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Policy Hub: Macroblog provides concise commentary and analysis on economic topics including monetary policy, macroeconomic developments, inflation, labor economics, and financial issues for a broad audience.

Authors for Policy Hub: Macroblog are Dave Altig, John Robertson, and other Atlanta Fed economists and researchers.

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October 20, 2022

The Atlanta Fed's Early Career Visitor Program Workshop: A Synopsis

On September 9, 2022, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta hosted the Early Career Visitor Program Workshop, organized by Salome Baslandze, Simon Fuchs, Indrajit Mitra, and Veronika Penciakova. The purpose of the program is to offer early- and mid-career researchers the opportunity to spend several months visiting the department. The program, an innovative addition to the existing landscape of offerings across the Federal Reserve System, provides a unique opportunity for researchers in the early part of their careers to spend some time at a regional Reserve Bank, and for Atlanta Fed's Research Department to strengthen ties with new generations of policy-oriented economists. The program also supports our policy-making process by keeping us in touch with new theoretical, quantitative, and empirical methods in the profession. The workshop brought together participants in the Atlanta Fed's 2021 Early Career Visitor Program with an aim to foster active exchange and discussion among economists on a wide range of topics. Tao Zha from the Atlanta Fed opened the conference by welcoming the participants. He talked about our unprecedented times and the challenges policymakers face in light of high inflation, government debt, and ongoing macroeconomic shocks. He also discussed the importance of high-quality research in informing policymakers.

Yuhei MiyauchiOff-site link from Boston University presented his in-progress research (coauthored with with Elisa Giannone, Nuno Paixão, Xinle Pang, and Yuta Suzuki) titled "Living in a Ghost Town: The Geography of Depopulation and Aging." This project explores the dynamics of aging and depopulation across different regions within a country and how this process affects welfare across regions and generations. Using spatially disaggregated data from Japan for the last 40 years, he documents that depopulation and aging have progressed more rapidly in less populous areas. This empirical pattern is primarily driven by the youths' net outmigration. Motivated by this evidence, the author develops a dynamic life-cycle spatial equilibrium model of migration decisions. The model matches the historical spatial population changes in Japan and projects future spatial patterns of depopulation and aging. A key take-away from this project is that abstracting from endogenous migration decisions over the life cycle and their effects on local economies substantially biases the projected spatial patterns of demographic changes and welfare.

Wookun KimOff-site link from Southern Methodist University presented his joint work with Changsu Ko and Hwanoong Lee, "Heterogeneous Local Employment Multipliers: Evidence from Relocations of Public Entities in South Korea." The authors exploit a variation in public-sector employment from an episode of the relocations of public-sector entities and estimate local employment multipliers. The estimated multiplier is positive and persistent over time: an introduction of one public sector employment increases the private sector employment by one unit, with employment growth in the services sector driving this increase in private sector employment. The authors document that the effect of public employment on private employment is highly localized. In addition to changes in private employment, the relocations of public-sector employees led to a positive net inflow of residents into the treated neighborhood. Examining the variation in the extent of public employment shock across different relocations, the paper identifies heterogeneous local employment multipliers and provides evidence that the extent of public sector shocks and different types of relocation shape this heterogeneity. Their results imply that local employment multipliers tend to be higher in areas with predetermined characteristics that allow faster and larger general equilibrium responses to take place after the public sector shock.

Maya EdenOff-site link from Brandeis University presented her work titled "The Cross-Sectional Implications of the Social Discount Rate." In her research, Eden asks, how should policy discount future returns? The standard approach to this normative question is to ask how much society should care about future generations. The author establishes an alternative approach, based on the social desirability of age-based redistribution. The social discount rate is below the market interest rate only if it is desirable to increase the consumption of the young at the expense of the old. Along the balanced growth path, small deviations of the social discount rate from the market interest rate imply large welfare gains from redistributing consumption across age groups.

