FOMC

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.”

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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 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

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

Bernanke testimony

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke faces Congress next week for the central bank’s twice-yearly Monetary Policy Report to the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Will Mr Bernanke offer any clues that the launch of QE3 is imminent? This from the FT’s US economics editor Robin Harding: Read more

Robin Harding

There’s lots to learn from the June 2012 FOMC minutes although all the attention, as you’d expect, is on parsing the chances of QE3. I’ll do a bit of that below but here are some other points of interest:

I read the minutes as showing a fairly high chance of QE3 if the economy remains weak. Some evidence for that view: 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

Joint action?

Hopes for joint central bank action mounted on Friday ahead of Sunday’s Greek election. Will the central banks deliver?  Read more

Robin Harding

The most obvious problem with the Fed’s interest rate forecasts, discussed here yesterday, is their dissonance with the FOMC statement’s forecast of exceptionally low interest rates “at least through late 2014″.

The median participant (9th of 17) thinks rates should be 1 per cent at the end of 2014 and the median voter (5th or 6th of 10) must think they should be a minimum of 0.5 per cent. The statement is a committee decision and it can reasonably be different from the median individual view. It is still confusing, though, and weakens the credibility of the statement when they look so different.

The Fed is looking at a wide range of options to tweak communications further. Some would resolve the issues with this chart – for example Mr Bernanke acknowledged the idea of identifying who made each individual forecast – while others address the broader and more important question of giving information on the Fed’s reaction function.

Here, though, are a few ways to address the simple confusion caused by the voter/non-voter divide in the rate forecast chart.  Read more

Robin Harding

There’s probably nothing that would annoy Ben Bernanke more than being caught in a logical inconsistency over some aspect of monetary policy. At the Fed’s press conference today, he vigorously defended himself against Paul Krugman’s charge that the Fed’s recent actions are inconsistent with his academic views on Japan fifteen years ago.

The Fed’s interest rate forecasts, however, are getting the bank into a real bind: Read more

Robin Harding

The FOMC meets for a two-day meeting on the 24th & 25th of April, with a decision expected as usual at 12.30pm, followed by a press conference at 2.15pm.

What to expect

Not a lot. If there are any substantive moves, I would expect them to be changes in the communications framework, rather than to existing parameters of monetary policy. 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

FOMC/ BoJ votes

The big events next week are the Federal Open Market Committee and Bank of Japan policy votes.

The FOMC decision, due out Wednesday afternoon DC time, is not expected to see further quantitative easing announced. However, the FT’s Gavyn Davies says this does not necessarily mean we’ve seen the last of QE from the Fed: Read more

Robin Harding

I have a piece in today’s paper previewing what promises to be a quiet Federal Open Market Committee meeting this month.

In particular, talk that the FOMC is now studying a programme of “sterilised” quantitative easing is, in my view, incorrect. I think the current FOMC discussion looks more like this: Read more

Robin Harding

Kevin Brady, Texas Republican and vice-chair of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, will introduce a bill to reform the Fed later this week. The bill, called the “Sound Dollar Act”, would among other things:

  • Give the Fed a single mandate for inflation and require it to monitor gold and other asset prices in defining price stability.
  • Give a permanent FOMC vote to all twelve regional Fed presidents (versus four in rotation — plus the New York Fed president — at present).
  • Require publication of Fed meeting transcripts after three years (versus the current five).
  • Require the Fed to report on the impact of its policies on the dollar.
  • Limit the Fed’s ability to hold assets other than Treasuries and repos outside of a board-declared emergency.

 Read more

Claire Jones

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

Bernanke testimony

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is due to speak on the economic outlook and federal budget situation on Thursday. He’s up in front of the House Committee on the Budget at 10.00 local time (15.00 GMT) on Thursday. Read more

Robin Harding

The new FOMC interest rate forecasts will be released today with the Fed’s Summary of Economic Projections at 2pm. A lot of the commentary suggests that the forecasts of the first rate rise will be heavily clustered in 2014. These are illustrative examples from Credit Suisse: Read more


Ben Bernanke has been very focused on the Fed’s “communications strategy” for several years now, and has patiently pushed the FOMC in his desired direction during a series of detailed discussions. Now it seems that he has reached his destination, and will reveal all (or almost all) in his press conference after the FOMC meeting which begins on Tuesday. Always a fan of explicit inflation targets, the chairman seems finally to have won agreement from colleagues on establishing a formal objective for core inflation of about 2 per cent, though the FOMC will also need to keep Congress happy by talking about its long term unemployment objectives as well. More unconventionally, each member of the FOMC will also publish for the first time their projections for the Fed funds rate extending to 2016.

What is the motivation behind these changes? Mr Bernanke has normally justified such steps in terms of stabilising expectations about the Fed’s genuine intentions, especially on inflation and the forward path for interest rates. At a time when the extension of the balance sheet is causing political difficulties for the Fed, and when inflation expectations could become unhinged by the rapid expansion of the monetary base, the chairman is looking for alternative ways of easing monetary conditions without printing more money. Modern macro-economics suggests that operating on expectations is one of the most powerful tools available to him, though he is using it much more cautiously than many economists would like to see.

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Claire Jones

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

FOMC meeting

The Federal Open Market Committee meets on Tuesday and Wednesday to set monetary policy for the coming month and a half.

The meeting – to be followed by one of chairman Ben Bernanke’s press conferences – could see the FOMC announce an inflation target. This from the FT’s US economics editor Robin Harding: Read more

Robin Harding

On a call with reporters this morning to discuss his new paper “Death of a Theory” (about which more later), James Bullard, president of the St Louis Fed, made some helpful comments about the new rate projections that the Fed will publish at its next meeting. I quoted him in support of rate forecasts in February last year which was well ahead of the game. Today he said: Read more

Robin Harding

Today’s announcement that the FOMC will publish interest rate forecasts from its January meeting is a small surprise. It seemed unlikely there would be time to settle anything at the December meeting; on the other hand, the minutes before a two-day meeting were always a likely time to announce such a move, because it give markets time to prepare for what they’re getting in a few weeks time.

The December minutes are full of clues on the trade-offs that the Fed made in its decision.

(1) The FOMC decided on publishing the existing forecasts of “appropriate” monetary policy made by each committee member. This is not as simple as it seems and was clearly the subject of some debate. Read more