Robin Harding

Andrew Levin, a Fed staffer who worked extensively on Janet Yellen’s communication reforms when she was vice-chair, sets out a set of principles for central bank communications in a paper at today’s Hoover central banking conference.

He calls for press conferences after every Fed meeting and a quarterly, Bank of England-style monetary policy report. Mr Levin is currently at the IMF but this a direction many Fed officials want to go.

Here are Mr Levin’s principles, with my highlights in bold, and comments in italic: Read more

Robin Harding

The most newsy point from NY Fed president William Dudley’s speech today was his call for a change in exit strategy, urging the central bank to reinvest in its mortgage portfolio. But there was a lot more going on in the speech: Mr Dudley put a dovish spin on the Fed’s inflation target. He said bank regulation may be driving down neutral interest rates, and he put markets on notice that how they price bonds will decide how the Fed changes interest rates.

(1) Inflation is coming

Mr Dudley’s tone on inflation was different to the isn’t-it-worringly-low type of remarks that Fed officials have tended to make recently. Instead, he expects inflation to head upwards, and seemed to be testing arguments for why Fed policy should not react.

“With respect to the outlook for prices, I think that inflation will drift upwards over the next year, getting closer to the FOMC’s 2 percent objective for the personal consumption expenditure deflator . . . That said, I see little prospect of inflation climbing sharply over the next year or two. There still are considerable margins of excess capacity available in the economy—especially in the labor market—that should moderate price pressures.”

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Robin Harding

The Fed is locked into bad equilibrium where it is forced to change policy gradually, because that is what markets expect, which in turn means policy works better with gradual changes.

That is the possibility outgoing Fed governor Jeremy Stein has raised in a speech on Tuesday evening. Read more

Robin Harding

This table is the Fed’s response to researchers who say that only short-term unemployment puts downward pressure on inflation. It comes from a newly published research paper by Michael Kiley, a senior economist on the Fed staff. Read more

Robin Harding

An independent review of the IMF’s economic forecasts out today basically gives the Fund a clean bill of health, but finds that when making big lending programmes, its initial forecasts tend to be optimistic on growth and pessimistic on budget deficits. Read more

Robin Harding

I think people are confusing two separate questions in the recent debate about wage rises and spare capacity in the US economy: first, the amount of slack left in the labour market, and second, whether the Fed should deliberately try to overshoot its inflation objective of 2 per cent.

The extent of slack Read more

Robin Harding

There could be serious financial turmoil when the Fed eventually raises interest rates, even without a lot of leverage in the financial system, according to this year’s paper at the US Monetary Policy Forum in New York. If the analysis is correct then it is an argument against very easy monetary policy – but the paper is quite limited.

(The USMPF, organised by the Chicago Booth business school, is a once-a-year event where a group of market economists present a paper to a gathering of Fed pooh-bahs. The authors this year are Michael Feroli of JP Morgan, Anil Kashyap of Chicago Booth, Kermit Schoenholtz of NYU Stern and Hyun Song Shin of Princeton.) Read more

Robin Harding

After the Reserve Bank of India’s Raghuram Rajan took the Fed and other developed country central banks to task this week for ignoring turmoil in emerging markets, Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Fed, gave the standard retort on Friday. He said the US central bank must make policy according to what is best for America.

Doing so means the only reason the Fed would change its monetary policy is if trouble in emerging markets had a direct effect on the US. There are two main channels – exports and financial markets – but neither looks likely to hurt the US unless the EM turmoil gets a lot more severe. Thus while the Fed may make a greater show of consultation, and soak up some flak at the G20, its actions this year are unlikely to change. Read more

Robin Harding

A quick update as the hoopla builds ahead of today’s Fed decision.

Will they taper?

Based on reporting ahead of the blackout period I put the odds of a taper at roughly 50 per cent for December and 50 per cent for January. We’ve been reporting since October that a December taper was still on the agenda so this shouldn’t be regarded as a sudden or unconsidered development.

Since the blackout started there has been a succession of strong data on retail sales, industrial production and homebuilder confidence. We have also had a budget deal. Therefore, I think the chances of a taper today are more than 50 per cent.

It is hard to call this too confidently, however, because the case for waiting is so easy. Read more

Robin Harding

I have written masses about the upcoming FOMC meeting, the upshot of which is that a small taper is likely on Wednesday, but not guaranteed because of uncertainty about the growth outlook (and the prospect of an imminent budget crisis). What I want to do here is proceed on the assumption that the Fed tapers and discuss how it might do so. NB: this is analysis based on insight into how the Fed works. If someone had told me exactly what was going to happen it would be on the front page of the paper.