Boyoung SeoOff-site link from Indiana University presented her work, "Racial Differences in Prices Paid for Same Goods," coauthored with Andrew Butters and Daniel Sacks. The authors document that Black non-Hispanic households pay 2.0 percent higher prices than white non-Hispanic households, and Hispanic households pay 0.8 percent higher prices for physically identical products. This difference suggests that conventional measures of racial income differences understate real racial income inequality. Differences in income, demographics, or education do not explain the racial price gap. Instead, it is entirely explained by three factors: Black non-Hispanic and Hispanic households buy smaller packages with higher unit prices, benefit less from coupons, and live in places where prices tend to be high. The place-based price differences appear driven not by supermarket presence but by differences in carrying and transportation costs.

Abdoulaye NdiayeOff-site link from New York University presented "Bonus Question: How Does Incentive Pay Affect Wage Rigidity?," a paper coauthored with Meghana Gaur, John Grigsby, and Jonathan Hazell. Wage rigidity occupies a central role in models of macroeconomic fluctuations. However, recent work shows that wage rigidity is not sustained in equilibrium with appropriately calibrated idiosyncratic shocks. Indeed, individual wages frequently adjust in response to both idiosyncratic and aggregate shocks in the data. Many of these fluctuations result from movements in nonbase compensation such as bonuses, which most existing models are ill-equipped to study. The authors study whether and how flexible incentive pay affects macroeconomic fluctuations. They develop a general model of dynamic contracting, in which firms offer contracts to workers to give them incentives to supply costly effort that is otherwise unobservable by the firm. In this class of models, the first-order response of firm value to exogenous shocks is summarized by the direct effect of the shock on firms' objective function and constraints—the envelope theorem, which examines the effects of changes in certain variables, would hold that the indirect effects of the shock on wage payments and effort are not value-relevant. The authors consider the implications of this result both theoretically and quantitatively for the two fields that most commonly rely on wage rigidity to generate macroeconomic fluctuations: labor search and New Keynesian business cycle theory.

Yu XuOff-site link from the University of Delaware presented his work, titled "Ambiguity and Unemployment Fluctuations" and coauthored with Indrajit Mitra. The authors analyze the consequences of ambiguity aversion in the Diamond-Mortensen-Pissarides (DMP) search and matching model. Their model features a cross-section of workers whose productivity is the sum of an aggregate component and a match-specific component. Firms are ambiguity averse towards match-specific productivity. The model delivers two insights. First, ambiguity aversion substantially amplifies unemployment rate volatility. Second, a part of the high value of leisure required by the canonical DMP model to generate realistic unemployment rate volatility can arise from fitting a model missing ambiguity aversion to data generated in an environment where agents are ambiguity averse.

The workshop organizers hope that participants found the diverse array of presentations thought provoking as they progress in their careers as researchers, and that the discussions contributed to their professional and intellectual development.

April 7, 2021

CFOs Growing More Optimistic, See Only Modest Boost from Stimulus Plan

During the past few months, alongside an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations and amid a fresh round of fiscal support, optimism about the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has grown. Although reasons for concern over the potential unevenness of the recovery still exist, many economistsOff-site link, policymakers Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link, and market participantsOff-site link have ratcheted up their growth expectations for 2021.

This growing optimism extends to decision makers who participate in The CFO SurveyOff-site link—a collaborative effort among the Atlanta Fed, Duke University's Fuqua School, and the Richmond Fed. CFOs and other financial decision makers in our survey grew more optimistic about the U.S. economy and their own firms' financial prospects, according to the first quarter's data released on April 7. Moreover, these firms see stronger prospects for sales revenue and employment growth in 2021 (similar to results from other business surveys, including the Atlanta Fed's Survey of Business Uncertainty).

Many people think the recently passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan ActOff-site link (ARPA) is behind these brighter expectations. However, the results of our CFO Survey suggest that many firms anticipate that the fiscal stimulus will have only a modest impact on their own future business activity.

In the first-quarter CFO Survey (fielded March 15–26, 2021), we posed a question asking respondents about the impact that ARPA might have their own firm's revenue growth, number of employees, representative price (the price of the product, product line, or service that accounts for the majority of their revenue), and total wage and salary costs (see chart 1). Firms had five response options, ranging from "decrease significantly" to "increase significantly." A majority of firms expect the recent fiscal measure to have "little to no impact" across all areas of their business activity. The results are perhaps most striking for employment, as nearly 80 percent of firms anticipate ARPA to bring little to no change in that area.

