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Reflections on the Fed hike

Have a look at my comments on yesterday’s Fed hike.

 

And see our “country page” on the Fed, which will also feature in our soon-to-be-published Global Monetary Conditions Monitor. (In PDF here)

Skærmbillede 2017-03-15 kl. 07.20.51

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FOMC preview – please hike, but be careful going forward

The Federal Reserve is widely expected to hike the Fed funds target rate by 25bp today. The real question is how much more the Fed will deliver going forward.

To get an idea about we are happy to give you a sneak preview on the “country page” for the US monetary policy from our soon to be launched Global Monetary Conditions Monitor (GMCM).

See here (in PDF here):

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Just to explain what we are doing in GMCM we do not try to forecast what central bankers will do, but rather we assess or measure monetary conditions. This is a lot less straight forward than people often think. For example the actually level of the key policy rate – in the case of the Fed the Fed funds target rate – on its own says very little about the monetary stance.

Overall, the price level and nominal demand in the economy is determined by the interaction between the money supply and money demand.

It is the task of the central bank to use whatever instrument(s) it uses to to ensure that this interaction between money supply and money demand causes the target – for example inflation – to be hit.

Therefore our starting point in GMCM is to assess monetary conditions relative to the given central bank’s target. In the case of the Fed a 2% inflation target.

Said in another way in our composite indicator for monetary conditions a zero “score” indicates that the Fed will hit its 2% inflation target in the medium-term (2-3 years). If the score is above (below) the then it indicates that the central bank will overshoot (undershoot) its inflation target.

Similar we say that monetary policy is too easy (tight) if the composite indicator is above (below) zero.

The composite indicator is a weighted average of four sub-indicators – broad money supply growth (in the case of the US Divisia M4-), nominal demand growth (often nominal GDP, but in the case of the US Private Consumption Expenditure growth), exchange rate developments and finally the key policy rate (the Fed funds target rate in the US).

For all of these sub-indicators we calculate a growth rate or level, which we believe is what we call “policy-consistent” meaning the growth rate of for example broad money supply growth, which is necessary to hit the central bank’s inflation target.

In the case of the US we see that broad money supply growth (here measured as Divisia M4- growth) presently is more or less in line with the policy-consistent growth rate meaning that looking at money supply growth along we should expect the Fed to hit it’s 2% inflation target in the medium-term.

For the money supply we calculate the policy-consistent growth rate based on the Equation of Exchange (in growth rates):

(1) m + v = p + y

Where m is the growth rate of the broad money supply, v is money-velocity growth, p is inflation and y is real GDP growth

We can re-arrange that:

(1)’ m-target = p-target + y* – v*

m-target is our policy-consistent growth rate for broad money growth, p-inflation is the inflation target (in the case of the US 2%), y* is the strutural trend in real GDP growth and v* is the structural trend in money-velocity. We generally use HP-filters to estimate y* and v*.

In the graph broad money supply growth on the US “country page” the dark green line is actually broad money supply growth and the light green line is m-target (the policy-consistent growth of m).

The difference between the two is essentially a measure of the monetary stance. This is the bars in the graph. Taking into account that monetary policy works with “long and variable lags” we take an 3-year weighted moving average of this gap. That is also the input into the composite indicator.

We use the same kind of method for the three other sub-indicators.

In the case of the US we see that money supply growth and nominal demand growth are pretty much in line with the policy-consistent growth rates, while the rate of appreciation of the dollar is (or rather has been) slightly too fast and the interest rate level is slightly too high.

Overall, we see that the composite indicator for the US is quite close to zero, but still below. This indicates that US monetary conditions are what we term “broadly neutral”, but also that inflation risks in the medium-term are twisted slightly to the downside relative to Fed’s 2% inflation target.

We also see this from our inflation forecast graph. The inflation “forecast” is essentially a simulation of the most likely path for inflation given the present monetary stance (not to be confused with Fed’s key policy rate) and the recent trends in inflation.

