The Fed was targeting the Labor Market Conditions Index 30 years before it was invented

Today the Federal Reserve published its much-hyped new Labor Market Conditions Index (LMCI).

This is how the Fed describes the Index:

The U.S. labor market is large and multifaceted. Often-cited indicators, such as the unemployment rate or payroll employment, measure a particular dimension of labor market activity, and it is not uncommon for different indicators to send conflicting signals about labor market conditions. Accordingly, analysts typically look at many indicators when attempting to gauge labor market improvement. However, it is often difficult to know how to weigh signals from various indicators. Statistical models can be useful to such efforts because they provide a way to summarize information from several indicators…

…A factor model is a statistical tool intended to extract a small number of unobserved factors that summarize the comovement among a larger set of correlated time series.

In our model, these factors are assumed to summarize overall labor market conditions. What we call the LMCI is the primary source of common variation among 19 labor market indicators. One essential feature of our factor model is that its inference about labor market conditions places greater weight on indicators whose movements are highly correlated with each other. And, when indicators provide disparate signals, the model’s assessment of overall labor market conditions reflects primarily those indicators that are in broad agreement.

The included indicators are a large but certainly not exhaustive set of the available data on the labor market, covering the broad categories of unemployment and underemployment, employment, workweeks, wages, vacancies, hiring, layoffs, quits, and surveys of consumers and businesses.

So is there really anything new in all this? Well, not really. To me it is just another indicator for the US business cycle. The graph below illustrates this.

LMCI FF rate

The graph shows the relationship between on the one hand the cumulative Labor Market Conditions Index and on the other hand the year-on-year change in the real Fed Funds rate. I have deflated the Fed Funds rate with the core PCE deflator.

The picture is pretty clear – since the mid-1980s the Fed has tended to increase real rates, when “Labor Market Conditions” have improved and cut rates when labor market conditions have worsened. There is really nothing new in this – it is just another version of the Taylor rule or the Mankiw rule, which capture the Fed’s Lean-Against-the-Wind regime during the Great Moderation. I am hence sure that you could estimate a nice rule for the Fed funds rate for period 1985-2007 based on the LMCI and PCE core inflation. I might return to that in a later post…

That said, there seems to have been a “structural” break in the relationship around 2001/2. Prior to that the relationship was quite close, but since then the relationship has become somewhat weaker.

Anyway that is not really important. My point is just that the LMCI is not really telling us much new. That said, the LCMI might help the Fed to communicate better about it policy rule (I hope), but why bother when a NGDP level target would be so much better than trying to target real variables (fancy or not)?

PS don’t be fooled by the graph into concluding the Fed Funds rate should be hiked. To conclude that you at the least need an estimate relationship between the LMCI and the Fed Funds rate.

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Taylor, rules and central bank independence – When Taylor is right and wrong

John Taylor is out with new paper on “The Effectiveness of Central Bank Independence Versus Policy Rules”.

Here is the abstract:

“This paper assesses the relative effectiveness of central bank independence versus policy rules for the policy instruments in bringing about good economic performance. It examines historical changes in (1) macroeconomic performance, (2) the adherence to rules-based monetary policy, and (3) the degree of central bank independence. Macroeconomic performance is defined in terms of both price stability and output stability. Factors other than monetary policy rules are examined. Both de jure and de facto central bank independence at the Fed are considered. The main finding is that changes in macroeconomic performance during the past half century were closely associated with changes the adherence to rules-based monetary policy and in the degree of de facto monetary independence at the Fed. But changes in economic performance were not associated with changes in de jure central bank independence. Formal central bank independence alone has not generated good monetary policy outcomes. A rules-based framework is essential.”

So far I have only run thought very fast, but it looks very interesting and I certainly do agree with the main conclusion that the important thing is a rule-based monetary framework rather than central bank independence. Taylor obviously prefers his own Taylor rule – Market Monetarists including myself prefer NGDP level targeting. Nonetheless getting central banks to follow a rule based monetary policy must be the key objective for monetary policy pundits. That is the view of John Taylor and Market Monetarists alike.

Here is another very interesting paper – “The Influence of the Taylor rule on US monetary policy” – certainly related to Taylor and the Taylor rule.

Here is the abstract:

“We analyze the influence of the Taylor rule on US monetary policy by estimating the policy preferences of the Fed within a DSGE framework. The policy preferences are represented by a standard loss function, extended with a term that represents the degree of reluctance to letting the interest rate deviate from the Taylor rule. The empirical support for the presence of a Taylor rule term in the policy preferences is strong and robust to alternative specifications of the loss function. Analyzing the Fed’s monetary policy in the period 2001-2006, we find no support for a decreased weight on the Taylor rule, contrary to what has been argued in the literature. The large deviations from the Taylor rule in this period are due to large, negative demand-side shocks, and represent optimal deviations for a given weight on the Taylor rule.”

John Taylor has long argued have long argued that the present crisis was a result of the Federal Reserve diverging from the Taylor rule in years just prior to 2008 and that caused a boom-bust in the UK economy. The aforementioned paper by Pelin Ilbas, Øistein Røisland and Tommy Sveen indicate that John Taylor is wrong on that view.

So concluding, John Taylor is right that we need a rule based monetary policy framework, but he is wrong about what rule we need.

HT Jens Pedersen

PS I still find Taylor’s focus on interest rates as a monetary policy instrument both frustrating and very wrong. It might have been the biggest problem with the Taylor rule – that central bankers have been led to think that “the” interest rate is the only instrument at their disposal.

 

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