Category Archive for: Monetary Policy [Return to Main]

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

This Expansion Will End in a Fizzle, Not a Bang

Tim Duy:

This Expansion Will End in a Fizzle, Not a Bang: The Fed is growing increasingly concerned that this expansion will end like the last two, with a collapse in asset prices that brings down the economy. That concern will lead the central bank down the path of excessive tightening. Worse, that logic misses a key point. In both of the last two cycles, there was a sizable imbalance in the economy that extended beyond financial assets themselves. So far, the current environment lacks such an imbalance. That suggests the expansion ends with more of a fizzle than a bang. ...[Continued at Bloomberg Prophets]...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Fed Watch: June Employment Report Recap

Tim Duy:

June Employment Report Recap, by Tim Duy: A generally upbeat June 2017 employment report supports the Fed's case for additional monetary tightening, most likely in the form of balance sheet action in September followed up by a 25bp rate hike in December. Moreover, the solid pace of job growth will encourage the Fed to maintain 2018 policy projections as well. Although the unemployment rate ticked up, ongoing job growth at this pace will eventually push it back down. Weak wage growth continues to restrain the Fed from accelerating the pace of easing; the tepid pace of wage gains suggests the Fed's estimates of full employment remain too high.
Nonfarm payrolls rose by 22sk in June, above expectations. Moreover, both April and May were revised higher. The three month and twelve month paces are just below 200k. Job growth continues to slow, but the rate of decline is very shallow:

Nfp1

Looking into the future, temporary help payrolls continues to climb after the transitory slowdown in 2015:

Nfp2

This typically indicates sustained broad job growth in future months. Further evidence of a solid job market is visible in the accelerating of aggregate hours worked:

Nfp3

Payroll growth remains above the roughly 100k the Fed believes is necessary to hold the unemployment rate constant once demographic impacts outweigh cyclical impacts on labor force growth. For June, however, the unemployment rate ticked up on the back of higher labor force participation:

Nfp5

Still, the Fed won't take much relief in the gain. For all intents and purposes, labor force participation has been move sideways since 2014:

Nfp4

The monthly variance so far has been just noise.
Despite low unemployment, wage growth remains anemic:

Nfp6

One would have expected a pickup in wage growth if the economy were indeed operating substantially beyond full employment. This gives the Fed something to think about in the latter half of this year - they don't want to choke out growth too quickly if the natural rate of unemployment is in fact much lower than current estimates. Still, concern that wage growth will soon spike if their estimates are correct encourage most Fed policymakers to keep their foot gently on the brake. 
Bottom Line: Even as weak wage growth couples with soft inflation to raise a bit of caution among central bankers, the overall tenor of the labor markets remains sufficient for the Fed to maintain its tightening bias. They really need softer job numbers to thrown in the towel on their expected policy path for 2017 and 2018.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Fed Watch: Employment Report Coming Up

Tim Duy:

Employment Report Coming Up, by Tim Duy: The BLS will release the June employment report tomorrow. Wall Street is looking for an NFP gain of 170k. That sounds about right to me:

Nfp0717

There may be an upside surprise if the May number was low due to new college graduates not yet on the payroll during the survey week. 
The Fed believes this pace of job growth would be consistent with further downward pressure on the unemployment rate, keeping them stuck between concerns they will overheat the economy by undershooting the natural rate of unemployment and that pesky low inflation number. With that in mind, Wall Street anticipates the unemployment rate holds steady at 4.3%, which would likely only provide temporary relief for the Fed. They would be more willing to slow the pace of rate hikes if the unemployment rate held steady and the pace of job growth slowed to something closer to 100k per month. If that happens by the end of the year and inflation remains tepid, I anticipate the Fed would pull back on rate hike expectations for 2018.
That said, my baseline expectation is that economic growth proves sufficient to place further downward pressure on unemployment, leaving the Fed stuck in their current conundrum. 
Last but not least, the Fed will be carefully watching measures of wage growth. Wage growth softened in recent months, suggesting that the goal of full employment remains elusive. That said, some of that weakness might be the delayed impact of flattening unemployment in 2016. Hence, the impact of lower unemployment this year on unemployment might still lie ahead. Firming to accelerating wage growth would signal to the Fed that the economy is indeed at full employment as many policymakers suspect. Such confirmation would enable them to dig in their heels on expected rate hikes.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Forward Guidance Paradox

Alex Haberis, Richard Harrison and Matt Waldron at Bank Underground:

The Forward Guidance Paradox: In textbook models of monetary policy, a promise to hold interest rates lower in the future has very powerful effects on economic activity and inflation today. This result relies on: a) a strong link between expected future policy rates and current activity; b) a belief that the policymaker will make good on the promise. We draw on analysis from our Staff Working Paper and show that there is a tension between (a) and (b) that creates a paradox: the stronger the expectations channel, the less likely it is that people will believe the promise in the first place. As a result, forward guidance promises in these models are much less powerful than standard analysis suggests. ...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fed's Labor Market Forecasts Don't Make Sense

Tim Duy:

Fed's Labor Market Forecasts Don't Make Sense, by Tim Duy: The Federal Reserve’s unemployment forecast doesn’t add up. It is neither consistent with the median of policy makers’ growth forecasts nor consistent with Chair Janet Yellen’s description of labor market strength. Hence, central bankers will likely find unemployment undershooting their forecast in the second half of 2017. That will keep the central bank in a hawkish mood even if lackluster inflation continues. ...Continued at Bloomberg Prophets...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Does the Fed Have a Financial Stability Mandate?

From the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond:

Does the Fed Have a Financial Stability Mandate?, by Renee Haltom and John A. Weinberg, FRB Richmond: The 2007–08 financial crisis and the Fed's unprecedented response raised new questions about the Fed's role in maintaining the stability of the U.S. financial system.
Central banks have a natural role in financial stability for several reasons. First, monetary policy affects financial conditions in ways that can contribute to either stability or instability; erratic policy or volatile inflation could be destabilizing, for instance. Second, they obtain and develop insights useful for financial stability policy through the course of their other functions. Third, financial conditions are among the broad set of factors considered by central banks in assessing the state of the economy and the appropriate stance of monetary policy.
But for many central banks, the full scope of what they're expected to do in support of financial stability — the extent to which they have an explicit or implicit financial stability mandate — is ambiguous. This is important because a central bank's policy actions and its responses to developments in the economy and financial markets are shaped by its understanding of its mandate. So the nature of the mandate matters for economic outcomes, market expectations (the ex ante "rules of the game"), and accountability.
One reason this issue is inherently challenging is that there is no single definition of "financial stability." Most recent discussions focus on banking crises like the 2007–08 financial crisis, which tend to feature failures of large or many financial institutions, cascading losses, and government interventions. But central banks also have played a role in other types of financial market disturbances, for example, sharp asset price declines (like the Fed's liquidity assurances after the 1987 stock market crash), sovereign debt crises (like the European Central Bank's role in the recent eurozone crisis), and currency crises (like the Fed's role in Mexico's 1994 bailout).
This challenge is clear in the breadth of a definition for financial stability offered in the latest Purposes and Functions publication from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System: "A financial system is considered stable when financial institutions — banks, savings and loans, and other financial product and service providers — and financial markets are able to provide households, communities, and businesses with the resources, services, and products they need to invest, grow, and participate in a well-functioning economy." The publication further states that a financial system ought to have the ability to do so "even in an otherwise stressed economic environment."1
This Economic Brief takes a descriptive look at the Fed's role in financial stability, including how that role has changed over time, and raises some fundamental questions. ...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

New Evidence for a Lower New Normal in Interest Rates

This is an FRBSF Economic Letter by Jens H.E. Christensen and Glenn D. Rudebusch:

New Evidence for a Lower New Normal in Interest Rates: The general level of U.S. interest rates has gradually fallen over the past few decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, lower inflation expectations played a key role in this decline. But more recently, actual inflation as well as survey-based measures of longer-run inflation expectations have both stabilized close to 2%. Therefore, some researchers have argued that the decline in interest rates since 2000 reflects a variety of persistent economic factors other than inflation. These longer-run real factors—such as slower productivity growth and an aging population—affect global saving and investment and can push down yields by lowering the steady-state level of the short-term inflation-adjusted interest rate (Bauer and Rudebusch 2016 and Williams 2016). This normal real rate is often called the equilibrium or natural or neutral rate of interest—or simply “r-star.”
However, other observers have dismissed the evidence for a new lower equilibrium real rate and downplayed the role of persistent factors. They argue that yields have been held down recently by temporary factors such as the headwinds from credit deleveraging in the aftermath of the financial crisis. So far, this ongoing debate about a possible lower new normal for interest rates has focused on estimates drawn from macroeconomic models and data. In this Economic Letter, we describe new analysis that uses financial models and data to provide an alternative perspective (see Christensen and Rudebusch 2017). This analysis uses a dynamic model of the term structure of interest rates that is estimated on prices of U.S. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS). The resulting finance-based measure provides new evidence that the equilibrium interest rate has gradually declined over the past two decades.
Macro-based estimates of the equilibrium interest rate
The issue of whether there has been a persistent shift in the equilibrium interest rate is quite important. For investors, this short-term real rate of return that would prevail in the absence of transitory disturbances serves as a key foundation for valuing financial assets. For policymakers and researchers, the equilibrium interest rate provides a neutral benchmark to calibrate the stance of monetary policy: Monetary policy is expansionary if the short-term real interest rate lies below the equilibrium rate and contractionary if it lies above. Therefore, determining a good estimate of the equilibrium real rate has been at the center of recent policy debates (Nechio and Rudebusch 2016 and Williams 2017).
Given the significance of the equilibrium interest rate, many researchers have used macroeconomic models and data to try to pin it down. As Laubach and Williams (2016, p. 57) define it, the equilibrium interest rate is based on “a ‘longer-run’ perspective, in that it refers to the level of the real interest rate expected to prevail, say, five to 10 years in the future, after the economy has emerged from any cyclical fluctuations and is expanding at its trend rate.” Laubach and Williams (2003, 2016) estimate this equilibrium interest rate using a simple macroeconomic model and data on a nominal short-term interest rate, consumer price inflation, and the output gap. Similarly, Johannsen and Mertens (2016) and Lubik and Matthes (2015) provide closely related estimates also by using macroeconomic models and data.
The blue line in Figure 1 summarizes the results of these three fairly similar studies. It shows the average of their three estimated equilibrium real interest rates, which smooths across specific modeling assumptions in each study. In the 1980s and 1990s, this simple macro-based summary measure remained around 2½%. This effectively constant equilibrium interest rate is consistent with the conventional wisdom of that time. It is only in the late 1990s that a decided downtrend begins, and the macro-based measure falls to almost zero by the end of the sample.

