Federal Reserve

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.”

 Read more

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

Claire Jones

For those who have followed the scrap between Raghuram Rajan, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and his counterparts at the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve on the ill-effects of Fed tapering, Benoît Cœuré’s thoughtful speech today is worth a read.

In Mr Rajan’s view, the way the Fed conducts its monetary policy is irresponsible. The US central bank acts merely on the basis of national interest, with scant regard for the ramifications of mass dollar printing in a world where the dollar remains the dominant reserve currency.

These attacks have usually been parried with remarks that central banks such as the Fed (and, given its role as issuer of the only other real reserve currency, the ECB) have little choice but to act within the national interest given the scope of their mandates. From Mr Coeure’s boss Mario Draghi earlier this year:

Draghi: Mr Rajan is really an excellent economist. What one would have to demonstrate to speak of selfishness is the following. One would have to show that monetary policy actions within the United States, the ECB and so on were decided for reasons other than for the sake of the mandate and that, as a result, they were harmful to other countries. As I said, the priority for all of us is compliance with our mandate, which for us is maintaining price stability and for the Federal Reserve Board is the dual mandate.

Mr Cœuré’s speech is interesting as, while he does not go so far as to side with Mr Rajan, he is not so intellectually dishonest as to say that all is fine with the pre-crisis orthodoxy. In short, this said that if everyone just sticks to their inflation targeting mandate and flexible exchange rates everything will be just great. Read more

Claire Jones

Forward guidance is central banking’s latest fad. Since the nadir of the crisis, all four of the major central banks have adopted their own version of it.

But is this fashion for keeps? That depends on whether the policy works.

Guidance involves saying what you’re going to do, before doing it. This, central banks hope, will temper markets’ uncertainty about what happens to interest rates.

Whether it works or not, then, depends on how much markets trust policy makers to do what they say they’re going to do. If investors think policy makers are lying, or central banks lose credibility by reneging on their pledges, then the guidance could harm reputations for a long time to come.

So does it work? According to a paper, published by the Bank for International Settlements today, it does. Well, sort of.

Yet the research also flags that if forward guidance does succeed, it could end up doing more harm than good. 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

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