Archive for August 29th, 2018

Lessons learned from 10 years of quantitative easing

August 29, 2018

American Enterprise Institute conducted this interesting panel discussion on the 10 years of QE.

On Thursday, AEI’s Desmond Lachman and Brookings Institution’s Ben Bernanke discussed whether quantitative easing (QE) programs have successfully stimulated the US economy in the 10 years since the Federal Reserve launched its first program. Mr. Bernanke argued that QE has blurred the distinction between monetary and fiscal policy tools. Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Lachman evaluated the merits of tools the Federal Reserve and other central banks can use to stimulate growth and examined the possibilities and risks of innovative economic policy tools.

Following their conversation, a panel of economic policy experts discussed the success of economic policy reforms in recent years. The Hoover Institution’s Kevin Warsh argued that the first round of QE was successful and the second round may have positively affected employment and output to a minor extent. Yale University’s Stephen Roach pointed out that, though the first round of QE was successful, successive rounds were less successful, which suggests their marginal diminishing returns for economic recovery. Joseph E. Gagnon of the Peterson Institute for International Economics argued that QE effects mirror conventional monetary policy effects and that the program has benefited the economy so far. 

There is both transcript and videos.

Lots of different views. The one by Alex Pollock at the end is quite interesting..


Monetary policy as a study of nocturnal activity

August 29, 2018

Jerome Powell gave this recent speech at Jackson Hole Symposium.

In conventional models of the economy, major economic quantities such as inflation, unemployment, and the growth rate of gross domestic product (GDP) fluctuate around values that are considered “normal,” or “natural,” or “desired.” The FOMC has chosen a 2 percent inflation objective as one of these desired values. The other values are not directly observed, nor can they be chosen by anyone. Instead, these values result from myriad interactions throughout the economy. In the FOMC’s quarterly Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), participants state their individual views on the longer-run normal values for the growth rate of GDP, the unemployment rate, and the federal funds rate.

These fundamental structural features of the economy are also known by more familiar names such as the “natural rate of unemployment” and “potential output growth.” The longer-run federal funds rate minus long-run inflation is the “neutral real interest rate.” At the Fed and elsewhere, analysts talk about these values so often that they have acquired shorthand names. For example, u* (pronounced “u star”) is the natural rate of unemployment, r* (“r star”) is the neutral real rate of interest, and Π* (“pi star”) is the inflation objective. According to the conventional thinking, policymakers should navigate by these stars. In that sense, they are very much akin to celestial stars.

For example, the famous Taylor rule calls for setting the federal funds rate based on where inflation and unemployment stand in relation to the stars. If inflation is higher than Π*, raise the real federal funds rate relative to r*. The higher real interest rate will, through various channels, tend to moderate spending by businesses and households, which will reduce upward pressure on prices and wages as the economy cools off. In contrast, if the unemployment rate is above u*, lower the real federal funds rate relative to r*, which will stimulate spending and raise employment.

Navigating by the stars can sound straightforward. Guiding policy by the stars in practice, however, has been quite challenging of late because our best assessments of the location of the stars have been changing significantly.

Hmm.. Nice way to show what mon policy does..:-)

He points how policy in previous years has erred in estimating the positions of these stars:

Around 1965, the United States entered a period of high and volatile inflation that ended with inflation in double digits in the early 1980s. Multiple factors, including monetary policy errors, contributed to the Great Inflation. Many researchers have concluded that a key mistake was that monetary policymakers placed too much emphasis on imprecise–and, as it turns out, overly optimistic–real-time estimates of the natural rate of unemployment.6

Figure 3 compares the CBO’s current view of the natural rate of unemployment in that era with an estimate by Athanasios Orphanides and John Williams of the rate as policymakers perceived it in real time. From 1965 to the early 1980s, this real-time estimate of u* was well below where hindsight now places it. The unemployment rate over this period was generally well above the real-time natural rate, and contemporary documents reveal that policymakers were wary of pushing the unemployment rate even further above u* (figure 4, top panel).7 With the benefit of hindsight, we now think that, except for a few years in the mid-1970s, the labor market was tight and contributing to inflation’s rise (figure 4, lower panel).

It is now clear that the FOMC had placed too much emphasis on its imprecise estimates of u* and too little emphasis on evidence of rising inflation expectations. The Great Inflation did, however, prompt an “expectations revolution” in macroeconomic thinking, with one overwhelmingly important lesson for monetary policymakers: Anchoring longer-term inflation expectations is a vital precondition for reaching all other monetary policy goals.8

Hmm… In 1990s they avoided similar mistake:

The second half of the 1990s confronted policymakers with a situation that was in some ways the flipside of that in the Great Inflation. In mid-1996, the unemployment rate was below the natural rate as perceived in real time, and many FOMC participants and others were forecasting growth above the economy’s potential. Sentiment was building on the FOMC to raise the federal funds rate to head off the risk of rising inflation.9 But Chairman Greenspan had a hunch that the United States was experiencing the wonders of a “new economy” in which improved productivity growth would allow faster output growth and lower unemployment, without serious inflation risks. Greenspan argued that the FOMC should hold off on rate increases.

Over the next two years, thanks to his considerable fortitude, Greenspan prevailed, and the FOMC raised the federal funds rate only once from mid-1996 through late 1998.10 Starting in 1996, the economy boomed and the unemployment rate fell, but, contrary to conventional wisdom at the time, inflation fell.11

Once again, shifting stars help explain the performance of inflation, which many had seen as a puzzle. Whereas during the Great Inflation period the real-time natural rate of unemployment had been well below our current-day assessment, in the new-economy period, this relation was reversed (figure 3). The labor market looked to be tight and getting tighter in real time, but in retrospect, we estimate that there was slack in the labor market in 1996 and early 1997, and the labor market only tightened appreciably through 1998 (figure 4). Greenspan was also right that the potential growth rate had shifted up. With hindsight, we recognize today that higher potential growth could accommodate the very strong growth that actually materialized, let alone the moderate growth policymakers were forecasting.12

The FOMC thus avoided the Great-Inflation-era mistake of overemphasizing imprecise estimates of the stars. Under Chairman Greenspan’s leadership, the Committee converged on a risk-management strategy that can be distilled into a simple request: Let’s wait one more meeting; if there are clearer signs of inflation, we will commence tightening.13 Meeting after meeting, the Committee held off on rate increases while believing that signs of rising inflation would soon appear. And meeting after meeting, inflation gradually declined.

This wait and watch approach is also called the Brainard principle as Powell tells us later in the speech.

Here is Anantha Nageshwaran calling the speech as Hole in Jackson Hole, where he says Powell is basically contradicting himself.



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