Figure 1
Estimates of the equilibrium real interest rate
2017-17-1.FRBSF-EL

However, the various macro-based approaches for identifying a new lower equilibrium interest rate have several potential shortcomings. First, these estimates depend on having the correct specification of the complete model, including the output and inflation dynamics. One difficulty in this regard is how to account for the period after the Great Recession when nominal interest rates were constrained by the zero lower bound. During that episode, the link between interest rates and other elements in the economy was altered in ways that are difficult to model. Finally, these estimates use extensively revised macroeconomic data to create historical equilibrium interest rate estimates that would not have been available in real time.
A new finance-based estimate of the equilibrium interest rate
Given the possible limitations of the macro-based estimates, we turn to financial models and data to provide a complementary estimate of the equilibrium interest rate. As detailed in Christensen and Rudebusch (2017), we use the market prices of TIPS, which have coupon and principal payments adjusted for changes in the consumer price index (CPI). These securities compensate investors for the erosion of purchasing power due to price inflation, so they provide a fairly direct reading on real interest rates. We assume that the longer-term expectations embedded in TIPS prices reflect financial market participants’ views about the steady state of the economy including the equilibrium interest rate. Unlike the macro-based estimates, one advantage of this market-based measure is that it can be obtained in real time at a high frequency—even daily. In addition, it doesn’t depend on an uncertain specification of the dynamics of output and inflation. Furthermore, because real TIPS yields are not subject to a lower bound, we avoid complications associated with zero nominal interest rates altogether.
Our analysis focuses on a term structure model that is based only on the prices of TIPS. This choice contrasts with previous TIPS research that has jointly modeled inflation-indexed and standard nominal U.S. Treasury yields (for example, Christensen, Lopez, and Rudebusch 2010). Such joint specifications can also be used to estimate the steady-state real rate—though earlier work has emphasized only the measurement of inflation expectations and risk. However, a joint specification requires additional modeling structure—including specifying an inflation risk premium and inflation expectations. The greater number of modeling elements—along with the requirement that this more elaborate structure remain stable over the sample—raise the risk of model misspecification, which can contaminate estimates of the equilibrium interest rate. By relying solely on TIPS yields, we avoid these complications as well as problems associated with the lower bound on nominal rates.
Still, the use of TIPS for measuring the steady-state short-term real interest rate poses its own empirical challenges. One difficulty is that inflation-indexed bond prices include a real term premium. In addition, despite the fairly large amount of outstanding TIPS, these securities face appreciable liquidity risk resulting in wider bid-ask spreads than nominal Treasury bonds. To estimate the equilibrium rate of interest from TIPS in the presence of liquidity and real term premiums, we use an arbitrage-free dynamic term structure model of real yields augmented with a liquidity risk factor as described in Andreasen, Christensen, and Riddell (2017). The identification of the liquidity risk factor comes from its unique loading for each individual TIPS. This loading assumes that, over time, an increasing proportion of any bond’s outstanding inventory is locked up in buy-and-hold investors’ portfolios. Given forward-looking investor behavior, this lock-up effect implies that a particular bond’s sensitivity to the market-wide liquidity factor will vary depending on how seasoned the bond is and how close to maturity it is. Our analysis uses prices of the individual TIPS rather than the more usual input of yields from fitted synthetic curves. By observing prices from a cross section of TIPS that have different age characteristics, we can identify the liquidity factor. With estimates of both the liquidity premium and real term premium, we calculate the equilibrium interest rate as the average expected real short rate over a five-year period starting five years ahead.
Our finance-based estimate of the natural rate of interest is shown as the green line in Figure 1. These estimates are adjusted slightly upward to account for a persistent 0.23 percentage point measurement bias in CPI inflation. The model uses data back to the late 1990s around the time when the TIPS program was launched. Fortuitously, TIPS were introduced about the same time as the macro-based estimates started to decline, so the available sample is particularly relevant for discerning shifts in the equilibrium real rate. During their shared sample, the macro- and finance-based estimates exhibit a similar general trend—starting from just above 2% in the late 1990s and ending the sample near zero. Most importantly, both methodologies imply that the equilibrium rate is currently near its historical low. The finance- and macro-based estimates of the equilibrium rate rely on different assumptions about the structure of the economy and different data sources. Thus, they have different pros and cons, so their broad agreement about the level of the equilibrium rate is mutually reinforcing.
There are differences between the precise trajectories over time of the two estimates. The macro-based estimate of the natural rate shows only a modest decline from the late 1990s until the financial crisis and the start of the Great Recession. Then, it drops precipitously to less than 1% and edges only slightly lower thereafter. Arguably, the timing of the macro-based path leaves open the possibility that the recession played a key role in causing the decline in the equilibrium rate. This suggests that the drop could be at least partly reversed by a cyclical boom. In contrast, the finance-based estimate falls in the early 2000s, levels off a bit above 1%, and then declines more in 2012. Therefore, the drop in the finance-based estimate does not coincide with the Great Recession, which is consistent with more secular drivers such as demographics or a productivity slowdown.
Finally, we should note that the model dynamics of fluctuations in the equilibrium rate are estimated to be very persistent. Thus, looking ahead, our model also suggests that the natural rate is more likely than not to remain near its current low for at least the next several years.
Conclusion
Given the historic downtrend in yields in recent decades, many researchers have investigated the factors pushing down the steady-state level of the short-term real interest rate. To complement earlier empirical work based on macroeconomic models and data, we estimate the equilibrium real rate using only prices of inflation-indexed bonds. From 1998 to the end of 2016, we estimate that the equilibrium real rate fell from just over 2% to just above zero. Accordingly, our results show that about half of the 4 percentage point decline in longer-term Treasury yields during this period represents a reduction in the natural rate of interest.
Jens H.E. Christensen is a research advisor in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Glenn D. Rudebusch is senior policy advisor and executive vice president in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
References
Andreasen, Martin M., Jens H.E. Christensen, and Simon Riddell. 2017. “The TIPS Liquidity Premium.” FRB San Francisco Working Paper 2017-11.
Bauer, Michael D., and Glenn D. Rudebusch. 2016. “Why Are Long-Term Interest Rates So Low?” FRBSF Economic Letter 2016-36 (December 5).
Christensen, Jens H.E., Jose A. Lopez, and Glenn D. Rudebusch. 2010. “Inflation Expectations and Risk Premiums in an Arbitrage-Free Model of Nominal and Real Bond Yields.” Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking 42(6), pp. 143–178.
Christensen, Jens H.E., and Glenn D. Rudebusch. 2017. “A New Normal for Interest Rates? Evidence from Inflation-Indexed Debt.” FRB San Francisco Working Paper 2017-07.
Johannsen, Benjamin K., and Elmar Mertens. 2016. “The Expected Real Interest Rate in the Long Run: Time Series Evidence with the Effective Lower Bound.” FEDS Notes, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, February 9.
Laubach, Thomas, and John C. Williams. 2003. “Measuring the Natural Rate of Interest.” Review of Economics and Statistics 85(4, November), pp. 1,063–1,070.
Laubach, Thomas, and John C. Williams. 2016. “Measuring the Natural Rate of Interest Redux.” Business Economics 51(2), pp. 57–67.
Lubik, Thomas, and Christian Matthes. 2015. “Calculating the Natural Rate of Interest: A Comparison of Two Alternative Approaches.” FRB Richmond Economic Brief 15-10 (October 15).
Nechio, Fernanda, and Glenn D. Rudebusch. 2016. “Has the Fed Fallen behind the Curve This Year?” FRBSF Economic Letter 2016-33 (November 7).
Williams, John C. 2016. “Monetary Policy in a Low R-star World.” FRBSF Economic Letter 2016-23 (August 15).
Williams, John C. 2017. “Three Questions on R-star.” FRBSF Economic Letter 2017-05 (February 21).

Opinions expressed in FRBSF Economic Letter do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Janet Yellen Is Her Own Best Successor

Narayana Kocherlakota:

Janet Yellen Is Her Own Best Successor: President Donald Trump has reportedly begun the process of deciding who will lead the U.S. Federal Reserve after Janet Yellen's term ends early next year. If he wants the best outcome for the economy, he can't do better than Janet Yellen. ...
Yellen's policies have contributed to a surprisingly strong labor market recovery, yet also been sufficiently cautious to keep inflation below target. Some would see this as an all-around success, though the Fed's caution does have a downside: Markets appear to believe that the central bank is unwilling or unable to hit its inflation target with consistency. ... If it persists, this loss of credibility means that the Fed will have less ammunition to fight the next recession.  
So could any of the other potential appointees do better? ...
Warsh, Taylor, and Hubbard all reportedly see Yellen’s Fed as having been too dovish, suggesting that that they would have done less to support the economic recovery. This approach would have led to higher unemployment and lower inflation -- an inferior fulfilment of the Fed's dual mandate that marks them as worse candidates than Yellen.  It's also important to remember that Taylor and Warsh argued publicly against additional monetary stimulus in November 2010, when the unemployment rate was almost 10 percent and the inflation rate had fallen nearly to 1 percent. Their concerns about excessive inflation proved to be completely unjustified. Yellen, by contrast, supported stimulus.
Yellen has a proven track record that's hard to beat. ... The president should reappoint her to the position of Fed chair.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

FOMC Ahead

Tim Duy:

The recent inflation data doesn't exactly support the Federal Reserve’s monetary tightening plans. Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues will surely take note of the weakness at this week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting, but they will downplay any such concerns as transitory. At the moment, low unemployment remains the focus. Add to that loosening financial conditions and you get a central bank that is more likely than not to stay the course on its plan to hike interest rates. [...Continued at Bloomberg Prophets...]

