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
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
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”.
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
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
All markets want from Ben Bernanke when he testifies before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday is reassurance that he is not getting cold feet about the Fed’s open-ended, $85bn-a-month, QE3 programme of asset purchases. That follows minutes which, while notably vague, showed “many” participants worrying about QE3′s costs and risks.
They are likely to get that reassurance — although maybe not in the most straightforward manner. It is important to note that, when Mr Bernanke testifies, he is speaking for the committee and not for himself. This is the statutory language: Read more
The paper at this year’s US Monetary Policy Forum – where market economists get to present to central bankers – is called “Crunch Time: Fiscal Crisis and the Role of Monetary Policy“. It shows a new wrinkle on US fiscal problems: if there is any kind of debt sustainability crisis it could make the Fed’s exit from easy monetary policy a whole lot more painful.
This is the money chart. Black is the baseline for Fed profit and loss in the coming years. Red is what happens if a fiscal crunch pushes up long-term bond yields (and hence causes losses for the Fed on its portfolio). Read more
The minutes of the Fed’s January meeting do not suggest that QE3 is about to stop – indeed they reaffirm ongoing asset purchases – but they do make it hard to believe that buying at a pace of $85bn a month really is open-ended.
Compared with the December minutes, which had people wanting to continue QE3 until the end of 2013 or stop well before then, January reads like a deliberate attempt to be less clear about when asset purchases will end. The December discussion came from voting members, January is just participants; December referred to dates, January does not. Read more
To understand Ben Bernanke, it helps to set aside the ubiquitous pictures of today’s 59-year-old: the controlled beard, the pristine shirts, the worn-down weary look. Instead, search for a snap of the freshly minted graduate who gazes from the pages of the 1975 Harvard yearbook. Unlike the other young men pictured alongside him, Mr Bernanke sports no tie and no blazer. He has a loud checked shirt, long hair and a tremendous, rebellious handlebar moustache.
The moustache may be gone, but the US Federal Reserve chairman remains a rebel – and the world is better off for it. The Financial Times has already crowned its man of the year: Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president. But my pick for silver medal is Mr Bernanke. The fact that he is sometimes pilloried only underlines his fortitude. Read more
One topic the Federal Open Market Committee is likely to discuss this week is replacing its forecast of low rates “at least through mid-2015″ with some sort of economic conditions. The idea here is pretty well known by now: rates stay low until unemployment falls below x per cent as long as inflation remains below y per cent.
As I understand the state of play, pretty much everyone on the FOMC prefers this approach to the mid-2015 date, and discussion is well advanced. The challenge is to find a good formulation for x and y that everyone can agree on. My guess is there may be some kind of staff proposal at this FOMC meeting, but more likely one for comment by the committee, rather than one ready to act on.
Choosing x and y is tricky. Here are some thoughts on how the Fed may approach it. Read more