We see that the forecast is for US inflation to continue to inch up, but it will not quite get to 2%. This is pretty much also what for example TIPS breakeven inflation expectations show.

What does this mean for market pricing?

When assessing the overall monetary stance it is always very important to remember that we have to look at for example interest rates or the exchange rate relative to expectations. Hence, a 25bp interest rate hike today from the Fed in itself is not monetary tightening is it is completely priced in already.

Therefore, if we want to assess future monetary developments in the US we need to look at market pricing.

Overall the markets are presently pricing in somewhere between two and three 25bp hikes from the Fed this year – including the hike expected for today.

The purpose of our framework in Global Monetary Conditions Monitor is not to forecast how many rate hikes the Fed will deliver this year. But it can tell us about the consequences of difference paths for interest rates.

Hence, one can say that since our composite indicator for US monetary conditions indicates that the Fed is likely to slightly undershoot its 2% inflation target then it would be better for the Fed to deliver a little be less in terms of rate hikes than is presently priced by the markets.

This is not a forecast as central banks often do things they shouldn’t – if they didn’t it would be very easy to forecast their actions – but it nonetheless tells us something about the potential risks relative to market pricing if we assume that the Fed at least in he end will end up doing the right thing.

Looking for reviewers

We are looking forward to publishing Global Monetary Conditions Monitor very soon, but we are also still looking for input. So we are looking for “reviewers” of what we call the country pages of the 25 countries covered in GMCM.

So if you are interested in getting a sneak preview on parts of the GMCM in return for comments please let us know. Mail LC@mamoadvisory or LR@mamoadvisory.com. We prefer policy makers/central bankers and market participants, but don’t be shy to drop us a mail.

 

 

Three simple changes to the Fed’s policy framework

Frankly speaking I don’t feel like commenting much on the FOMC’s decision today to keep the Fed fund target unchanged – it was as expected, but sadly it is very clear that the Fed has not given up the 1970s style focus on the Phillips curve and on the US labour market rather than focusing on monetary and market indicators. That is just plain depressing.

Anyway, I would rather focus on the policy framework rather than on today’s decision because at the core of why the Fed consistently seems to fail on monetary policy is the weaknesses in the monetary policy framework.

I here will suggest three simple changes in the Fed’s policy framework, which I believe would dramatically improve the quality of US monetary policy.

  1. Introduce a 4% Nominal GDP level target. The focus should be on the expected NGDP level in 18-24 month. A 4% NGDP target would over the medium term also ensure price stability and  “maximum employment”. No other targets are needed.
  2. The Fed should give up doing forecasting on its own. Instead three sources for NGDP expectations should be used: 1) The Fed set-up a prediction market for NGDP in 12 and 24 months. 2) Survey of professional forecasters’ NGDP expectations. 3) The Fed should set-up financial market based models for NGDP expectations.
  3. Give up interest rate targeting (the horrible “dot” forceasts from the FOMC members) and instead use the money base as the monetary policy framework. At each FOMC meeting the FOMC should announce the permanent yearly growth rate of the money base. The money base growth rate should be set to hit the Fed’s 4% NGDP level target. Interest rates should be completely market determined. The Fed should commit itself to only referring to the expected level for NGDP in 18-24 months compared to the targeted level when announcing the money base growth rate. Nothing else should be important for monetary policy.

This would have a number of positive consequences.

First, the policy would be completely rule based contrary to today’s discretion policy.

Second, the policy would be completely transparent and in reality the market would be doing most of the lifting in terms of implementing the NGDP target.

Third, there would never be a Zero-Lower-Bound problem. With money base control monetary policy can always be eased also if interest rates are at the ZLB.

Forth, all the silly talk about bubbles, moral hazard and irrational investors in the stock markets would come to an end. Please stop all the macro prudential nonsense right now. The Fed will never ever be able to spot bubbles and should not try to do it.

Fifth,the Fed would stop reacting to supply shocks (positive and negative) and finally six the FOMC could essentially be replaced by a computer as long ago suggested by Milton Friedman.