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Fed Watch: Fed Just Sort Of Confident About Full Employment

Tim Duy:

Fed Just Sort Of Confident About Full Employment, by Tim Duy: Over at Project Syndicate, Brad DeLong takes issue with Fed policy decisions. Importantly, he identifies, correctly, that the Fed's forecasting record in recent years has been less than optimal. Much less. The repeated optimism that inflation will soon revert to target is a most significant problem for a central bank with a formal inflation target. On this point the Fed has faced disappointment time and time again.
Brad is correct in his summary that the Fed needs to reassess its forecasting methodology to ensure that it is not biased toward high inflation forecasts. That said, I believe the issue is not quite as severe as Brad believes. In particular, I think this may be a bit unfair:
The FOMC’s blind spot stems from the fact that it is relying more on its assessment of the labor market, which it considers to be at or above “full employment,” than on noisy month-to-month inflation data. But “full employment” is a rather tenuous and unreliable construct. It has now been 20 years since economists Douglas Staiger, James Stock, and Mark Watson showed that Fed policymakers should not be so confident in estimates of “full employment.” And yet, for some reason, the Fed community has not let this essential message sink in.
I think there is actually quite a bit of uncertainty among Fed officials about the exact level of full employment. To be sure, policymakers repeatedly argue that they believe they are near full employment. But first, take that into context of changing estimates of full employment:

Full

Clearly policymakers are willing to change their minds as new information becomes available.
Second, if they were fairly inflexible regarding their estimates of full employment and the implications for inflation, they would have raised rates after unemployment fell to 6.5% - the threshold for maintaining zero rates under the Evans Rule.
Third, and probably most importantly, if they clung to a strict confidence in their estimates of full employment, they would have long ago abandoned their gradual approach to raising interest rates. As of now, the unemployment rate at 4.3% is a full 0.4 percentage points below the median estimate of the longer run unemployment rate and below the 4.5-5.0% range of estimates of that measure. Moreover, job growth remains strong enough to drive the unemployment rate further down. So if they were very confident of their estimates of full employment, Fed officials would be much more concerned that they had already fallen behind the inflation curve. They would be raising rates at every meeting, not just an expected three times this year. They wouldn't be dragging their heels on raising interest rates back to their estimate of neutral. They would be racing to do so.
The unemployment rate in May stood 0.5 percentage points below the January level. At this pace, the rate will fall below 4% by the end of this year. That is not unreasonable at this point. Yet policymakers largely continue to expect just two more rate hike this year - which I find incredibly patient given that I doubt there is any FOMC participant who believes that inflation can remain contained if the unemployment rate holds consistently below 4%.
Fourth, recall the conclusion of Federal Reserve Governors Lael Brainard's recent speech:
While that remains my baseline expectation, I will be watching carefully for any signs that progress toward our inflation objective is slowing. With a low neutral real rate, achieving our symmetric inflation target is more important than ever in order to preserve some room for conventional policy to buffer adverse developments in the economy. If the soft inflation data persist, that would be concerning and, ultimately, could lead me to reassess the appropriate path of policy.
I take this at face value - the Fed will likely reduce the path of expected rate hikes if inflation does not firm in the next few months.
Finally, I understand the hesitancy to raise rates in the face of low inflation. I too have an innate desire to hold back policy until we see the "whites in the eyes" of the inflation beast. But I also understand the position of policymakers - the uncertainty cuts both ways. There is a chance that the Phillips curve is nonlinear and the economy is close to an inflection point. And if that inflection point hits, they don't have confidence they can easily slow the economy without triggering a recession. So, from their perspective, restraining the economy a notch now may maximize the net present value of output if it prevents a recession later.
Bottom Line: The Fed's gradual, data-dependent path is almost perfectly designed to make no one happy. Too slow for some, too fast for others. Perhaps that means it is more right than wrong after all.

Ben Bernanke Interview

One part of a long interview of Ben Bernanke:

... Jim Tankersley: But you don’t think, particularly in those first moments of the crisis when Fed officials and Treasury officials were trying to work together to stop the bleeding, there weren’t more things that could have been done for homeowners, for folks who were just those underwater people that you mentioned in the very beginning of your answer.
Ben Bernanke: Again, I focused first on what the Fed could do. The Fed has a certain set of tools. We were successful in stabilizing the financial system after the crisis. We were successful in getting the economy back on a recovery track, as we’ve seen. Now the specific example you give is homeowners — that was the responsibility of the Treasury, although we were very interested in that at the Fed; we had many conversations with the Treasury about what they were doing.
I think the Treasury made a pretty serious effort on that front. There was money appropriated under the TARP to help homeowners, and the Treasury set up programs both to help people refinance their mortgages and to modify or restructure troubled mortgages. And some millions of people were helped by those programs.
My perceptions of that effort, though, speaking from someone who was outside of that policy effort, was that there were two big sets of constraints. One was that it’s just a lot harder than you think to, for example, to modify or restructure mortgages when the borrower is possibly unemployed, possibly not interested in talking to the bank or participating in a program. It was awfully difficult as a practical manner to manage the restructuring programs.
But the other part was that, people don’t remember this necessarily, it was actually very politically unpopular to help troubled homeowners. And Congress put lots of restrictions on what could be done, and tried to make sure there wasn’t any significant subsidy, for example. So within the inherent logistical difficulties, which were substantial, and the political constraints from Congress, the Treasury was hampered, I think, in its efforts. It did make, I think, a good-faith effort, and it did help millions of people.
Again, whether a bigger effort would’ve had more effect on the recovery, I’m not sure that it was a first-order issue. It certainly would’ve helped a lot of individual people, a lot of families. From the political point of view, it cuts both ways. The story is that the Tea Party was triggered not by anger necessarily at the financial players, but at the idea that the government would be helping people who had “overborrowed” or been irresponsible in taking out mortgages. ...

Monday, June 05, 2017

Anxious About the Economy?

Tim Duy:

Anxious About the Economy?, by Tim Duy: The current U.S. economic expansion is one of the longest on record. The longer it lasts, the more likely growth will become tepid and uneven, raising angst about its sustainability. See the May employment report, with its disappointing 138,000 gain in payrolls, downward revisions to previous months, and soft wage growth. Yet, at the same time, the unemployment rate fell to the lowest level since 2001. Anxiety is elevated with speculation that the Trump administration's pro-growth, fiscal stimulus plans are on the ropes. ...
Continue reading at Bloomberg Prophets...

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Fed Watch: Brainard, Powell, Employment Report Ahead

Tim Duy:

Brainard, Powell, Employment Report Ahead, by Tim Duy: Federal Reserve policymakers are turning a cautious eye to the inflation numbers, but for now believe special factors account for much of the weakness. Consequently, they remain more focused on the labor market in their policy deliberations. For now, that implies they will resist changing their expectations of further tightening this year as the US jobs market continues to hold strong. Tomorrow we should see more evidence of that strength.
Inflation continues to come in below expectations. The latest PCE inflation report, for example, was better than March but still anemic:

Corepce617

This weakness has not gone unnoticed on Constitution Ave, but Fed officials are not ready to call it quits on the expected path of monetary policy. Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said earlier this week:
Even so, I see some tension between signs that the economy is in the neighborhood of full employment and indications that the tentative progress we had seen on inflation may be slowing. If the tension between the progress on employment and the lack of progress on inflation persists, it may lead me to reassess the expected path of the federal funds rate in the future, although it is premature to make that call today.
Her colleague Governor Jerome Powell appears less concerned:
Core inflation was 1.5 percent for the 12 months through April. This measure has also risen since 2015, although its gradual increase appears to have paused because of weak inflation readings for March and April. Some of the recent weakness can be explained by transitory factors. And there are good reasons to expect that inflation will resume its gradual rise.
On the other side of the country, San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams repeats the same:
Meanwhile, although inflation has been running somewhat below the Fed’s goal of 2 percent, with the economy doing well and some of the factors that have held inflation down waning, I expect we’ll reach that goal by next year.
The tendency to dismiss weak inflation numbers will continue as long as unemployment plumbs fresh lows for this cycle. Central bankers believe they are in the range of full employment, and don't want to risk being too far below their estimates of the neutral interest rate when inflation finally does take hold a bit more aggressively.
But will unemployment continue to push lower? The labor market appears to maintain considerable momentum. Initial claims remain low, ADP anticipates private sector job growth for May at 253k, and the ISM employment index picked up. See Calculated Risk for the rundown. Wall Street anticipates job growth of 185k for May within a range of 140k to 231k. My expectation is just on the north side of the consensus number: Nfp617
This should be enough job growth to maintain downward pressure on unemployment; as the economy matures, the Fed anticipates a requirement of only roughly 100k jobs per months to hold unemployment steady. A number closer to 200k will leave them concerned that sooner or later inflation will eventually emerge and they need to be ahead of that emergence not behind.
Two more interesting points on this from Powell. First, he thinks that labor force participation is near trend levels:
The labor force participation rate, which had declined sharply after the crisis, has now been roughly stable for 3-1/2 years, which represents an improvement against its estimated downward trend. Participation is now close to estimates of its trend level.
This implies that he anticipates need to slow job growth sooner than later to avoid excessive undershooting of the unemployment rate. Second, he see wages growth as just about right after accounting for productivity:
Wage data have gradually moved up, consistent with a tightening labor market. Although average hourly earnings are rising only about 2.5 percent per year, slower than before the crisis, much of that downshift may reflect the slowdown in productivity growth we have experienced. For example, over the past three years, unit labor costs--that is, nominal wages adjusted for increases in productivity--have been generally rising a bit faster than prices.
If productivity growth is 50bp lower than just prior to the recession, then real wages are close to target:

Realwages617

So, assuming the Fed maintains its assumptions regarding productivity growth, we don't need to see much faster wage growth for policymakers to become more convinced the economy is near full employment. Another point to remember when analyzing the labor report.
Bottom Line: The Fed's focus remains on the labor market. Hence, they remain focused on two rate hikes and balance sheet action still to come this year. One of those rate hikes will come this month. If sustained, weak inflation will eventually push them to rethink the path of policy. But the impact of those changes might fall more on 2018 than on 2017.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Phillips Curve: A Primer

Cecchetti & Schoenholtz:

The Phillips Curve: A Primer: Economists have debated the relationship between inflation and unemployment at least since A.W. Phillips’s study of U.K. data from 1861 to 1957 was published 60 years ago. The idea that a tight or slack labor market should result in faster or slower wage gains seems like a natural corollary to standard economic thinking about how prices respond to deviations of demand from supply. But, over the years, disputes about this Phillips curve relationship have been and remain fierce.
As the U.S. labor market tightens, and unemployment approaches levels we have not seen in more than 15 years, the question is whether inflation is going to make a comeback. More broadly, how useful is the Phillips curve as a guide for Federal Reserve policymakers who wish to achieve a 2-percent inflation target over the long run?
To anticipate our conclusion, despite evidence of a negative relationship between wage inflation and unemployment, central banks ought not rely on a stable Phillips curve for setting monetary policy. ...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fed Watch: Fed Not Ready To Change Course

Tim Duy:

Fed Not Ready To Change Course, by Tim Duy: The minutes of the May Federal Reserve meeting reveal central bankers remained poised to raise interest rates again in June:
With respect to the economic outlook and its implications for monetary policy, members agreed that the slowing in growth during the first quarter was likely to be transitory and continued to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity would expand at a moderate pace, labor market conditions would strengthen somewhat further, and inflation would stabilize around 2 percent over the medium term…
…Members generally judged that it would be prudent to await additional evidence indicating that the recent slowing in the pace of economic activity had been transitory before taking another step in removing accommodation.
With incoming data brighter and suggesting that the first quarter slowdown was indeed temporary, a June rate hike looks more certain than not. But why are they even contemplating raising rates at all given recent inflation numbers? And how long can the Fed stick with its current rate hike trajectory with inflation persistently below their 2 percent target?
The Fed finds itself stuck in a conundrum of low inflation despite low unemployment. One interpretation of this situation is that it is not a conundrum at all. The Fed’s estimates of the natural rate of unemployment are too high, and hence unemployment isn’t really all that low.
The other interpretation is with unemployment low and projected to be lower, it is only a matter of time before the inflation shoe drops. As noted in the Fed minutes:
Labor market conditions strengthened further in recent months. At 4.5 percent, the unemployment rate had reached or fallen below levels that participants judged likely to be normal over the longer run. Increases in nonfarm payroll employment averaged almost 180,000 per month during the first quarter, a pace that, if maintained, would be expected to result in further increases in labor utilization over time.
This is the potential outcome that keeps Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues gently resting their feet on the brakes.
To compare inflation-unemployment dynamics during the last three tightening cycles, I use here the estimate of the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU) produced by the Congressional Budget Office and core Personal Consumption Expenditures inflation. I assume for consistency that the Fed has a 2 percent inflation target throughout this period, but that is technically true only since 2012. 
Consider the late 1990s. The high productivity growth and rising dollar environment kept downward pressure on inflation even as unemployment fell as low as 3.8 percent:

FedMandate1

Will history repeat itself? Should the Fed take the chance that history will repeat itself? There are risks to such a strategy. Inflation eventually did take hold, accelerating in 2001:

FedMandate2

The return of inflation spooked the Fed enough that they hiked rates 50 basis points in May 2000, the last hike of the cycle. In retrospective that final hike was too much, too late and helped set the stage (or at least worsen) for the 2001 recession. One lesson learned: Even in a favorable macroeconomic environment, there are limits to how low the Fed can let unemployment fall.
Contrast this with the next hiking cycle, initiated by former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and concluded by his successor Ben Bernanke. The post-2001 economy saw stagnant to falling productivity and a weaker dollar. It also experienced higher inflation with a smaller unemployment gap:

FedMandate3

Greenspan had the best of both worlds, whereas Bernanke arguably had the worst. But the lesson learned was again that unemployment cannot be reduced indefinitely without triggering higher inflation, and once the Fed allowed unemployment to fall too low, reversing course was very difficult and likely to conclude in recession. It is no wonder then that current Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen repeats the concern that:
…waiting too long to remove accommodation would be unwise, potentially requiring the FOMC to eventually raise rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting financial markets and pushing the economy into recession.
This time around, the Fed faces low productivity but a generally stronger dollar. And the unemployment-inflation dynamic is splitting the difference between the past two tightening cycles:

FedMandate4

Stuck in the middle, so to speak. Will the economy face a positive productivity shock that further reduces inflationary pressures? Or will the dollar continue its recent slide with the opposite impact on inflation? Will low unemployment finally start to kindle an inflationary fire? Or is the estimate of the natural rate of unemployment still too high? Interestingly, the minutes suggest that the majority of central bankers expect it more likely than not that these dynamics play out in such a way that the Fed needs to steepen the path of tightening:
Several participants, however, pointed to conditions under which the Committee might need to consider a somewhat more rapid removal of monetary accommodation--for instance, if the unemployment rate fell appreciably further than currently projected, if wages increased more rapidly than expected, or if highly stimulative fiscal policy changes were to be enacted. In contrast, a couple of others judged that the Committee could withdraw monetary accommodation even more gradually than reflected in the medians of forecasts in the March Summary of Economic Projections, noting that slack might remain in the labor market or that inflation was not very sensitive to declines in the unemployment rate below its estimated longer-run normal level.
The Fed, it seems, is biased toward more tightening not less - a situation that doesn't seem tenable if inflation remains persistently low as the year drags on.
Bottom Line: The bar to scaling back the Fed’s plans appears fairly high and requires either a more evident slowdown in growth that is likely to stabilize the unemployment rate or a substantial downward revision of NAIRU estimates. Until then, policymakers look committed to the middle ground of gradual removal of accommodation.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Inflation Isn't Cooperating With the Fed

Tim Duy:

Inflation Isn't Cooperating With the Fed: The Federal Reserve can’t catch a break on the inflation numbers, which are simply not helping in its drive to normalize monetary policy.
Monetary policy makers have three possible responses to the weak inflation data. First, they can define down the extent of an acceptable miss on their target. Second, they can dismiss the numbers as transitory and focus instead on full employment. Third, they can rethink their estimates of full employment and the subsequent implications for the path of interest rates... Continue reading at Bloomberg Prophets...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Fed Watch: Can't Keep A Good Economy Down

Tim Duy:

Can't Keep A Good Economy Down, by Time Duy: Call it the revenge of the hard data. Industrial production popped in April while the number of sectors contracting fell sharply:

IpA517

Manufacturing itself enjoyed a healthy monthly gain:

IpB517

One point to watch is the improvement in automobile assemblies:

IpC517

Given tepid auto sales, this may add to inventories and ultimately place downward pressure on car prices.
Housing starts remained solid in April:

Stats517

To be sure, the volatile multi-family component slid, but I think that should not be unexpected. Apartment construction bounced backed more quickly after the recession and I suspect has peaked. More of the action should now be in the single family component, which continues to gain traction. Given under-building in many markets, there seems to be plenty of room for continued growth in that sector.
From last week, retail sales growth continues, albeit as a lackluster pace:

Retail517

Nothing to write home about, either good or bad.
Altogether incoming data adds up to some healthy growth expectations for the first quarter. The Atlanta Fed GDPNow tracker is looking for 4.1 percent growth in the second quarter. Still, I don't think the US economy is really posting such numbers any more than I believe first quarter growth was 0.7 percent. Take the average of the two and you get 2.4 percent, which is probably closer to reality.
This all clears the way for the Fed to hike rates again in June. But going forward, inflation remains a sticking point:

CPIApril

Either inflation is headed higher or the economy has more slack than the Fed believes. We will be seeing how that story plays out in the second half of this year.

The Fed Is Making a $2 Trillion Mistake

Narayana Kocherlakota:

The Fed Is Making a $2 Trillion Mistake: Sometime later this year or early in 2018, the U.S. Federal Reserve intends to embark on an unprecedented maneuver: Reducing the vast bond holdings that it has accumulated in its efforts to support the economy over the past decade. I think this is a mistake, in both concept and implementation. ...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Will Falling Unemployment Pressure The Fed?

Tim Duy:

Will Falling Unemployment Pressure The Fed?, by Tim Duy: The unemployment rate continues to slide, hitting 4.4 percent in April. The Federal Reserve’s median forecast for joblessness -- 4.5 percent from the end of 2017 through 2019 -- has once again proved optimistic. But does this mean that Fed officials will hike their interest rate projections at the next Open Market Committee meeting? ... Continued at Bloomberg Prophets...

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Fed Is on the Right Side of Its 'Transitory' Bet

Tim Duy:

The Fed Is on the Right Side of Its 'Transitory' Bet: The Federal Reserve receives a lot of criticism for the way it conducts monetary policy, but it shouldn’t be faulted for delivering a hawkish message at last week’s policy meeting in the face of data showing a marked slowdown in first-quarter growth. The May meeting came off largely as expected, with policy makers leaving interest rates unchanged and the post-meeting statement containing a clear message that policy makers remained set on a June rate hike... Continued at Bloomberg Prophets...