Chart 1 of 1: Anticipated Impact of Recent Fiscal Stimulus

Considering the tepid impact of the stimulus on employment expectations, the survey results for total wage and salary costs are also interesting. Here, nearly 30 percent of the panel anticipates modest to moderate upward pressure on wage and salary costs, with another 5 percent or so expecting "significant" impact on their wage bill. The reasons for the expected effect on firms' total wage and salary costs are unclear, but we should note that labor quality and availability remain very high on CFOs' list of most pressing concerns.

Expectations around ARPA's impact on revenue growth appear a bit more diffuse. Though the survey's typical (or median) firm still anticipates that the bill will bring little to no change in sales revenue growth, nearly 40 percent of respondents expect the legislation to have a positive impact on sales, and a very small share of firms anticipate a negative impact on revenue.

Given the nature of these responses, we were curious whether CFOs who anticipated a positive impact from ARPA also held higher quantitative expectations for firm-level growth than firms who saw little-to-no impact. t. The CFO Survey elicits firms' quantitative expectations for sales revenue, employment, price, and wage growth early in the questionnaire, providing a useful way to check for consistency. Table 1 reports these results.

Table 1 of 1: Average Expectations for 2021 by Anticipated Stimulus Impact

Apart from firms' anticipated growth in wage and salary costs, it does appear that firms that foresee a boost from the fiscal stimulus also hold higher growth expectations. The increase in expectations is particularly stark for employment growth and prices.

If we dig a little deeper into the small share of firms anticipating increased employment due to the stimulus—45 total—we find that 40 of them are in service-providing industries and employ fewer than 500 workers. We know from academic researchOff-site link, government statisticsOff-site link, and anecdotal reportsOff-site link that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit smaller, service-providing firms particularly hard, so it's perhaps not surprising to see these types of firms expecting the stimulus to aid in a rebound. These firms are also anticipating a stimulus-induced boost to the prices they can charge. The price growth for services has slowed markedly since the onset of the pandemic. As the economy begins to open up more fullyOff-site link, these firms might believe that measures to bolster household income (among other aspects of ARPAOff-site link) will lead to a bit more pricing power.

Overall, however, our results suggest that the majority of firms anticipate ARPA to have little to no impact on their sales revenue, employment, prices, and wages. The smaller share of firms that do anticipate increased activity resulting from the stimulus largely expect the increase to be modest to moderate.

Importantly, these results do not rule out a surge in growth as the pandemic recedes and the vaccination rollout continues. As we've noted, most CFOs expect growth to occur regardless of ARPA's role in that growth. But the survey shows that firms, in general, do not pin any surge in demand on the legislation.

February 23, 2015

Are Oil Prices "Passing Through"?

In a July 2013 macroblog post, we discussed a couple of questions we had posed to our panel of Southeast businesses to try and gauge how they respond to changes in commodity prices. At the time, we were struck by how differently firms tend to react to commodity price decreases versus increases. When materials costs jumped, respondents said they were likely to pass them on to their customers in the form of price increases. However, when raw materials prices fell, the modal response was to increase profit margins.

Now, what firms say they would do and what the market will allow aren't necessarily the same thing. But since mid-November, oil prices have plummeted by roughly 30 percent. And, as the charts below reveal, our panelists have reported sharply lower unit cost observations and much more favorable margin positions over the past three months...coincidence?

photo of Mike Bryan
By Mike Bryan, vice president and senior economist,
photo of Brent Meyer
Brent Meyer, economist, and
photo of Nicholas Parker
Nicholas Parker, economic policy specialist, all in the Atlanta Fed's research department

August 12, 2014

Are We There Yet?

Editor’s note: This macroblog post was published yesterday with some content inadvertently omitted. Below is the complete post. We apologize for the error.

Anyone who has undertaken a long road trip with children will be familiar with the frequent “are we there yet?” chorus from the back seat. So, too, it might seem on the long post-2007 monetary policy road trip. When will the economy finally look like it is satisfying the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) dual mandate of price stability and full employment? The answer varies somewhat across the FOMC participants. The difference in perspectives on the distance still to travel is implicit in the range of implied liftoff dates for the FOMC’s short-term interest-rate tool in the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP).

