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 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

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

The declines in the prices of bonds and many risk assets since the Fed’s policy announcements last week have followed a sharp rise in the market’s expected path for US short rates in 2014 and 2015. This seems to have come as surprise to some Fed officials, who thought that their decision to taper the speed of balance sheet expansion in the next 12 months, subject to certain economic conditions, would be seen as entirely separate from their thinking on the path for short rates. Events in the past week have shown that this separation between the balance sheet and short rates has not yet been accepted by the markets.

The FOMC under Chairman Bernanke has worked very hard on its forward policy guidance, so there is probably some frustration that the markets have “misunderstood” the Fed’s intentions. Richard Fisher, the President of the Dallas Fed, said that “big money does organise itself somewhat like feral hogs”, suggesting that markets were deliberately trying to “break the Fed” by creating enough market turbulence to force the FOMC to continue its asset purchases. 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

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

By Gavyn Davies

The macroeconomic debate is now buzzing about “political dominance” over the central banks, under which elected politicians force central bankers to take actions they would not choose to take, if left to their own devices [1]. This is clearly what is happening in Japan, where the incoming Shinzo Abe government is not only imposing a new inflation target on the Bank of Japan (which is legitimate), but is changing the leadership of the central bank to ensure that the BoJ adopts policies compliant with the fiscal regime. This is not just political dominance, it is fiscal dominance, where monetary policy is subordinated to the decisions of those who set budgetary policy.

There have also been some early signs of political or fiscal dominance emerging elsewhere, notably in the use of the ECB balance sheet to finance cross-border financial support operations in the eurozone, and the “coupon raid” conducted by the UK Treasury on the Bank of England. Many investors have concluded that there is now an inevitable trend in place that will overthrow central bank independence throughout the developed world, allowing politicians to expand fiscal policy, while simultaneously inflating away the burden of public debt.

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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

IMF data to include Australian dollars. Getty

It is often forgotten that central banks are major players in global capital markets. At the last count, monetary authorities held reserves worth $10.5tn, according to International Monetary Fund data.

Most of this stockpile is thought to be invested in “safe” assets, such as government bonds of highly-rated sovereigns and gold. But, while some of the more open monetary authorities, such as the Swiss National Bank, provide some information about the currency composition of their reserves and asset allocation, most of the big reserves holders, located in Asia, don’t.

Not a lot is known about what’s held in central banks’ coffers. This matters because changes in central bank reserve managers’ behaviour can endanger financial stabilityRead 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

Robin Harding

The FOMC meeting now under way – concluding with a statement at lunchtime tomorrow, Thursday September 13, followed by a Ben Bernanke press conference – could well produce the most important Fed move since the 2008-09 crisis. Here is what I expect.

Will the Fed launch QE3?

There is an excellent chance that the Fed will both extend its forecast of low interest rates into 2015 and launch a new round of asset purchases.

Fed communications point emphatically in that direction. Read more

Robin Harding

The fourth paper at Jackson Hole, by Princeton economists Markus Brunnermeier and Yuliy Sannikov, is about the redistributive effects of monetary policy — although I think that will mislead people as to its content.

It is not a paper about how low interest rates and QE redistribute wealth from savers to consumers. Instead, it is a paper about how a crisis damages banks and how monetary policy may be able to mitigate some of the negative effects by redistributing wealth to recapitalise them. Read more

Robin Harding

Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, has replied to a series of questions from Congressman Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The answers are mostly pretty unrevealing — a large percentage of them simply cite the Fed’s mandate — but if you share concerns about excess bank reserves, QE as a tax on savers, or exiting from easy monetary policy then Mr Bernanke’s responses are hereRead more