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Fed Watch: Employment Day Ahead

Tim Duy:

Employment Day Ahead, by Tim Duy: Tomorrow the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the employment report for April. The Fed has their eyes set on a June rate hike on the expectation that first quarter weakness was largely temporary. The April and May employment reports will be crucial to evaluating the call. But note they do not have to be blowout reports to justify a rate hike. They just need to show solid job growth reasonably north of 100k a month. At that pace, the Fed would anticipate, in the absence of additional rate hikes, further declines in the unemployment rate and excessive inflationary pressure. I expect the April report will deliver something like that, with a bump from last month but not so much strength that it would prompt the Fed to pursue a faster pace of hikes than currently anticipated.
If you were concerned about the first quarter GDP number (you shouldn't), you should take comfort in the still low levels of initial unemployment claims:

Claims0517

The lack of any upturn is a strong indication that underlying growth remains solid (albeit "solid" is less solid that we came to expect 10 or 20 years ago). ADP estimates private sector job growth of 177k in April, which is solid but not spectacular. But the ISM non-manufacturing employment index continues to hover just above in a lackluster range. The latter pulls down my estimate of April job growth to 148k:

Nfpfor0517

This is weaker than the consensus forecast of 185k and just below the forecast range of 150k to 225k. So I am expecting something less than consensus tomorrow morning. That said, I think that an average of 150k over the next two months would likely be easily sufficient for the Fed to justify hiking rates in June. They will say that such a number remains above longer run expectations for labor force growth and thus slower job growth is eventually needed to settle the economy into a stable, noninflationary path.
Stronger numbers, particularly in the context of further declines in unemployment and/or accelerating wage growth, would certainly lock down the June hike and raise the odds of at least another in the second half of the year. But if job growth falls to a 100k or below average for the next couple of months and unemployment holds steady, the Fed will have trouble justifying further hikes, particularly if such a situation were to continue past June.
Bottom Line: As always, actual policy outcomes are data dependent. That said, expectations for this job report are generally consistent with the Fed's forecast and thus supportive of additional rate hikes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fed Watch: Autos Drag Down Industrial Production, Housing Solid

Tim Duy:

Autos Drag Down Industrial Production, Housing Solid, by Tim Duy: The Federal Reserve released March industrial production data today. Overall production was up 0.5% supported by a big jump in utilities. Despite the headline gains, it was something of a mixed message. First, the dispersion of weakness was the lowest since 2014:

Ipsector0317

It looks like with the rebound in energy prices and related production activity, the industrial side of the economy has turned a corner. On a softer note, manufacturing activity tumbled:

Ipman0317

This was fairly disappointing considering the long run of solid growth beginning in the second half of last year. Slowing motor vehicle production took a bite out of the numbers. Specifically, autos, not trucks:

Ipmotors0317

That chart makes it fairly clear that Americans prefer big vehicles to small ones. Overall motor vehicle sales are probably past their peak, and we can expect this source of weakness in industrial production to persist until sales settle into a new level. Note that motor vehicle output contributed 0.14 and 0.06 percentage points to overall growth in 2015 and 2016 respectively. That gives some sense of the magnitude of the opposite effect on growth this year - noticeable, but small.
Housing starts were below expectations, but February was revised upwards. Overall, a solid start to the year:

Starts0317

I don't see any reason to believe the uptrend in single family has broken, but multifamily is likely near cycle highs. For more on housing see Calculated Risk here and here.
Yesterday Federal Reserve Governor Stanley Fisher gave remarks on central bank communication. Of more immediate relevancy were his comments on balance sheet adjustment. Specifically, he doesn't see it as having a disruptive impact:
My tentative conclusion from market responses to the limited amount of discussion of the process of reducing the size of our balance sheet that has taken place so far is that we appear less likely to face major market disturbances now than we did in the case of the taper tantrum. But, of course, as we continue to discuss and eventually implement policies to reduce our balance sheet, we will have to continue to monitor market developments and expectations carefully.
Separately, Kansas City Federal Reserve President Esther George argued for continued rate hikes despite choppy data:
Overall, I am encouraged by the start of the normalization process and want to see it continue. Resisting the temptation to react to near-term fluctuations in the data will be necessary. Looking ahead, we should expect inflation to move up and down around 2 percent. A modest decline in inflation or an overshoot may not necessarily warrant the monetary policy normalization process to slow or accelerate. Such attempts at monetary fine-tuning can easily backfire, so a more forward looking view of inflation is needed.
And as part of that process she would like to see balance sheet reduction placed on auto pilot mode:
Balance sheet adjustments will need to be gradual and smooth, which is an approach that carries the least risk in terms of a strategy to normalize its size. Importantly, once the process begins, it should continue without reconsideration at each subsequent FOMC meeting. In other words, the process should be on autopilot and not necessarily vary with moderate movements in the economic data. To do otherwise would amount to using the balance sheet as an active tool of policy outside of periods of severe financial or economic stress, and would increase uncertainty rather than reduce it.
She also argues against deliberately overshooting the inflation rate. Her key reason is an often forgotten point. Not all goods and services have the same inflation rate, and a higher overall inflation rate may exacerbate inflation differences across the economy. Those differences would be expected to force a restructuring of the economy that could be costly. Her example is that housing costs may accelerate even faster if the Fed were to push for above target inflation:
Such concentration and persistently rising prices in one area suggests the economy is struggling to reallocate resources. For housing, it could reflect several factors such as tight lending standards faced by home builders and scarcity of skilled craftsmen needed to construct homes. I expect the market to eventually solve for, or at least adapt to, such factors. Using monetary policy however to compensate for them could easily end up hurting the population the policy is intended to help.
So count George as a "no" when it comes to any discussion of raising the Fed's inflation target.
Meanwhile, the Trump trade in bonds is reversing course; ten year yields are below 2.2 percent as I write. Also, odds of a Fed rate hike in June have fallen below 50 percent. Market participants are reasonably starting to think that the normalization process may take a bit longer than the Fed anticipates. It will be interesting to see if the Fed agrees. I expect that on average Fedspeak will stick with a fairly hawkish story as policymakers largely dismiss the choppy data of late. We will see if any of George's colleagues share her conviction that policy should not react to recent noise. I tend to think it is a small group, but I argued that Federal Reserve Chair Yellen sounded fairly complacent about the economy last week. Given that the Fed doesn't like to surprise, expect policymakers to speak out forcefully if they feel market participants just don't get it.

Monetary Policy Medicine: Large Effects from Small Doses?

An FRBSF Economic Letter from  ÒscarJordà, Moritz Schularick, and Alan M. Taylor:

Monetary Policy Medicine: Large Effects from Small Doses?: Making sure the economy operates at full employment without triggering inflation is tricky. Price stability can conflict with supporting a thriving economy. Choosing the right dose of monetary policy thus requires understanding how interest rates affect general economic activity and prices separately. Not surprisingly, few questions in economics have received as much attention.
Medical researchers consider randomized trials the gold standard in testing alternative treatments. In this Economic Letter, we adapt this approach to measure the efficacy of interest rates in achieving economic goals. Using historical economic data, we extend a traditional economic approach of controlling for domestic factors with a novel strategy that compares data from different external institutional arrangements, our randomized trials. Our findings suggest that interest rate effects may have been previously undermeasured. This has important implications now that some central banks are preparing for a sustained tightening of monetary policy after years of near-zero interest rates.
Randomized trials in practice
When the central bank raises interest rates, inflation and economic activity usually slow down—aggregate demand is being reined in. While researchers have come up with numerous theories to explain why this might happen, precisely measuring this tradeoff is considerably more difficult. Unlike the natural sciences, economics must rely on observational rather than experimental data.
Sinclair Lewis explained experimental data eloquently:
When a physician boasted of his success with this drug or that electric cabinet, Gottlieb always snorted, “Where was your control? How many cases did you have under identical conditions, and how many of them did not get the treatment?” – Arrowsmith, 1925
Central banks do not have the luxury of running such randomized experiments—they do not roll the dice when conducting monetary policy. Inflation and output reflect monetary policy as well as the factors that determined that policy to begin with. Just as umbrellas do not make it rain, if central banks cut interest rates when the economy slows it does not mean that accommodative monetary policy causes recessions.
Economists typically measure the effects of monetary policy with a variety of statistical methods that share a common thread: They control as much as possible for the information that the central bank might have used in choosing interest rates. Any remaining variation in interest rates is considered random. That is, interest rate adjustments that differ from predictions based on available information are like quasi-random experiments. We call this leftover variation in interest rates controlled variation.
The correlation of inflation and output over time with this quasi-random controlled variation in interest rates can provide a measure of the causal effect of monetary policy. For this empirical strategy to succeed, however, one has to make sure that no relevant information is left out, which is a tall order. Unobserved factors can make this type of measurement fraught, justifying the popularity of the randomized controlled trial in the sciences.
In experimental settings, random assignment into treated and control groups forms the basis of randomized controlled trials such as those described by Sinclair Lewis. While advanced economies have not randomly entered into various monetary and trade arrangements, some of these arrangements, like the euro zone, can provide a setting for an alternative type of monetary experiment. Economies that fix their exchange rate but allow capital to move freely across borders effectively relinquish control of domestic monetary policy. In such situations, monetary policy may not respond to domestic conditions and hence may produce quasi-random variation in interest rates that is less sensitive to unobserved factors.
We take advantage of this observation, extending the traditional approach of controlling for domestic factors with a novel strategy that explores what happens to economies that have historically pegged exchange rates while allowing unfettered capital movement. While the United States does not have a pegged exchange rate, we discuss direct implications for U.S. monetary policy later.
Quasi-random monetary experiments
Over the history of modern finance, advanced economies have managed exchange rate policies in a variety of ways. Sometimes they have allowed market forces to determine the exchange rate, generally called floating exchange rate regimes—or “floats” for brevity. At other times, countries we will call “pegs” have pegged the exchange rate to another currency. Examples of peg arrangements include the classical gold standard era that ended with World War I; the Bretton Woods era that began after World War II and ended around 1973; and, the European Monetary System in the 1970s up to when the euro was rolled out in 1999.
Two countries that peg the exchange rate and allow capital to move freely must have the same short-term safe interest rate. Otherwise an investor could borrow funds in one country for less than the return offered by the other without bearing any risk—a sure way to make unlimited profit. The absence of such risk-free arbitrage essentially robs local central banks of their autonomy by forcing interest rates to equalize across borders with those set by the center country’s central bank. The mechanism just described is often referred to as the trilemma in international finance (see, for example, Obstfeld, Shambaugh, and Taylor 2005).
In a recent paper (Jordà, Schularick, and Taylor 2017), we take advantage of this phenomenon to single out episodes in which interest rates fluctuated for reasons unrelated to the domestic outlook and direct decisions by the home-country central bank. We use such episodes to calculate how interest rates affect output and inflation. These episodes are our quasi-random monetary trials. We call variation in interest rates due to these episodes peg variation.
In particular, we rely on annual data for 17 advanced economies including the United States since 1870. In our sample, countries have moved in and out of exchange rate arrangements over time. We start by focusing on the sample for country-year pairs for pegs. We find that there is a difference between controls that use only observable information and those that add information on the variation in interest rates caused by the peg. This finding can improve our understanding of the effects of monetary policy.
Interest rates are a powerful lever
If using observables for the control is sufficient, the measured response of output and inflation to interest rates using either controlled variation or peg variation should be equivalent. If there are omitted factors, any differences will arise when using controlled variation. And in that case, variation due to the peg offers a more reliable guide. Just to be sure, we also include as controls information on GDP, inflation, and several other macroeconomic conditions.
Figures 1 and 2 suggest there is cause for concern when focusing on measures based on controlled-variation. Using post-World War II data, Figure 1 shows the response of inflation-adjusted GDP per capita in response to a 1 percentage point increase in short-term interest rates in year 0 calculated two different ways. The green line uses the traditional controlled variation approach, while the red line uses the peg variation approach surrounded by a gray 90% confidence band. There is a stark difference between the two approaches. In the first case, interest rates barely cause a ripple, whereas in the second, real GDP per capita is about 2% lower in year 4 than it was at the start.