(A) Designing a taper

The first thing to note is that the FOMC did the hard part in June when it set out a tapering scenario that would see asset purchases end in the summer of 2014 with an unemployment rate of about 7 per cent. That scenario explains why there is uncertainty about tapering in September: with the main parameters already decided, the details of September’s decision do not matter that much, so if individual FOMC officials are passionate about a particular point they may be able to influence the outcome. Read more

Robin Harding

For the last three years, there has been no breakfast for journalists on the opening day of Jackson Hole, while we write up a dramatic, market-moving speech by Ben Bernanke. It’s a more sedate start this year with a thoroughly wonkish paper by Stanford’s Robert Hall.

There is not much new in it on policy. It starts with a fairly straightforward rundown on why the economy got into such a mess when interest rates hit zero after the financial crisis, and it ends by agreeing with last year’s paper by Michael Woodford on what to do with monetary policy (QE doesn’t work, you need commitments about future policy, not just guidance).

The meat of Mr Hall’s paper is about why inflation did not fall much after the crisis despite high levels of unemployment. This has been a surprise during the last few years: unemployment has not driven down wages in a way that led to deflation. Read more

Robin Harding

The market thinks the June jobs report is taperific and that looks basically correct: at this pace of payrolls growth a September slowing of QE3 seems likely. But there are enough complications to make the market reaction – 10-year Treasury yield up eighteen basis points at 2.68 per cent – look over the top. Read more

Robin Harding

When the Fed began its third round of quantitative easing last autumn, the most recent jobs report in hand was for August, which showed an unemployment rate of 8.1 per cent. Today the unemployment rate is 7.6 per cent. The Fed said it would keep buying assets, currently at a pace of $85bn-a-month, until there is a “substantial improvement” in the “outlook for the labour market”. The question is whether the current data meet that condition or at least bring it close enough that the Fed can start to taper its purchases.

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Robin Harding

(1) There is no need to panic. After the purchasing managers’ index for manufacturing came in below 50 on Monday there was some cause to worry about the health of the economy – but the rise in the services PMI, from 53.1 in April to 53.7, suggests that consumer demand is still there.

Implications of US May ISM Non-Manufacturing (KAUC6001) Read more

Robin Harding

The current FOMC meeting, which starts today and concludes tomorrow without a Ben Bernanke press conference, is unlikely to produce much news. Steady movement towards a taper of the $85bn, QE3 programme of asset purchases has been checked by a run of bad economic data since March.

I get no sense that much has changed in the thinking of most FOMC officials. There is still a fair bit of confidence that the underlying state of the economy has improved (see, for example, the comments of Boston Fed president Eric Rosengren). The main effect of weak payrolls and the sequester is to increase uncertainty about the trajectory of the economy. That encourages the status quo – and open-ended QE means the default is continued purchases. Read more

Robin Harding

We leaned heavily on the idea that sequestration is slowing the growth of the US economy in our write-up of Q1 GDP. The immediate reason to do so is the composition of growth.

Federal defence spending knocked 0.65 percentage points off total growth. Without that, the headline figure would have been an annualised 3.2 per cent instead of 2.5 per cent, bang in line with expectations. Read more

Robin Harding

Here below is the full statement from Carmen Reinhart & Kenneth Rogoff giving an initial response to criticisms of their work: Read more

Robin Harding

The Boston Fed’s annual economic conference has opened with a paper on labour force participation, presented by two senior Federal Reserve Board economists Christopher Erceg and Andrew Levin, that has pretty dovish implications for monetary policy.

Like most other research on this subject, they find that the big decline in labour force participation since 2007 is mainly cyclical, not structural. More interestingly, they split the “employment gap” — the gap between current employment and maximum possible employment — into an “unemployment gap” and a “participation gap”.

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Robin Harding

Goldman Sachs is still the Fed’s favourite counterparty for buying and selling Treasuries – or at least it was in the first quarter of 2011. The data comes out two years in arrears and we are now at the period when $600bn of QE2 purchases were in progress.

Goldman got twice as much of that business as anybody else, which is mildly embarrassing for the New York Fed, but reflects the pecking order in the Treasury market. If you know what happened to Citi’s business during that period then please explain in comments. Read more

Robin Harding

Today’s speech by Janet Yellen is a mirror of Ben Bernanke last week when it comes to the costs and risks of continued asset purchases. “At this stage, I do not see any [risks] that would cause me to advocate a curtailment of our purchase program,” she says.

Where Ms Yellen, the Fed vice chair, breaks some new ground is on the definition of a “substantial improvement” in the labour market.

A reminder: the Fed says it will keep on buying assets, currently at a pace of $85bn a month, until it gets that substantial improvement. Ms Yellen sets out five measures which basically form a Fed dashboard for the labour market. Here they are: Read more