry of power is why the relative lack of speeches from Board members is one of the Fed’s biggest communication failures. The people driving policy shouldn’t be waiting until the Friday before the blackout period to begin delivering their message.
Now consider the dots. There remain three “no hike” dots for 2016. I think it is reasonable to believe those three dots belong to Tarullo, Brainard, and Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans. If true, that suggests that Tarullo and Brainard are at the present time considering making another dovish stand at the December meeting. To do so, they need to keep Yellen on their side.
During the press conference, Yellen revealed that she remains attached to a preemptive view of policy. Since monetary policy operates with long lags, it is important that policy responds to inflationary threats before they emerge. She also rejected a “whites of their eyes” approach to policy, or the suggestion by Evans that they Fed waits until core inflation hits two percent before they hike rates. These concerns are balanced against Brainard’s argument that they can’t be sure they have yet achieved full employment.
Hence, and as I said ahead of the meeting, I think that if unemployment dips between now and December, or progress on underemployment resumes, or inflation moves closer to target, the hawks will win as Yellen’s support will shift toward a rate hike. And these things can all be reasonably expected given the current course of job growth, which is in excess of the Fed’s estimate of what is necessary to absorb labor force growth. For the doves to have a decent chance of holding back the hawks one more time, progress on these points needs to remain stalled.
Regardless of a December hike or not, the Fed continues to mark down the expected path of policy. The median projected Fed funds rate dropped 50bp for both 2017 and 2018, continuing the pattern of the Fed moving toward the market rather than vice-versa. And note that the changing composition of the FOMC next year will allow for this dovish message to come through. This meeting’s dissenters will all be replaced with presidents that are on average more dovish. Consider this ordering of monetary policy makers via Julia Coronado of Graham Capital, modified to show the shift of voters for next year:

Fed2017

Voting presidents will be more aligned with the preferences of the governors. This should help ease some of the recent communications challenges even if the governors maintain their relative silence.
Bottom Line: Doves on the Board continue to delay the preemptive strike on inflation. Stalling gains on unemployment and underemployment gave them the ammunition to stand their ground. If those gains resume, doves will fall prey to the hawks at the next meeting. But they will have an easier time maintaining a shallow path of policy next year, and hopefully are better set to communicate that path.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fed Votes 7-3 to Keep Rates on Hold

Several Fed presidents wanted a rate hike, but the Board stayed united:

Press Release, Release Date: September 21, 2016, For release at 2:00 p.m. EDT: Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in July indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and growth of economic activity has picked up from the modest pace seen in the first half of this year. Although the unemployment rate is little changed in recent months, job gains have been solid, on average. Household spending has been growing strongly but business fixed investment has remained soft. Inflation has continued to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run objective, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices and in prices of non-energy imports. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; most survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance, in recent months.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further. Inflation is expected to remain low in the near term, in part because of earlier declines in energy prices, but to rise to 2 percent over the medium term as the transitory effects of past declines in energy and import prices dissipate and the labor market strengthens further. Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced. The Committee continues to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments.
Against this backdrop, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/4 to 1/2 percent. The Committee judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened but decided, for the time being, to wait for further evidence of continued progress toward its objectives. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting further improvement in labor market conditions and a return to 2 percent inflation.
In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. In light of the current shortfall of inflation from 2 percent, the Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected progress toward its inflation goal. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.
The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction, and it anticipates doing so until normalization of the level of the federal funds rate is well under way. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Lael Brainard; James Bullard; Stanley Fischer; Jerome H. Powell; and Daniel K. Tarullo. Voting against the action were: Esther L. George, Loretta J. Mester, and Eric Rosengren, each of whom preferred at this meeting to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1/2 to 3/4 percent.