Figure 1
Cumulative response of real GDP per capita

G12017-09-1

Note: Response to 1 percentage point increase in interest rates in year 0; gray shading shows 90% confidence band.

A similar picture emerges in Figure 2. The measured response of prices using controlled variation in interest rates is muted—prices are about 0.5% lower by year 4 relative to year 0. The same response calculated with peg variation is estimated to be nearly 2%. In other words, assuming a constant rate of price decline, inflation is about 0.4 percentage point per year lower.

Figure 2
Cumulative response of consumer price index level

G22017-09-2

Note: Response to 1 percentage point increase in interest rates in year 0; gray shading shows 90% confidence band.
The different paths in the figures suggest that the traditional controlled variation approach undermeasures the macroeconomic impact of changes in interest rates. One possible explanation is that interest rates follow different paths after year 0 under each type of measurement approach.
Figure 3 shows that interest rate paths clearly differ somewhat between the two approaches. Measures based on peg variation indicate that interest rates go up further in year 1 but then come down very quickly. The path using controlled variation is more persistent and would tend to have a longer-lasting effect on output and prices, which clearly contradicts the actual pattern seen in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 3
Cumulative response of short-term interest rates

G32017-09-3

Note: Response to 1 percentage point increase in interest rates in year 0; gray shading shows 90% confidence band.
Checking the reliability of the results
What else could explain the stark differences in the figures? The first thing to check is whether there are differences between peg and float economies that would make their responses to interest rates fundamentally different. Although measures of peg variation are unavailable for floats, Jordà, Schularick, and Taylor (2017) find that controlled variation measures for both pegs and floats are, in fact, very similar, so the explanation must lie elsewhere.
Peg variation may reflect spillover effects from trade channels or other mechanisms that distort measures of the response to interest rates. Jordà, Schularick, and Taylor (2017) find that, if anything, spillover effects would tend to increase the differences.
Finally, our estimates are very similar to those reported in other research, including Romer and Romer (2004) and Cloyne and Hürtgen (2016). This line of research tries to avoid the pitfalls of the controlled variation approach using staff forecast errors from the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, respectively, to identify exogenous changes in policy rates.
Conclusion
We do not have a definitive measure of how interest rates affect economic activity and inflation. However, along with other recent research, we find that interest rates have stronger effects on the macroeconomy than previously understood. Although the monetary experiments we use to calculate the response to interest rate changes rely on countries that peg—by contrast, the United States allows its exchange rate to freely float—there are good reasons to think that the U.S. economy responds to interest rate changes no differently. Our sample is made up of advanced economies that have institutional characteristics similar to the United States and whose economies respond much the same way as ours when using controlled variation. Without delving into the timing or path of monetary strategy more deeply, our research suggests that even a modest tightening cycle can have a substantial restraining effect on both inflation and economic activity.
References
Cloyne, James S., and Patrick Hürtgen. 2016. “The Macroeconomic Effects of Monetary Policy: A New Measure for the United Kingdom.” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 8(4), pp. 75–102.
Jordà, Òscar, Moritz Schularick, and Alan M. Taylor. 2017. “Large and State-Dependent Effects of Quasi-Random Monetary Experiments.” FRB San Francisco Working Paper 2017-02.
Lewis, Sinclair. 1925. Arrowsmith. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
Obstfeld, Maurice, Jay C. Shambaugh, and Alan M. Taylor. 2005. “The Trilemma in History: Tradeoffs Among Exchange Rates, Monetary Policies, and Capital Mobility.” Review of Economics and Statistics 87(3), pp. 423–438.
Romer, Christina D., and David H. Romer. 2004. “A New Measure of Monetary Shocks: Derivation and Implications.” American Economic Review 94(4), pp. 1,055–1,084.
Opinions expressed in FRBSF Economic Letter do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fed Watch: Fed Looking Forward to the Second Quarter

Tim Duy:

Fed Looking Forward to the Second Quarter, by Tim Duy: First quarter growth is likely to fall flat - at least that is the signal from numerous forecasters and the Atlanta Fed. But what does it mean for Fed policy? Probably not much for now. It will leave policymakers a little cautious as we head toward the June FOMC meeting (May seems most likely a off the table for policy action). But mostly the Fed will be watching incoming data from the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. If the data flow picks up over the next couple of months, they will likely move forward with a June hike. They seem to be in a "what, me worry?" frame of mind.
Retail sales stumbled in March, following up on a revised decline in February as well. Motor vehicle sales are partly to blame; we have likely seen the peak in car sales for this cycle and are settling into a lower pace of activity going forward. Lower gas prices and sluggish sales at building supply stores contributed to the fall as well. Stripping out the more volatile components, however, suggests a bit more stability in sales than suggested by the headline numbers:

Retailsales0317

March inflation came in lower than expected, with a surprise hit to core:

Corecpi0317

Ocular econometrics suggests the March print is something of an outlier - the first monthly decrease since 2010. A big 7 percent decline in cellular service prices played a roll, as did falling used car and apparel prices. While I anticipate a rebound in April, this kind of print will help keep the Fed's inflation forecast intact thus preventing them from stepping up the pace of tightening. Watch how this plays through to core-PCE inflation. As a reminder, that was running hot in the first two months of the year:

PCEb033117

In another sign that the Fed's inflation metrics will remain contained, the PPI for health services remained subdued in March:

Ppihealth0317

The New York Federal Reserve issued its survey of inflation expectations for February. Interesting split between the high and low numeracy groups:

Infexp0317

The low numeracy group tends to be more volatile, so I anticipate it will revert back in the next month.
How will any of this matter for the Fed? First, remember that the Fed started dismissing first quarter data at the March FOMC meeting. From the minutes:
Participants generally saw the incoming economic information as consistent, overall, with their expectations and indicated that their views about the economic outlook had changed little since the January-February FOMC meeting. Al­though GDP appeared to be expanding relatively slowly in the current quarter, that development seemed primarily to reflect temporary factors, possibly including residual seasonality.
Hence I don't think they will be surprised by a weak GDP number; they will be surprised if that weakness looks to be carrying forward into the second quarter.
Second, I think the same goes for inflation. For the moment, I think that the decline in unemployment to 4.5% will weigh more heavily on their decisions than a weak inflation number. Still, I believe that if inflation looks to be tracking below their forecasts, they will eventually reduce their estimate of the natural rate. Just not right away.
Third, I think this take on Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's talk last week from Marc Chandler is accurate:
We had detected a shift in the Fed’s stance that we characterized as looking for data to confirm the recovery to now looking for opportunities to normalize conditions. Yellen sees similarly. She said the Fed has shifted from “a post-crisis exercise of healing” to now trying to sustain the economic progress.
The Fed is not living in the crisis anymore. Policymakers no longer worry about trying to boost the pace of activity. The economy is, by their estimates, near full employment with growth is near potential growth. In this framework, a normal economy demands a more normal monetary policy. Policymakers are thinking that the expansion will be eight years old this summer with a good chance that this could turn into the longest running US economic expansion on record. They generally believe that preemptive but gradual rate hikes offer the best chance of expanding the expansion to ten years and beyond. Hence I tend to think their bias is to continue along the current policy path, which suggests they will continue to sound hawkish relative to what recent data would suggest.
Bottom Line: Fed likely to dismiss recent data as unrepresentative of underlying economic trends.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Zero Lower Bound on Interest Rates: How Should the Fed Respond?

Ben Bernanke:

...the Fed and other central banks cannot ignore the risks created by a low level of “normal” interest rates, which in turn limit the scope for interest-rate cuts. A wide-ranging discussion of alternative policy approaches would thus be welcome. Although raising the inflation target is one of the options that should be considered, that approach has significant drawbacks. Fortunately, there are promising policy options that may be able to mitigate the effects of the zero lower bound on interest rates without forcing the public to accept a permanently higher rate of inflation. Two such options (which are related, and could be combined) are price-level targeting and a “make-up” approach, under which the central bank commits to compensating for “missing” monetary ease after the economy leaves the zero lower bound.

