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January 6, 2012
In the interest of precision
As you may have heard, the minutes of the December 13 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) contained the news that, starting with this month's meeting, committee members will be jointly publishing not only their personal projections for gross domestic product growth, unemployment, and inflation, but also the monetary policy assumptions that underlie those forecasts. In an article published earlier this week, the enhancement to these projections, known as the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), was described in the Wall Street Journal this way (with my emphasis added):
"Federal Reserve officials this month will begin detailing their plans for short-term interest rates, a move that could show that the central bank's easy-money policies will remain in place for years and give the economy a boost."
A similar description appeared in the Journal yesterday (again, emphasis added):
"The Fed has just taken a historic step towards increasing its transparency and accountability by saying it will begin to release interest-rate projections several years out at the conclusion of its next policy meeting on Jan. 25. This means Fed officials will soon let the world know exactly what path they believe interest rates will follow—and they, after all, set the path of interest rates."
I added the emphasis in both of those passages because I think the highlighted language isn't quite right. Here is the actual language that appears in the FOMC minutes:
"In the SEP, participants' projections for economic growth, unemployment, and inflation are conditioned on their individual assessments of the path of monetary policy that is most likely to be consistent with the Federal Reserve's statutory mandate to promote maximum employment and price stability, but information about those assessments has not been included in the SEP.…
"… participants decided to incorporate information about their projections of appropriate monetary policy into the SEP beginning in January. Specifically, the SEP will include information about participants' projections of the appropriate level of the target federal funds rate in the fourth quarter of the current year and the next few calendar years, and over the longer run; the SEP also will report participants' current projections of the likely timing of the first increase in the target rate given their projections of future economic conditions."
The minutes are pretty clear about what this information is intended to convey…
"Most participants agreed that adding their projections of the target federal funds rate to the economic projections already provided in the SEP would help the public better understand the Committee's monetary policy decisions and the ways in which those decisions depend on members' assessments of economic and financial conditions."
…and what it is not intended to convey (here too, emphasis added):
"Some participants expressed concern that publishing information about participants' individual policy projections could confuse the public; for example, they saw an appreciable risk that the public could mistakenly interpret participants' projections of the target federal funds rate as signaling the Committee's intention to follow a specific policy path rather than as indicating members' conditional projections for the federal funds rate given their expectations regarding future economic developments. Most participants viewed these concerns as manageable…"
In fact, the first Journal piece mentioned above does document some of the expressed concerns near the end of the article. For example:
"… some might mistakenly see the forecasts as an ironclad commitment, rather than a projection that could change as economy evolves."
That caveat does speak to concerns of some FOMC participants that the projections would establish a specific policy path. But the issue is about more than maintaining flexibility in the face of changing economic conditions. The broader point is that the new information in the SEPs, according to the minutes, is not intended to be a device for signaling the policy path that the FOMC, by official vote, intends to pursue.
This may seem like a small detail. But when it comes to the central bank's communications tools, even the small details matter.
By Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed
January 25, 2007
Do-It-Yourself Funds Rate Probabilities
If you are reading this, chances are you are familiar with these pictures depicting what the future (or the Federal Open Market Committee) might bring for the federal funds rate, as estimated from options of fed funds futures:
These used to be a regular feature here at macroblog, and have for some time been available daily at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland's website. They still are, but now the Cleveland site also has a new feature that allows you to customize the estimates, selecting how many alternative rate options you want to consider, whether to include a term premium, and if so how big you want that premium to be. Knock yourself out.
November 29, 2006
And So It Begins?
Last week was significant in that the dollar breached an important barrier, according to traders. Since May, it had been relatively stable within a euro trading range of $1.25-$1.30. Its fall outside this range left investors wondering whether that was simply due to a lack of liquidity around the Thanksgiving holiday or the start of a more sustained slide in the US currency...
An even bigger concern is growing talk of global central banks diversifying their foreign exchange reserves away from the US currency. One factor supporting the dollar has been huge purchases by foreign central banks. Since 2001, global currency reserves have soared from $2,000bn to $4,700bn according to the IMF, with two-thirds of the world's stockpiles held by six countries: China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia and Singapore.
Anxieties over reserve diversification have been around for at least six months, with central banks in Russia, Switzerland, Italy and the United Arab Emirates announcing plans to cut the proportion of dollars held in their reserves. A shift by central banks away from dollars would remove a key source of financing for the US deficit...