The Latest from the Bank of Japan

Ben Bernanke:

The latest from the Bank of Japan: The Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) policy announcement today had two main parts. First, the BOJ committed itself to continue expanding the monetary base until the inflation rate “exceeds the price stability target of 2 percent and stays above the target in a stable manner.” That is, the BOJ says it wants not only to reach its 2 percent inflation target but to overshoot it. Second, in a significant change, the BOJ will begin targeting the yield on ten-year Japanese government debt (JGBs), initially at about zero percent (that is, setting a target price for bonds). ..
I think the announcements are good news overall, since they include a recommitment to the goal of ending deflation in Japan and the establishment of a new framework for pursuing that goal. ... The follow-through will indeed be crucial: Japan has made significant progress toward ending deflation, but that progress could still be lost if the public questions the BOJ’s commitment to its inflation objective. ...
The most surprising, and interesting, part of the announcement was the decision to target the ten-year JGB yield. ... Targeting a long-term yield is closely related to quantitative easing... Pegging a long-term yield ... amounts to setting a target price rather than a target quantity. ...
In general, pegging a long-term rate carries some risks. Notably, in defending a peg, a central bank gives up control over the size of its balance sheet... In the extreme case, a central bank trying to hold down yields could find itself owning most or all of the eligible securities. That risk is particularly acute if the peg is not credible ... because then bondholders will have a strong incentive to sell as quickly as possible..., in the Japanese context these risks are probably manageable. ....
The BOJ’s announcement referred to “synergy effects” between Japanese monetary and fiscal policies, but in public statements Governor Kuroda has expressed his opposition to explicit monetary financing of government spending, so-called “helicopter money.” Exactly what constitutes helicopter money is a semantic debate, but a policy of keeping the government’s borrowing rate at zero indefinitely has some elements of monetary finance. ... The resemblance would become even more pronounced if the BOJ began targeting rates on very long JGBs (the Japanese government borrows at maturities out to forty years). I suspect that the BOJ is happy for now with “synergy,” as opposed to explicit fiscal-monetary cooperation. Whether such cooperation will emerge in the future will depend on whether the new framework proves powerful enough to decisively end deflation in Japan.

See also David Beckworth.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fed Watch: Ahead Of The FOMC Meeting

Tim Duy:

Ahead Of The FOMC Meeting, by Tim Duy: A roundup of Fed-related stories and viewpoints ahead of the FOMC meeting. First, Jeanna Smialek at Bloomberg sees danger lurking in the new dot plot:

Janet Yellen will frame a decision this week to forgo an interest-rate increase as necessary to achieve the Federal Reserve’s economic goals. Donald Trump and his supporters are likely to frame it as political.

That’s because the central bank on Wednesday will also release fresh “dot plot” projections which will probably show policy makers see one quarter-point rate hike by the end of the year. Such a forecast would be widely interpreted as a sign that a hike is coming at the Fed’s December meeting, instead of at the November gathering, which comes a week before the U.S. presidential election and isn’t accompanied by one of the chair’s quarterly press conferences.

Problem is, having the dot plot signal a December move comes with political baggage...

The political baggage is the timing of the rate hike around a presidential election. Why wait on a rate hike now only to signal that one is coming in December? Detractors will claim that the Fed doesn't want to derail the economy and with it the Democrat's hope of retaining the White House. This despite, as Joe Gagnon notes in the article, politics has little if any impact on the rate setting decision. But this isn't about reality, it is about perception. And, politically, the optics just aren't great.

It seems to me that the Fed is taking a political hit on top of what is likely to be the communications hit if, as is reasonably assumed, the dot plot signals a quarter-point hike in December. That would be a pretty strong calendar-based signal of their intentions. Given there is only a few months left in the year, they have to be pretty confident in the outlook to send such a signal. Which raises the question that if you were so confident, why not hike rates now? And if you send such a strong signal now, is that lowering the bar on the kind of data you need to support a hike? And then are you hiking because of perceived past commitment, a need to maintain "credibility," rather than the data? But doesn't that make the Fed more susceptible to policy errors?

In my opinion, the dots outlived their usefulness when they signaled a pace of policy tightening that never happened. They were a great tool for credibly committing to zero for a long period. But that very credibility made them a terrible tool when the time came for tighter policy. They were perceived as a promise because such perception followed logically from the previous promise of low rates. Now they just appear as a series of broken promises. Worse yet, the Fed might feel tied to those promises when they shouldn't be.

The Fed really needs to rethink the dot plot. Use it as a tool when it can be most effective; pull it when it detracts from the message.