Much more here: The zero lower bound on interest rates: How should the Fed respond? (link fixed).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How Big a Problem is the Zero Lower Bound on Interest Rates?

Ben Bernanke:

How big a problem is the zero lower bound on interest rates?: If inflation is too low or unemployment too high, the Fed normally responds by pushing down short-term interest rates to boost spending. However, the scope for rate cuts is  limited by the fact that interest rates cannot fall (much) below zero, as people always have the option of holding cash, which pays zero interest, rather than negative-yielding assets.[1] When short-term interest rates reach zero, further monetary easing becomes difficult and may require unconventional monetary policy, such as large-scale asset purchases (quantitative easing).
Before 2008, most economists viewed this zero lower bound (ZLB) on short-term interest rates as unlikely to be relevant very often and thus not a serious constraint on monetary policy. (Japan had been dealing with the ZLB for several decades but was seen as a special case.) However, in 2008 the Fed responded to the worsening economic crisis by cutting its policy rate nearly to zero, where it remained until late 2015. Although the Fed was able to further ease monetary policy after 2008 through unconventional methods, the ZLB constraint greatly complicated the Fed’s task.
How big a problem is the ZLB likely to be in the future? ...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Fed Watch: Solid Employment Report

Tim Duy:

Solid Employment Report, by Tim Duy: Labor markets were generally solid in March, with nothing by itself to dissuade the Fed from its current path. We should be watching for the Fed reaction to the decline in the unemployment rate, assuming it persists in the coming months. Could be dovish if the Fed lowers its estimate of the natural rate. Could be hawkish if they see a higher risk of undershooting the natural rate.
Nonfarm payroll growth slowed to 98k:

NfpA0317

While this was below expectations, it wasn't a surprise. My interpretation is that most analysts expected downside risk to the estimates based on cold weather in March. No reason to think the basic underlying trend of solid but slowing declining job growth.
The unemployment rate dipped to a cycle low of 4.5% and stands below the Federal Reserve's longer run unemployment projection:

NfpB0317

This will raise some eyebrows at the Federal Reserve. The median FOMC participant forecast 4.5% for December. So we are a little ahead of schedule on that. Does this mean the economy is poised to overheat? The wage numbers do not support that hypothesis:

NfpC0317

Wage growth flattened out in recent months, suggesting the economy is not yet in danger of overheating. Policymakers will be closely watching this dynamic and, more importantly, the path of inflation, between now and the next meeting. If inflation looks to be overshooting the forecast, the Fed may conclude that weak wage growth reflects low productivity rather than slack in the economy. That would be hawkish. Keep an eye on this space.
While the headline jobs growth numbers disappointed, note that the forward looking indicator temporary help payrolls remains on an uptrend:

NfpD0317

In some ways this feels like 1995-96, with a temporary slowdown followed by a sustained period of solid growth.
The back-to-back declines in retail trade reflected the ongoing stress in that sector:

RetailB0317

Note too slowing wage growth in retail trade:

RetailC0317

As of the last JOLTS report, the dynamics in retail trade employment are not driven by layoffs, but by a hiring slowdown:

RetailA0317

Looks like both quits and hirings rolled over in recent months. What is interesting is that the due to the labor churn in the sector, a slowdown in hiring alone can have significant impact on the net job growth without relying on mass layoffs - at least not yet. Notice that discharges and layoffs in the sector are down from 2015. Still, the decline in the level of quits reflects employee worries about the state of the industry - they don't see it quite as easy to find a new job as they did in 2015.
One data point that doesn't seem to fit with the story of an industry in decline is the level of job openings:

RetailD0317

If the sector is experiencing a truly apocalyptic event, we would expect job openings to roll over. How will the Fed view this story? Most likely as industry specific and not indicative of the broader economy but they will attempting to gauge the resulting slack, if any, in labor markets.
Bottom Line: Employment report was in line with (diminished) expectations. Most important for monetary policy was the decline in the unemployment rate. But absent more data, the exact implication could be either dovish or hawkish. Until the fog on that issues clears, expect the Fed to stick to its story: More tightening is coming, but at a gradual pace.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fed, the Reality of Tax Cuts Reality, and Donald Trump

I have a new column:

The Fed, the Reality of Tax Cuts Reality, and Donald Trump: For many years, Republicans argued that tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves. Cutting taxes on the wealthy, according to Republicans, allows them to keep a larger share of anything new they create and this leads to new economic activity and new innovation – so much that the resulting increase in economic growth and tax revenue fully offsets the budgetary effects of the tax cuts. Everyone is better off as income “trickled down” from the top.
What actually happened is that the tax cuts had very little, if any, impact on economic growth. Deficits went up, and somehow income never trickled down – if anything, it trickled up. Today, Republicans are less likely to argue that tax cuts pay for themselves, though you still hear it, but they still insist tax cuts for the wealthy magically increase economic growth and offset much of the revenue loss.
But even in the very unlikely case that Trump’s proposed tax cuts are successful (beyond increasing the income of the wealthy which many argue is the true goal), the economic growth rates Trump has promised are unlikely to be attained. ...

Friday, April 07, 2017

Fed Watch: Fed Likely To Discount Weakness in March Employment Report

Tim Duy:

Fed Likely To Discount Weakness in March Employment Report, Tim Duy: It seems that we are conditioned for a disappointing jobs report tomorrow. Although the ADP report came in strong, we have mixed signals from the employment components of the ISM reports, with the employment index up in manufacturing but down in the much bigger service sector. In addition, weather may be a factor - did warm weather goose the January and February numbers and now we will see payback due to a cold March? I expect that the Fed will be expecting the latter. The minutes suggest they are already primed for weaker first quarter numbers to begin with:
Participants generally saw the incoming economic information as consistent, overall, with their expectations and indicated that their views about the economic outlook had changed little since the January-February FOMC meeting. Al­though GDP appeared to be expanding relatively slowly in the current quarter, that development seemed primarily to reflect temporary factors, possibly including residual seasonality.
They would probably write off a weak headline payrolls numbers as a reflection of just another temporary factor. Of course, that also means they will embrace a solid number. It's kind of a heads they win, tails you lose situation for the Fed.
Consensus is looking for 175k on the payrolls in a range of 125k to 202k. This sounds reasonable; my estimate is 190k within a wider range of 106k to 275k:

Nfpfor0317

Variance on these estimates, however, is notoriously high. My inclination is to expect the actual print to be more likely below and above 190k.
Assuming a weak read of payrolls that is written off to weather, the rest of the report is more important. The Fed maintains a laser sharp focus on signs unemployment is significantly undershooting the natural rate. Consensus expects the rate to hold at 4.7%. A drop would raise eyebrows at the Fed. An increase in the participation rate, however, would be welcome news that they can maintain a gradual pace of tightening. And wages of course will help guide them as they assess their distance from the natural rate.
Bottom Line: Unless the report is a complete disaster, I would expect the Fed is poised to look though any weakness. But that means a strong report will grab their attention.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Fed Watch: Lots To Chew On In The FOMC Minutes

Tim Duy:

