Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The March 19 FOMC Statement

As anticipated, the FOMC statement contains new forward guidance language. The language is vague, and rather loquacious. If I'm not mistaken, this is the longest post-FOMC-meeting press release on record.

The important novelties in the statement are in paragraphs 5 and 6. Paragraph 5 reads:
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess progress--both realized and expected--toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. The Committee continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and provided that longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored.
Any numerical targets - except a reaffirmation of the 2% inflation goal - are now left out, which I think is a good thing. The FOMC is telling us that it will look at everything, and that the policy rate will likely stay where it is well into next year. We're basically back to "extended period" language, but it seems to have taken many more words to get that idea across.

Paragraph 6 is:
When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent. The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.
Paragraph 5 told us something vague about when "liftoff" will occur - the date at which the policy rate starts to increase. Paragraph 6 concerns post-liftoff Fed behavior. The "balanced approach" is outlined in this 2012 speech by Janet Yellen. "Balanced" means following a Taylor rule derived from a loss function with equal weights on squared deviations of the unemployment rate and inflation, respectively, from their targets. In Yellen's speech, she used 5.5% as an unemployment rate target and 2% as an inflation rate target. But the second sentence in the paragraph also tells you that, for a period of time after liftoff occurs, the policy rate will be less that what the balanced approach implies. Presumably that's to fulfill the commitment implied by the old forward guidance language (see my last post).

Two comments:

1. It's clear what the model is here. It's a 3-equation reduced form New Keynesian model ("IS" curve, Phillips curve, Taylor rule). It's the Phillips curve which is driving the Fed's inflation forecast. Essentially all of the regional Feds and the Board have inflation increasing very gradually to 2% in the long run. Thus, the Fed expects that, given the policy rule laid out in paragraphs 5 and 6, that it will be getting close to its targets of 2% inflation and (presumably) 5.5% unemployment in a couple of years. One problem is that the Phillips curve hasn't been doing so well lately as an inflation predictor (as if it ever did well), what with inflation and unemployment both falling. A second problems is that, if inflation continues to be low, that will extend the tapering period, and extend the period until liftoff. This, as we know, just leads to self-fulfilling low inflation. There is no recognition of that possibility in the statement.

2. Why use so many words to say so little?

Note that Kocherlakota dissented:
Voting against the action was Narayana Kocherlakota, who supported the sixth paragraph, but believed the fifth paragraph weakens the credibility of the Committee's commitment to return inflation to the 2 percent target from below and fosters policy uncertainty that hinders economic activity.
I don't quite understand his objection. If he thinks the statement implies an overshooting of the 2% inflation target (which I assume he doesn't like), that's in the second sentence of paragraph 6, not in 5. Maybe he just wanted to include an explicit 5.5% unemployment rate threshold in paragraph 5. Better left out, I think.


  1. Professor,

    Although, my question is no related to this post. What is your opinion about this paper

    Which is closer to MMT ideas?

  2. ^ I saw that paper too. It made zero to negative sense to me.

    Steve, tell me I'm crazy, or tell me they're crazy, just tell me somethin', prof.

  3. Dear Professor, I agree with the above two commentators, it would be very interesting to hear your view of the BoE Bulletin. Unfortunately, the Bulletin was not very clear in what sense banks actually create money and the actual importance and implications of it for monetary policy.
    It also included some strange statements like this, as an example:

    "Banks first decide how much to lend
    depending on the profitable lending opportunities available to them — which will, crucially, depend on the interest rate set by the Bank of England."

    Does this mean that the central banks control the profitable lending opportunities in the economy?

    Thanks for a very good blog!

    1. Anonymous agrees with Anonymous and Anonymous! I guess that makes it unanimous?

    2. The bulletin is supposed to make central banking easy to understand, but it's actually misleading, and could only serve to confuse people. Some of it is just wrong. "Banks do not simply act as intermediaries." That's like saying bears do not simply act as mammals.

    3. So. The people of central banks don't know how the central banks work. Interesting!

  4. I think Kocherlakota wants more aggressive policy to raise inflation to 2%. Remember, Kocherlakota is a major dove now.

    From his statement:

    "In terms of credibility: the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) inflation rate has drifted downward over the past few years and is currently near 1 percent. The FOMC’s new forward guidance does not communicate purposeful steps being taken to facilitate a more rapid increase of inflation back to the 2 percent target.The absence of this kind of communication weakens the credibility of the Committee’s inflation target, by suggesting that the Committee views persistently sub-2-percent inflation as an acceptable outcome."

    1. This. He is worried about undershooting the inflation target.