Meanwhile, former Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Narayana Kocherlakota, writing at Bloomberg View, says the Fed is about to make a mistake regardless of what they do:

More than seven years after the recovery began in mid-2009, inflation remains below the central bank's 2-percent target...Worse, markets appear to be losing confidence that the Fed will ever reach its target: Yields on Treasury bonds suggest that traders expect inflation to average less than 2 percent five to 10 years from now. As the experience of the Bank of Japan indicates, restoring such confidence is not easy...The Fed is also falling short of its goal of "maximum" employment.

Kocherlakota concludes that the Fed should be easing policy, so holding and raising rates are both mistakes at this juncture.

But one does not have to go far for an opposing view. The editorial board at Bloomberg has a different idea:

The best it can do is press cautiously ahead on normalizing monetary policy, explain what “normal” now means, and promise to keep an open mind as new information comes in. What this requires right now, it should also say, is a quarter-point rise in interest rates.

The editorial board dismisses Kocherlakota as missing the bigger picture:

What this kind of analysis leaves out is the growing threat to future financial stability. Very low interest rates (together with a massively enlarged central-bank balance sheet, courtesy of quantitative easing) have supported demand as intended, albeit with ever-diminishing effectiveness; at the same time, however, they’ve artificially boosted financial-asset prices and distorted normal patterns of risk-taking in financial markets.

Because interest rate are low, they must be "artificially" low and thus distorting something in the economy. The insinuation is that the Fed can simply raise interest rates and the economy will jump back into a happier equilibrium with no distortions and no negative impact. Good luck with that.

If interest rates were truly too low, then their should be much more economic activity and upward pressure on inflation than currently exists. Whatever distortions currently exist must not be exerting a broad impact and thus are fairly small; monetary policy is a blunt tool to use on small distortions. Nor is it evident that even a fairly large rate hike would stop an asset bubble - at least not without a cost. San Francisco Fed researchers concluded:

What is the takeaway then? Slowing down a boom in house prices is likely to require a considerable increase in interest rates, probably by an amount that would be widely at odds with the dual mandate of full employment and price stability. Moreover, the Fed would need a crystal ball to foretell house price booms. In restraining asset prices, while the power of interest rate policy is uncontestable, its wisdom is debatable.

So hiking rates now to try to stop a bubble will likely end in lower rates later. In other words, to use rate policy to try to calm financial markets, you better be very, very sure you are actually facing a widespread threat to the economy. And I don't see anything that justifies that level of certainty. The Financial Crisis was the last war; policymakers need to be wary about always fighting the last war.

Not everyone believes the Fed will hold steady tomorrow. Via Bloomberg:

Two of the Fed’s 23 preferred bond-trading partners -- Barclays Plc and BNP Paribas SA -- are betting against their peers and the bond market by forecasting officials will raise rates Wednesday. It’s the first time more than one dealer has gone against the consensus during the week of a policy meeting since last September, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Economists at both banks say traders have too steeply discounted officials’ intent to hike after the Fed has remained on hold for longer than expected.

I think this is highly unlikely. There are some heavy hitters pushing to holding rates steady. I would not underestimate the power of a few dovish board members, especially if they don't want to roll over on a rate hike like last December. Moreover, the Fed doesn't like to surprise market participants. They don't need 100% certainty, but they need something better than the current odds hovering between 10 and 20%. The hawks know this, and don't like the outcome of the meeting being a foregone conclusion. That said, if the Fed does hike, the handful of analysts who called for a rate hike will look brilliant. And they should get the credit where credit is due in that circumstance.

And for my views on the meeting, see my piece in Bloomberg this week.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Does a Higher Inflation Target Beat Negative Interest Rates?:

The beginning of a relatively long discussion by Ben Bernanke:

Modifying the Fed’s policy framework: Does a higher inflation target beat negative interest rates?: Nominal interest rates are very low, and in a world of excess global saving, low inflation, and high demand for safe assets like government debt, there’s a good chance that they will be low for a long time. That fact poses a potential problem for the Federal Reserve and other central banks: When the next recession arrives, there may be limited room for the interest-rate cuts that have traditionally been central banks’ primary tool for sustaining employment and keeping inflation near target.
That concerning possibility has led to calls for a new monetary policy framework, including by Fed insiders like John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed. In particular, Williams has joined Olivier Blanchard and other prominent economists in proposing that the Fed consider raising its target for inflation, currently 2 percent.[1] If the Fed targeted a higher average level of inflation, the reasoning goes, nominal interest rates would also tend to be higher, leaving more room for rate cuts when needed. 
Interestingly, some advocates of a higher inflation target have been dismissive of the use of negative short-term interest rates, an alternative means of increasing “space” for monetary easing. For example, in a recent interview in which he advocated reconsideration of the Fed’s inflation target, Williams said: “Negative rates are still at the bottom of the stack in terms of net effectiveness.” Williams’s colleague on the Federal Open Market Committee, Eric Rosengren, also has suggested that the Fed may need to set higher inflation targets in the future while asserting that negative rates should be viewed as a last resort. My sense is that Williams’s and Rosengren’s negative view of negative rates is broadly shared on the FOMC. Outside the United States, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has expressed openness to targeting nominal GDP (which essentially involves targeting a higher inflation rate when GDP growth is low), but has also made clear that he is “not a fan” of negative interest rates.
As I explain below, negative rates and higher inflation targets can be viewed as alternative methods for pushing the real interest rate further below zero. In that context, I am puzzled by the apparently strong preference for a higher inflation target over negative rates, at least based on what we know now. ...

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Fed Watch: Is Pushing Unemployment Lower A Risky Strategy?

Tim Duy:

Is Pushing Unemployment Lower A Risky Strategy?, by Tim Duy: The unemployment is closing in on the Fed's estimate of the natural rate of unemployment:

NfpF

Consequently, Fed hawks are pushing for a rate hike sooner than later in an effort to prevent the economy from "overhearing." This overheating is argued to set the stage for the next recession. For instance, see San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams:
History teaches us that an economy that runs too hot for too long can generate imbalances, potentially leading to excessive inflation, asset market bubbles, and ultimately economic correction and recession. A gradual process of raising rates reduces the risks of such an outcome. It also allows a smoother, more calibrated process of normalization that gives us space to adjust our responses to any surprise changes in economic conditions. If we wait too long to remove monetary accommodation, we hazard allowing imbalances to grow, requiring us to play catch-up, and not leaving much room to maneuver. Not to mention, a sudden reversal of policy could be disruptive and slow the economy in unintended ways.
In his Bloomberg View column, former Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Narayana Kocherlakota questions whether there is much theory behind this contention:
Some Fed officials worry that “overheating” could trigger a recession. (I don’t understand the precise economic mechanism, but let’s leave that aside.)
Kocherlakota was specifically referring to the risks of undershooting the natural rate of unemployment. New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley summarized his perception of that risk in January of this year:
A particular risk of late and fast is that the unemployment rate could significantly undershoot the level consistent with price stability. If this occurred, then inflation would likely rise above our objective. At that point, history shows it is very difficult to push the unemployment rate back up just a little bit in order to contain inflation pressures. Looking at the post-war period, whenever the unemployment rate has increased by more than 0.3 to 0.4 percentage points, the economy has always ended up in a full-blown recession with the unemployment rate rising by at least 1.9 percentage points. This is an outcome to avoid, especially given that in an economic downturn the last to be hired are often the first to be fired. The goal is the maximum sustainable level of employment—in other words, the most job opportunities for the most people over the long run.
I don't know that there is an economic mechanism at work here. I don't know that there is a law of economics where the unemployment can never be nudged up a few fractions of a percentage point. But I do think there is a policy mechanism at play. During the mature and late phase of the business cycle, the Fed tends to overemphasize the importance of lagging data such as inflation and wages and discount the lags in their own policy process. Essentially, the Fed ignores the warning signs of recession, ultimately over tightening time and time again.
For instance, an inverted yield curve traditionally indicates substantially tight monetary conditions. Yet even after the yield curve inverted at the end of January 2000, the Fed continued tightening through May of that year, adding an additional 100bp to the fed funds rate. The yield curve began to invert in January of 2006; the Fed added another 100bp of tightening in the first half of that year.
This isn't an economic mechanism at work. This is a policy error at work.
Kocherlakota offers another important point:
It's easy to imagine, though, that many people would be willing to trade the risk of recessionary pain in 2019 and 2020 for the near-term gain of 2017 and 2018. They might even believe there's some chance that policy 2 will generate an outstanding outcome -- if, for example, the long-run unemployment rate is actually lower than the Fed thinks it is.
The Fed seems to place almost zero weight on the probability that the natural rate of unemployment is significantly below their estimates. In their view, only bad things happen when the unemployment rate drifts much below 5%.  
Bottom Line: The Fed thinks the costs of undershooting their estimate of the natural rate of unemployment outweigh the benefits. I am skeptical they are doing the calculus right on this one. I would be more convinced they had it right if I sensed that placed greater weight on the possibility that they are too pessimistic about the natural rate. I would be more convinced if they were already at their inflation target. And I would be more convinced if their analysis of why tightening cycles end in recessions was a bit more introspective. Was it destiny or repeated policy error? But none of these things seem to be true.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Fed’s Complacency About Its Current Toolbox Is Unwarranted