Lots To Chew On In The FOMC Minutes, by Tim Duy: The minutes of the March FOMC meeting confirmed that the Fed remains poised to tighten policy further, first via raising the federal funds rate followed by action to reduce the balance sheet later in the year. It appears most likely that the Fed will see the latter as a substitute for the former. That means rate hikes would perhaps be on hold during the start of 2018 as the Fed assesses the efficacy of its actions. To be sure, however, the pace and mix of tightening remain data dependent. With the Fed in general agreement that the economy is near full employment, an uptick in either the pace of growth or inflation concerns will prompt the Fed begin murmuring about an accelerated the pace of tightening.
The Fed tackled balance sheet strategy early in the meeting. On timing, the policymakers thought thought it soon be upon us:
Provided that the economy continued to perform about as expected, most participants anticipated that gradual increases in the federal funds rate would continue and judged that a change to the Committee's reinvestment policy would likely be appropriate later this year.
Now place that prediction in the context of this discussion from the committee action portion of the minutes:
Members generally noted that the increase in the target range did not reflect changes in their assessments of the economic outlook or the appropriate path of the federal funds rate, adding that the increase was consistent with the gradual pace of removal of accommodation that was anticipated in December, when the Committee last raised the target range.
The median rate projection in March held at a total of three hikes for 2017. The Fed believes that the March rate hike was consistent with the gradual pace of policy removal as anticipated in December. Assume then that the economy continues to stay the course, holding generally in line with the Fed's forecasts. Suppose that means the current pace of tightening holds as well.
A continuation of the current pace of tightening - one action per quarter - would put rate hikes in June and September. At that point, the target range in 1.25-1.5%. That is roughly halfway to the currently anticipated neutral rate. Then the normalization of rate policy would be well underway, and then, in December, the Fed switches gears to balance sheet reduction. Later this year, as stated in the minutes.
That suggests that "gradual" means policy action once a quarter. (Remember the Fed began 2016 thinking four hikes? I think once a quarter seems about right to them.) If so, and they still intend a total of three rates hikes and balance sheet action for 2018, it implies they think, reasonably, that action on balance sheet reduction is a substitute for rate hikes. And, furthermore, that the balance sheet forecast is implicitly built into the median rate forecast. If not for having to deal with the balance sheet, I suspect the median forecast for 2017 would be 4 rate hikes.
That gets you through 2017. What about 2018? They probably have in mind that the phasing out of reinvestments could take six months, though this has not yet been decided. Back to the minutes:
An approach that phased out reinvestments was seen as reducing the risks of triggering financial market volatility or of potentially sending misleading signals about the Committee's policy intentions while only modestly slowing reductions in the Committee's securities holdings. An approach that ended reinvestments all at once, however, was generally viewed as easier to communicate while allowing for somewhat swifter normalization of the size of the balance sheet.
The Fed could go cold turkey on reinvestments, option 2, but I suspect will choose to ease into balance sheet reduction, option 1. Less chance of disrupting financial markets. That would mean policy action at the second meeting of 2018 to get reinvestment strategy on its final path, followed up quarterly rate hikes after that.
Assuming this is the schedule they have in mind, policymakers expect to tighten policy once per quarter for the next two years, trading off between rate hikes and balance sheet policy. The risk, however is that balance sheet reduction takes longer than expected, or it more disruptive than expected, thus reducing the scope for rate hikes in 2018. Time will tell on that one.
The Fed, however, could step up the pace of action. On the mandates:
Nearly all participants judged that the U.S. economy was operating at or near maximum employment. In contrast, participants held different views regarding prospects for the attainment of the Committee's inflation goal.
Inflation continues to be the sticking point. If inflationary pressures were more visible, the Fed would be acting more aggressively. Watch this space, and core-PCE inflation in particular. It picked up in January and February. If that continues into March and April, the Fed will worry that they have pushed "gradual" as far as it will go. Watching employment, however, is a bit more tricky. For now, I expect the Fed to get nervous of a significant undershoot if the unemployment rate dips much further. Persistent low inflation, however, could yield a decrease in the Fed's estimate of the natural rate of unemployment.
Finally, note this:
In their discussion of recent developments in financial markets, participants noted that financial conditions remained accommodative despite the rise in longer-term interest rates in recent months and continued to support the expansion of economic activity. Many participants discussed the implications of the rise in equity prices over the past few months, with several of them citing it as contributing to an easing of financial conditions. A few participants attributed the recent equity price appreciation to expectations for corporate tax cuts or to increased risk tolerance among investors rather than to expectations of stronger economic growth. Some participants viewed equity prices as quite high relative to standard valuation measures. It was observed that prices of other risk assets, such as emerging market stocks, high-yield corporate bonds, and commercial real estate, had also risen significantly in recent months. In contrast, prices of farmland reportedly had edged lower, in part because low commodity prices continued to weigh on farm income. Still, farmland valuations were said to remain quite high as gauged by standard benchmarks such as rent-to-price ratios.
Fed officials aren't growing nervous about just equities. They are seeing high prices across a wide range of risky assets. If it was just one asset class, they might conclude that it doesn't pose systemic risk for the US economy. Or they might conclude that macro prudential policies were sufficient to maintain financial stability. But a wide range of assets might require a more blunt tool - like higher rates. Another space to watch. Where this space gets messy is the tendency of equity prices to remain high even as the Fed tightens - a pattern which may induce the Fed to tighten much more aggressively than they should.
Bottom Line: The Fed clearly anticipates more tightening, likely at a pace of one action per quarter between interest rates and balance sheet. My interpretation of the minutes is that with the economy near full employment and assuming asset prices stay high, it wouldn't take much movement on the labor market or inflation expectations to make Fed officials sufficiently nervous that you begin to hear more about stepping up the pace of tightening.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

How Do People Find Jobs?

R. Jason Faberman, Andreas I. Mueller, Ayşegül Şahin, Rachel Schuh, and Giorgio Topa at the NY Fed's Liberty Street Economics:

How Do People Find Jobs?: Most people find themselves looking for work at some point in their adult lives. But what brings employers and job seekers together? And does searching for a new job while unemployed lead to different outcomes
 than searching while employed? Little is known about the job search process for unemployed workers. Even less is known about the search process and outcomes for currently employed workers—so‑called “on‑the‑job” search. This Liberty Street Economics post aims to shed light on these questions and to draw some conclusions for our understanding of labor market dynamics more generally.
The New York Fed has been fielding a labor market supplement to its Survey of Consumer Expectations every October since 2013. The supplement focuses on the job search process for all individuals, regardless of their employment status. The questions cover search behavior (for instance, what methods respondents used to look for jobs, the time spent searching for work, the number and type of contacts with employers, and job interviews), as well as the nature, number, and characteristics of any job offers received. Pooling together three successive waves of the survey supplement yields data on about 2,300 employed workers, 165 unemployed workers, and 430 respondents who are classified as being out of the labor force, all between eighteen and sixty-four years of age. Labor force status is defined using the Bureau of Labor Statistics definition: Specifically, individuals are classified as unemployed if they are not currently employed, actively looked for work in the last four weeks, and are available to start work within the next seven days. Workers on temporary layoff are also classified as unemployed.
How Do People Look for Jobs?
The table below describes the “extensive margin” of job search, by labor force status: That is, how many people actively searched for work in the last four weeks, regardless of how much effort they put into it. We employ various definitions to measure active search. The first definition is based on whether respondents report having used at least one job search method out of a comprehensive list of possible methods, which includes applying for jobs, looking at job postings online or elsewhere, sending out resumes, and contacting employers, employment agencies, former coworkers, or other professional contacts. The second definition focuses on those who applied to at least one job posting. The final definition is a measure based on whether respondents spent any time searching for jobs in the last seven days.

How Do People Find Jobs?

 The most surprising finding is that search is common among employed workers. Depending on the specific measure used, roughly one in five or one in four employed
 workers actively looked for work during the four weeks preceding the survey. Almost all of the unemployed actively searched—a predictable finding, given the definition of unemployment. (The only exceptions come from those on temporary layoff.) A small fraction of respondents who were not in the labor force also searched. These are respondents who searched but were not available to start work in the next seven days and were therefore classified as out of the labor force.
Let us now turn to the “intensive margin” of job search: Conditional on having actively searched, how intensively did people in our survey look for jobs? Here we employ two measures: one is a measure of hours spent searching in the last seven days; the other is the number of job applications sent out (either online or through other means) in the last four weeks. We also further distinguish the employed by their “extensive margin”—that is, by whether or not they are actively looking for work. The table below reports the results. The main finding is that unemployed job seekers search harder than the employed. On average, the unemployed spend 8.4 hours per week searching, compared with 1.2 hours for the employed, and send out 8.1 applications per month, compared with 1.2 for the employed. If we focus on employed workers actively looking for work, we find that their search effort is still only about half that of the unemployed.

How Do People Find Jobs?

 What Works?
So far, we have focused on what people do to look for work. But how effective is their search? To answer this question, we have to look at the outcomes of their efforts. Here we consider two measures, both computed over the preceding four weeks: the number of employers who contacted our respondents about a job opening, and the number of actual job offers received. We can summarize the results as follows (see the table below): First, even though unemployed workers search about seven times as hard as the employed (as illustrated in the table just above), they only generate about twice the number of offers. Thus, searching while unemployed is much less effective in generating offers than searching while on the job. Second, employed workers actively looking for work receive the greatest number of employer contacts and job offers. So, again, searching while employed seems to have the highest return in terms of generating new offers. Third, even those employed workers who are not looking for new work receive a substantial number of employer contacts and offers. This finding illustrates the importance of informal contacts and recruiting. Informal contacts can include networking at industry events; conversations with friends, present or former coworkers, or business associates; and unsolicited contacts by employers, recruiters, or headhunters.

How Do People Find Jobs?

 These results are summarized in a slightly different way in the table below. Unemployed workers make up about 7 percent of our sample. They send out 40 percent of the total applications in the sample, but receive only about 16 percent of the total offers. By comparison, those employed and actively looking for work make up about 20 percent of the sample but receive almost half of all offers. Further, the employed not looking for work receive about one‑fourth of all the offers in our sample—more than the unemployed! They also receive more than half of all the unsolicited offers in our sample. These findings again point to the importance of informal contacts and recruiting in labor market churning.

How Do People Find Jobs?

Conclusion
We have found that “on‑the‑job” search is common among employed workers, and that the job search process is more effective for currently employed workers than for the unemployed. In the paper cited as the source of our table estimates, we also show that offers received by employed workers are better than those received by the unemployed, both in terms of the wage associated with them and in terms of their nonwage benefits. This is true even after controlling for detailed worker characteristics and prior work history.
What are the broader implications of these findings for our understanding of labor market dynamics? We know that job-to-job transitions are an important component of new hires, and an important driver of wage growth in the economy. Voluntary quits (typically followed by a transition to a new job) have been described by Chair Janet Yellen as an important marker of the health of the labor market. By highlighting the importance and pervasiveness of on‑the‑job search, we have provided some evidence on the search mechanisms that underlie voluntary quits and job‑to‑job transitions. By tracking these search processes over time we can gain further insights into the likely evolution of these important labor market markers going forward.
______________
Disclaimer The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the authors.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Departing Thoughts

Federal Reserve Governor Daniel K. Tarullo: 

Departing Thoughts: Tomorrow is my last day at the Federal Reserve. So in this, my final official speech, it seems appropriate to offer a broad perspective on how financial regulation changed after the crisis. In a moment, I shall offer a few thoughts along these lines. Then I am going to address in some detail the capital requirements we have put in place, including our stress testing program. Eight years at the Federal Reserve has only reinforced my belief that strong capital requirements are central to a safe and stable financial system. It is important for the public to understand why this is so, especially at a moment when there is so much talk of changes to financial regulation. ...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Markets Are Witnessing a Yellen Fed at Its Humblest

Tim Duy at Bloomberg:

Markets Are Witnessing a Yellen Fed at Its Humblest: It finally looks like when Federal Reserve officials say markets can expect multiple interest-rate increases this year, they really mean it. Even noted dove Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans believes that another two hikes in 2017 is possible following last week's boost. Going one further, Philadelphia Federal Reserve President Patrick Harker left open the possibility of more than three total this year.
And yet the Fed has set the stage to be deep into the policy normalization process by the end of the year despite an inflation forecast that not only never cracks 2 percent but has repeatedly fallen short of its mark for years. The threat of inflation, not inflation itself, is what motivates the Fed after deciding long ago in favor of preemptive policy action to stay ahead of the curve. ...

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.