Fan Gang, director of China's National Economic Research Institute and a member of China's monetary policy committee, saw things differently. He said the real problem the world faced was an overvalued dollar, not only against the renminbi but against all the leading currencies.
His comments come at a time when speculation is increasing that China, which is thought to hold 70 per cent of its foreign currency stockpile in dollars, is considering a fundamental change in its reserve allocation. These concerns were highlighted on Friday when Wu Xiaoling, deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, said Asian foreign exchange reserves were at risk from the dollar's fall.
And there is this (hyperlink added):
... Market expectations, monitored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, show that investors think there is a 30 per cent chance of a cut in US rates in March.
Just as it seems interest rates in the US may have peaked, they are being increased by the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan. The ECB is expected to raise its main rate from 3.25 per cent to 3.5 per cent at its December 7 meeting. The big question is whether Jean-Claude Trichet, ECB president, will signal further increases in 2007.
Here's something to think about. If the move away from the dollar is for real -- with the presumably inevitable result that current account deficits will not continue to support domestic spending in the United States -- the result will almost certainly be higher U.S. interest rates. Here's a position, which I endorse, about what that might mean for monetary policy:
We believe that changes in the federal funds rate should be considered on the basis of where economic forces are taking market interest rates, a perspective stemming from several presumptions about the way our economy works. First, “a balance between the quantity of money demanded and the amount the central bank supplies” requires the federal funds rate to adjust roughly in alignment with changes in real—that is, inflation-adjusted—returns to capital.
In other words, if long-term real interest rates rise, monetary policy becomes more expansionary even if the federal funds rate doesn't change. (This is roughly behind the idea of associating "easy" monetary policy with a steep yield curve, and "tight" policy with a flat yield curve.) That is worth keeping in mind as you read stories like this one:
In another volatile day on the currency markets, the dollar recovered some poise against the euro on Wednesday after an unexpectedly large upward revision to US growth 2.2 per cent in third quarter against an estimated 1.6 per cent and consensus forecasts of a 1.8 per cent rise...
Speaking in New York overnight, Mr Bernanke struck a hawkish tone on US interest rates, saying that inflation in the US remained “uncomfortably high”.
Analysts said that, while it might be something of a surprise that the dollar had failed to derive support from Mr Bernanke’s remarks, he might be in danger of “crying wolf” over US inflationary pressures.
You know, sometimes the wolf is really there.
July 30, 2006
All Systems Stop
At midweek, Tim Duy wrote this at Economist's View:
Futures markets appear to have no clear conviction on the outcome of the next FOMC meeting. The message is that market participants are looking for one more rate hike, either in August or September. Moreover, they doubt the Fed’s position that “pause does not mean done.”
That was indeed the case then, but this is now. Bringing you tomorrow's news today, here is what the probabilities estimated from options on federal funds futures look like as the week
of before the next meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee begins:
Friday's second quarter GDP report really wasn't all that bad, but apparently not as good as expected was enough. And Professor Duy was right -- the market does seem to doubt the Fed’s position that “pause does not mean done.”
It's still a relatively long time to September, but at this point it is hard to see what might significantly shift sentiment about this week's meeting.
UPDATE: I take it back. Tomorrow's ISM and PCE reports could loom large. And there was this, from Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis president William Poole:
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President William Poole said he's undecided on whether the central bank should raise interest rates at its next meeting in eight days.
Poole, speaking to reporters after a speech in Louisville, Kentucky, said he's "50-50'' on the decision, which needs "all our analytical skills.'' Recent data show slowing economic growth, while inflation has "tilted'' upward, he said. Containing inflation is the Fed's "primary'' goal, he added.
UPDATE II: Action Economics (subscription required) reports:
SF Fed's Yellen did note rule out more rate hikes though she said that the Fed funds rate is "in the vicinity" of the right level, noting the Fed remains responsive to the data and she expects below-trend growth later in 2006 to pull down inflation. Yellen also confirmed that the Fed was mindful of policy lags and even though core inflation is above her comfort zone, the Fed can pause before it begins to decline, while retaining a more restrictive policy setting... Overall the comments are fairly balanced and do not rule in or out another hike in August
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