Larry Summers:

The Fed’s complacency about its current toolbox is unwarranted: As I argued in the first blog in this series last week, I was disappointed in what came out of Jackson Hole for three reasons. The first reason, developed in that blog, was that the Fed should have signaled a desire to exceed its two percent inflation target during periods of protracted recovery and low unemployment and in this context to signal that a rate increase was off the table for September and quite likely the rest of the year. Friday’s employment report further strengthens the case for delay both by adding to the evidence on the absence of inflation pressures and by suggesting a less robust economy than most expected.
Even apart from the desirability of allowing inflation to rise above two percent in a happy economic scenario GDP, labor market and inflation expectations data all make a compelling case against a rate increase. Private sector GDP growth for the last year has averaged 1.3 percent a level that has since the 1960s always presaged recession. Total work hours have over the last 6 months grown at nearly their slowest rate since early 2010. And both market and survey measures of inflation expectations continue to decline.
My second reason for disappointment in Jackson Hole was that Chair Yellen, while very thoughtful and analytic, was too complacent to conclude that “even if average interest rates remain lower than in the past, I believe that monetary policy will, under most conditions, be able to respond effectively”. This statement may rank with Ben Bernanke’s unfortunate observation that subprime problems would be easily contained.
Rather I believe that countering the next recession is the major monetary policy challenge before the Fed. I have argued repeatedly that (i) it is more than 50 percent likely that we will have a recession in the next 3 years. (ii) countering recessions requires 400 or 500 basis points of monetary easing. (iii) we are very unlikely to have anything like that much room for easing when the next recession comes. ... [explains in detail] ...
On balance, I think the Fed’s complacency about its current toolbox is unwarranted. If I am wrong in either exaggerating the risks of recession or understating the efficacy of policy, the costs of taking out insurance against a recession that cannot be met with monetary policy are relatively low. If I my fears are justified, the costs of complacency could be very high. The right policy in the near term should be tilting as hard as possible against recession as argued in the first blog in this series. For the longer term the Fed will have to reconsider its broad policy approach. This will be subject of my next entry.

Fed Watch: Rate Hike Hopes Fading Fast

Tim Duy:

Rate Hike Hopes Fading Fast, by Tim Duy: The next FOMC meeting is just two weeks away. Fed hawks had hoped that this was their moment in the sun. I suspect they will need to wait another three months before their next opportunity to act. Signs of a second half rebound are likely too tentative for the doves to tolerate a rate hike. I don't think they will roll over as easily as they did last December.
The August employment report was not terrible. Not by any measure. On the positive side, labor supply is reacting to both demographic changes and stronger demand:

NfpD

The demographic shift - essentially, the aging of the Millennials toward their prime age working years - is I believe a powerful secular force supporting the economy. That said, the Fed needs to ensure cyclical forces do not undermine the economy. And that is where the story becomes tricky. Is the economy slowing sufficiently on its own that the Fed should refrain from rate hikes? Or is the slowing still insufficient to quell the inflationary pressures Fed hawks in particular believe to be building?
On first take, the slowing in payroll growth is modest:

