Today’s FOMC minutes suggest that the detailed record of meetings will still be interesting even after the Fed chairman has given a press conference and the best bit – the economic forecasts – have been released.
The minutes of the April meeting are notable for a detailed discussion of exit strategy. Much of this is familiar: it reaffirms the rough ordering of: (1) Stop reinvestments; (2) Change forward guidance; (3) Drain reserves; (4) Raise short-term rates; (5) Sell assets. Read more
Don Kohn, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, has just apologised for his errors in the financial crisis in front of the UK Treasury Select Committee, the equivalent of a Congressional committee.
He said he had “learnt quite a few lessons – unfortunately” from the financial crisis, including that people in markets can get excessively relaxed about risk, that risks are not distributed evenly throughout the financial system, that incentives matter even more than he thought and transparency is more important than he thought. Similar to Alan Greenspan’s mea culpa of 2008:
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self interest of organisations, specifically banks and others, was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders”.
It is early days but the Fed’s first press conference seems to have done its job: speeches by regional Fed presidents last week caused little market reaction after chairman Ben Bernanke set out a view for the FOMC on 27th April.
The sample is hardly big enough for statistical significance and recent economic data hardly supported the outspokenly hawkish views from the regional banks that often perturb markets.
But even if the press conferences do improve how the Fed communicates, and dampen the volatility of market responses, the real problem is what the Fed communicates. The Fed still does not communicate two things: (1) a clear numerical objective for policy; and (2) any idea of the monetary policy path it expects to use to get to its objective. Read more
John Williams, the new president of the San Francisco Fed, has delivered his first speech. It wasn’t a thriller but I guess his term will be long enough that he need not hurry to excite the markets.
Mr Williams stuck to mainstream Fed thinking but he did set down a few markers. He forecast that growth will bounce back to above 3 per cent for Q2, that total growth for 2011 will be about 3.25 per cent, and that unemployment will end the year at 8.5 per cent. He also sets out his preferred inflation objective of 2 per cent – putting him with the large majority of the FOMC. Read more
I’ve been thinking about what Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said in his press conference about reinvestment of maturing assets from the Fed’s portfolio.
“At some point, presumably early in our exit process, we will – I suspect based on conversations we’ve been having around the FOMC table it’s very likely that an early step would be to stop reinvesting all or a part of the securities which are maturing. But take note that that step, although a relatively modest step, does constitute a policy tightening, because it would be lowering the size of our balance sheet and therefore would be expected to essentially tighten financial conditions.”
If it is the stock of Fed assets that matters, as the Fed believes, there is no doubt that this is literally correct. Reduce the size of the balance sheet and you tighten monetary policy.
But the direct tightening would be incredibly small. I think a much more pertinent reason for Mr Bernanke’s comments is to send a signal that short-term interest rates are going to stay low and discourage the market from pricing in an earlier tightening. Read more
Rates are held, as expected, and QE2 is expected to continue till June. But all eyes will be on Bernanke for any signals of change at the new press conference (see video). For live blog commentary, see Gavyn Davies‘ real time post or his earlier thoughts.
The US lacks a “credible strategy” to stabilise its mounting public debt, posing a small but significant risk of a new global economic crisis, says the International Monetary Fund.
In an unusually stern rebuke to its largest shareholder, the IMF said the US was the only advanced economy to be increasing its underlying budget deficit in 2011, at a time when its economy was growing fast enough to reduce borrowing. The latest warning on the deficit was delivered as Barack Obama, the US president, is becoming increasingly engaged in the debate over ways to curb America’s mounting debt. Read more
There are some extremely interesting points in today’s FOMC minutes which provide more forward-looking policy signals than any others I can remember recently.
No taper of QE2
The signal here could not be more clear. The New York Fed “indicated that the greater depth and liquidity of the Treasury securities market suggested that it would not be necessary to taper purchases in this market”.
Fed officials are not persuaded that there is any monetary policy value in sending a signal through a taper so a request from the markets desk was the only remaining uncertainty on this point.
“In light of the Manager’s report, almost all meeting participants indicated that they saw no need to taper the pace of the Committee’s purchases of Treasury securities when its current program of asset purchases approaches its end.” In other words, it’s not going to happen. Read more
Chris Giles has been the economics editor of the Financial Times since 2004. Based in London, he writes about international economic trends and the British economy. Before reporting economics for the Financial Times, he wrote editorials for the paper, reported for the BBC, worked as a regulator of the broadcasting industry and undertook research for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. RSS
Michael Steen, Frankfurt bureau chief, covers the ECB and the eurozone's economies. He joined the Financial Times in 2007 as Amsterdam correspondent and later worked as a front page news editor in London. Before joining the FT, he spent nine years as a correspondent at Reuters, mostly in foreign postings that included a previous stint in Frankfurt, as well as Moscow, Kiev and central Asia. He read German and Russian at Cambridge.RSS
Robin Harding is the FT's US economics editor, based in Washington. Prior to this, he was based in Tokyo, covering the Bank of Japan and Japan's technology sector, and in London as an economics leader writer. Robin studied economics at Cambridge and has a masters in economics from Hitotsubashi University, where he was a Monbusho scholar. Before joining the FT, Robin worked in asset management and banking. RSS
Ralph Atkins, capital markets editor, has been writing for the Financial Times for more than 20 years following an economics degree from Cambridge. From 2004 to 2012, Ralph was Frankfurt bureau chief, watching the European Central Bank and eurozone economies. He has also worked in Bonn, Berlin, Jerusalem and Brussels. RSS
Claire Jones is Money Supply economics team writer, based in London. Before joining the Financial Times, she was the editor of the Central Banking journal and CentralBanking.com. Claire studied philosophy and economics at the London School of Economics. RSS