Federal Reserve

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

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

Robin Harding

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 languageRead more

Robin Harding

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

Robin Harding

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

Ingram Pinn

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

Robin Harding

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

Robin Harding

The most interesting part of Ben Bernanke’s speech today is what he says about the recession reducing potential growth in the US.

“The accumulating evidence does appear consistent with the financial crisis and the associated recession having reduced the potential growth rate of our economy somewhat during the past few years. In particular, slower growth of potential output would help explain why the unemployment rate has declined in the face of the relatively modest output gains we have seen during the recovery.”

This is quite a big evolution in Mr Bernanke’s arguments about the weakness of the recovery and why the unemployment rate has fallen faster than expected. This is from his March speech on the labour market:

“Notably, an examination of recent deviations from Okun’s law suggests that the recent decline in the unemployment rate may reflect, at least in part, a reversal of the unusually large layoffs that occurred during late 2008 and over 2009. To the extent that this reversal has been completed, further significant improvements in the unemployment rate will likely require a more-rapid expansion of production and demand from consumers and businesses, a process that can be supported by continued accommodative policies.”

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Claire Jones

Our week ahead email helps you to track the most important events in central banking. To see all of our emails and alerts visit www.ft.com/nbe

MPC/ ECB votes

Will the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee opt for more quantitative easing on Thursday? Most now think more money printing is unlikely. Read more

Robin Harding

Binyamin Applebaum at the New York Times has a good piece today about who Mitt Romney might appoint as Federal Reserve chairman and what that might mean. His analysis is similar to that of Macro Advisers, and I don’t have much to add, save that I think Glenn Hubbard or Greg Mankiw are more likely choices than John Taylor.

It is worth considering, though, how a more hawkish Fed chairman would interact with the rest of the FOMC. The seven Fed governors at present are:

Term expires Age Notes
Elizabeth Duke 2012 60
Jerome Powell 2014 59
Sarah Raskin 2016 51
Jeremy Stein 2018 52
Ben Bernanke 2020 58 Chairman until Jan 2014
Daniel Tarullo 2022 59
Janet Yellen 2024 66 Vice chair until Oct 2014

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Robin Harding

This month’s FOMC is likely to produce little visible action but there is a lot going on under the surface. The meeting starts tomorrow, Tuesday, October 23, and should conclude with a policy statement around 12.30 ET on Wednesday, the 24th.

What to expect?

Not much new. QE3 has just begun, Operation Twist 2 is ongoing, and for reasons discussed below, it is probably (although not definitely) too early for communication changes.

The FOMC may want to make slight updates to its statement noting some mildly positive economic data. It might strike a more positive tone on housing, but given that QE3 is tied to the labour market, any change to “growth in employment has been slow” is likely to be cosmetic.

Consensus forecasts

The FOMC is set to discuss consensus committee forecasts on day one. This is not as sexy as QE – it won’t move the markets – but is profoundly important to the future of the Fed. It will affect policy down the line. Read more

Claire Jones

Our week ahead email helps you to track the most important events in central banking. To see all of our emails and alerts visit www.ft.com/nbe

IMF/ World Bank meetings

Many of the world’s top central bankers will travel to Tokyo this week for the IMF/ World Bank annual meetings. The meetings take place on Friday and Saturday.

Details of the meetings and the full programme of seminars is available here. Highlights include a talk by Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, on Sunday at 11:30 a.m Tokyo time (2.30am GMT), and appearances by Fed chair Ben Bernanke and ECB president Mario Draghi at a BoJ/IMF event later in the day. Read more

Professor Michael Woodford of Columbia University is an extremely renowned macro-economist, and rightly so, but only recently has he occupied a central place in market thinking. Since his paper on US monetary policy at Jackson Hole, and the favourable remarks which Ben Bernanke made about him, everyone is trying to understand what his influence on the Fed might eventually mean.

His writing can be complex and intricate, which is in the nature of the subject, but his current policy recommendation is quite clear: the Fed should adopt a target for the level of nominal GDP which would have the effect of increasing price inflation, and inflation expectations in the period ahead, and thus reduce the real rate of interest.

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Claire Jones

Foreign exchange intervention has long had a bad reputation; it earned the beggar-thy-neighbour tag back in the 1930s. Now, even actions that aren’t explicitly aimed at influencing the exchange rate, such as the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, prompt accusations that central banks are provoking a “currency war”.

A fascinating piece of research, published by the Bank for International Settlements on Tuesday, claims this bad rep is no longer fair. Read more

Robin Harding

The favourite counterparty of the US Federal Reserve is everybody’s favourite vampire squid: Goldman Sachs. Today saw the release of transaction level data for the Fed’s Treasury dealings in the third quarter of 2010 – including the names of all of its counterparties. This is who got the business:

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Claire Jones

The Federal Reserve’s decision last week to expand its balance sheet by a potentially unlimited amount until the labour market shows some “substantial” signs of improvement has been described as “stunningly aggressive” and “a dramatic step forward“.

But Charles Evans, president for the Chicago Federal Reserve, is not satisfied. The Federal Open Market Committee’s arch-dove wants more.

Mr Evans on Tuesday again called for the rest of the FOMC to explicitly target an unemployment rate of 7 per cent and medium-term inflation of 3 per cent before ending its easing policy – so long as inflation expectations remain reasonably well anchored.

Will the bulk of the FOMC’s voters back such a so-called ‘Evans rule’? For the time being, no.

But, for the most part, Mr Evans has already got what he wants. Read more

Claire Jones

Our week ahead email helps you to track the most important events in central banking. To see all of our emails and alerts visit www.ft.com/nbe

BoE minutes

The Bank of England’s latest Monetary Policy Committee meeting minutes are out on Wednesday morning at 9.30am UK time (8.30am GMT).

Now that Adam Posen has stepped down from the committee, the most likely candidate for dissent is David Miles. However, most think Mr Miles will have resisted calling for further easing at this month’s meeting and that all of the MPC will have backed the decision to hold policy firm. This from Nomura’s Philip Rush: Read more

Claire Jones

Robin has got what he asked for. The Federal Reserve today made a dramatic step forward in its attempt to revive the US economy and for the first time announced that further asset purchases will be open-ended, meaning that the central bank won’t stop buying until economic conditions improve.

During previous rounds of QE, the Fed has committed only to buy a fixed amount of assets. Today, it pledged to expand its balance sheet by a potentially unlimited amount until the outlook for the labour market improves “substantially”. Read more