So how might we go about assessing how close the economy truly is to meeting the FOMC’s objectives of price stability and full employment? In a speech on July 17, President James Bullard of the St. Louis Fed laid out a straightforward approach, as outlined in a press release accompanying the speech:

To measure the distance of the economy from the FOMC’s goals, Bullard used a simple function that depends on the distance of inflation from the FOMC’s long-run target and on the distance of the unemployment rate from its long-run average. This version puts equal weight on inflation and unemployment and is sometimes used to evaluate various policy options, Bullard explained.

We think that President Bullard’s quadratic-loss-function approach is a reasonable one. Chart 1 shows what you get using this approach, assuming a goal of year-over-year personal consumption expenditure inflation at 2 percent, and the headline U-3 measure of the unemployment rate at 5.4 percent. (As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines unemployment, U-3 measures the total unemployed as a percent of the labor force.) This rate is about the midpoint of the central tendency of the FOMC’s longer-run estimate for unemployment from the June SEP.

Chart 1: Progress toward Objectives: U-3 Gap

Notice that the policy objective gap increased dramatically during the recession, but is currently at a low value that’s close to precrisis levels. On this basis, the economy has been on a long, uncomfortable trip but is getting pretty close to home. But other drivers of the monetary policy minivan may be assessing how far there is still to travel using an alternate road map to chart 1. For example, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart has highlighted the role of involuntary part-time work as a signal of slack that is not captured in the U-3 unemployment rate measure. Indeed, the last FOMC statement noted that

Labor market conditions improved, with the unemployment rate declining further. However, a range of labor market indicators suggests that there remains significant underutilization of labor resources.

So, although acknowledging the decline in U-3, the Committee is also suggesting that other labor market indicators may suggest somewhat greater residual slack in the labor market. For example, suppose we used the broader U-6 measure to compute the distance left to travel based on President Bullard’s formula. The U-6 unemployment measure counts individuals who are marginally attached to the labor force as unemployed and, importantly, also counts involuntarily part-time workers as unemployed. One simple way to incorporate the U-6 gap is to compute the average difference between U-6 and U-3 prior to 2007 (excluding the 2001 recession), which was 3.9 percent, and add that to the U-3 longer-run estimate of 5.4 percent, to give an estimate of the longer-run U-6 rate of 9.3 percent. Chart 2 shows what you get if you run the numbers through President Bullard’s formula using this U-6 adjustment (scaling the U-6 gap by the ratio of the U-3 and U-6 steady-state estimates to put it on a U-3 basis).

Chart 2: Progress toward Objectives: U-3 Gap versus U-6 Gap

What the chart says is that, up until about four years ago, it didn’t really matter at all what your preferred measure of labor market slack was; they told a similar story because they tracked each other pretty closely. But currently, your view of how close monetary policy is to its goals depends quite a bit on whether you are a fan of U-3 or of U-6—or of something in between. I think you can put the Atlanta Fed’s current position as being in that “in-between” camp, or at least not yet willing to tell the kids that home is just around the corner.

In an interview last week with the Wall Street Journal, President Lockhart effectively put some distance between his own view and those who see the economy as being close to full employment. The Journal’s Real Time Economics blog quoted Lockhart:

“I’m not ruling out” the idea the Fed may need to raise short-term interest rates earlier than many now expect, Mr. Lockhart said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. But, at the same time, “I’m a little bit cautious” about the policy outlook, and still expect that when the first interest rate hike comes, it will likely happen somewhere in the second half of next year.

“I remain one who is looking for further validation that we are on a track that is going to make the path to our mandate objectives pretty irreversible,” Mr. Lockhart said. “It’s premature, even with the good numbers that have come in ... to draw the conclusion that we are clearly on that positive path,” he said.

Mr. Lockhart said the current unemployment rate of 6.2% will likely continue to decline and tick under 6% by the end of the year. But, he said, there remains evidence of underlying softness in the job sector, and, he also said, while inflation shows signs of firming, it remains under the Fed’s official 2% target.

Our view is that the current monetary policy journey has made considerable progress toward its objectives. But the trip is not yet complete, and the road ahead remains potentially bumpy. In the meantime, I recommend these road-trip sing-along selections.

Photo of John RobertsonBy John Robertson, a vice president and senior economist in the Atlanta Fed’s research department