NfpG

And arguably sufficient to place additional downward pressure on the unemployment rate. Cleveland Federal Reserve President Loretta Mester recently repeated this view, which is widely held within the FOMC. Via Reuters:
Mester, a voting member on the Fed's policy-setting committee, had earlier in the day told a philanthropy conference that the U.S. economy probably needs to generate between 75,000 and 150,000 jobs per month to keep the jobless rate stable.
Hiring has been stronger than that this year and the U.S. jobless rate is currently at 4.9 percent.
"The economy is basically at full employment," Mester said.
This "full employment" view is also evident in the Fed's estimate of the natural rate of unemployment:

NfpF

This, not inflation directly, seems to be driving Fed hawks toward a rate hike. See former Federal Reserve President Narayana Kocherlakota here. It is the perceived threat of inflation, not the actual, realized threat of inflation.
Fed hawks will also point toward wage growth as evidence of tighter labor markets that foreshadows inflationary pressures:

NfpE

Fed doves, however, will not be without their own interpretation of the data. The flattening of the unemployment rate could indicate supply side pessimism on the part of the hawks. That is the positive story that still fits with a no hike scenario. A more negative story is that the flat unemployment rate is consistent with late cycle patterns:

Change

Similarly, progress toward reducing underemployment has stalled noticeably, leaving underemployment at very high levels:

NfpC

Perhaps the household data is picking up a degree of slowing not yet evident in the establishment data? And on the establishment side, temporary help services payrolls are holding in a late cycle pattern as well:

NfpH

As far as wages are concerned, Fed doves will say that wage growth is still anemic in comparison with past cycles and - they should add - that wages are a lagging indicator. The Fed should be paying much more attention to forward indicators. And those forward indicators remain tentative at best. The hawks' basic case is not just that the economy is at full employment, but that a second half rebound will send it beyond full employment. And while consumer spending supports the second half rebound story:

Persinc

the ISM reports draw that into question. Today's service sector report was particularly disconcerting with weakness across the board - the sharp drop in new orders should give FOMC members reason for caution. Doves will thus say the Fed can't count their chickens before they hatch. And this is especially important given that the Fed continues to miss its inflation target, and a misstep at this juncture with overly tight policy will basically guarantee they miss it for the next five years as well.
Indeed, while Fed hawks such as Vice Chair Stanley Fischer and Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren see progress toward the inflation goals, Peter Olson and David Wessel, writing in the WSJ, conclude:
The inflation rate is higher now than it was in 2015. But over the course of 2016 we’ve seen no apparent progress toward the 2% inflation target. If anything, the inflation rate in January was closer to the Fed’s goal than in July. So it’s increasingly difficult for Fed officials to rely on current inflation numbers as a justification for raising rates. Higher inflation might be just around the corner, but we haven’t seen it yet.
I agree. The "progress" that Fischer and Rosengren point to occurred early in the year, mostly in January. Recent trends have been less promising.

Prices

The hawks "inflation is here" story is not particularly compelling. Indeed, I would say it borders on disingenuous. Moreover, I suspect the inflation numbers will prompt strong opposition to a rate hike this month. Recall from the recent minutes:
A couple of members preferred also to wait for more evidence that inflation would rise to 2 percent on a sustained basis.
I suspect these two members were Governors Lael Brainard and Daniel Tarrullo. My guess is that neither will roll over on a rate hike as they did last December; I think they probably question the wisdom of the outcome of that meeting. Furthermore, I think they pull Governor Powell and ultimately New York Fed President William Dudley to their side. St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard is ambivalent about when the next 25bp hike occurs; in his framework, the Fed is already within spitting distance of the correct policy stance. He won't push for a hike. And I suspect that Chair Janet Yellen will thus ultimately see too little consensus to support a rate hike.
Bottom Line: Despite being near the consensus view of full employment, incoming data on the second half remains too tentative to support a rate hike this month. This is especially the case given lost momentum in the labor market, particularly with regards to underemployment, and the weak inflation numbers. Hence I do not anticipate a rate hike in September. Why might I be wrong? Aside from just being wrong on the Fed's likely interpretation of the incoming data, perhaps because I have underestimated the Fed's perception that the risks are not really asymmetric - that they have all the tools they need to fight the next recession even if they are at the zero bound - or that the Fed views financial stability concerns as trumping the inflation outlook.