federal reserve

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.

 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.”

 Read more

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

 Read more

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