Will this ever happen? No, there is of course no chance that this will ever happen because that would mean that the FOMC members would have to give up the believe in their own super human abilities and the FOMC would have to give up its discretionary powers. So I guess we might as well prepare ourself for a US recession later this year. It seems incredible, but right now it seems like Janet Yellen’s Fed has repeated the Mistakes of ’37.

PS What I here have suggested is essentially a forward-looking McCallum rule.

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If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: daniel@specialistspeakers.com or roz@specialistspeakers.com.

 

Inching closer to a US recession, while Yellen is eager to hike

Today we got the Minutes from the December 15-16 FOMC meeting where the Fed hiked interest rates.  That in itself is not terribly interesting and there is not much news in the Minutes to shock the markets.

Nonetheless it is another day of tightening of US monetary conditions – stronger dollar, lower inflation expectations, lower commodity prices and lower stock markets. But maybe the most alarming set of information comes from the Atlanta Fed that today published a so-called Nowcast for US real GDP growth in Q4 2015 (GNPNow) indicating the US real GDP slowed to just 1% (annualized quarterly growth rate) in Q4.

 

gdpnow-forecast-evolution

It is in this environment the Fed continues to signal that more monetary tightening is warranted.

So why is the Fed so hawkish despited very clear signs of continued growth deceleration in the economy and despite the fact that basically all monetary indications that we can think of indicates that monetary policy has become too tight?

To me it we should blame the unholy alliance between those FOMC members that are obsessed with looking at labour market data (to the same extent Arthur Burns was in 1970s) and the macro prudential crowd who worry that the Fed is inflating a bubble (somewhere in some asset market).

Needless to say there are no monetarists on the FOMC and as a consequence the FOMC continues to ignore both the signals from monetary indicators and from the market and as a consequence the risk of a US recession during 2016 (or 2017) continues to rise day-by-day.

PS maybe it is about time to start tracking Google Trends for the trend in Google searches for “recession”.

HT Michael Darda

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If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: daniel@specialistspeakers.com or roz@specialistspeakers.com.

Talking to Ambrose about the Fed

I have been talking to The Telegraph’s  about the Fed’s decision to hike interest rates (see here):

“All it will take is one shock,” said Lars Christensen, from Markets and Money Advisory. “It is really weird that they are raising rates at all. Capacity utilization in industry has been falling for five months.”

Mr Christensen said the rate rise in itself is relatively harmless. The real tightening kicked off two years ago when the Fed began to slow its $85bn of bond purchases each month. This squeezed liquidity through the classic quantity of money effect.

Fed tapering slowly turned off the spigot for a global financial system running on a “dollar standard”, with an estimated $9 trillion of foreign debt in US currency. China imported US tightening through its dollar-peg, compounding the slowdown already under way.

It was the delayed effect of this crunch that has caused the “broad” dollar index to rocket by 19pc since July 2014, the steepest dollar rise in modern times. It is a key cause of the bloodbath for commodities and emerging markets.

Mr Christensen said the saving grace this time is that Fed has given clear assurances – like the Bank of England – that it will roll over its $4.5 trillion balance sheet for a long time to come, rather than winding back quantitative easing and risking monetary contraction.

This pledge more than offsets the rate rise itself, which was priced into the market long ago. Chairman Janet Yellen softened the blow further with dovish guidance, repeating the word “gradual” a dozen times.

So no I don’t think the hike is a disaster, but I don’t understand the Fed’s rational for doing this – nominal spending growth is slightly soft, inflation is way below the target, money supply and money base growth is moderate, the dollar is strong and getting stronger and inflation expectations are low and have been coming down.

So if anything across the board monetary indicators are pointing towards the need for easing of monetary conditions – at least if you want to maintain some credibility about the 2% inflation target and or keep nominal GDP growth on the post-2009 4% path.

But I guess this is because Janet Yellen fundamentally has the same model in her head as Arthur Burns had in the 1970s – its is all about a old-style Phillips Curve and I predict that Yellen is making a policy mistake in the same way Burns did in the 1970s – just in the opposite direction and (much) less extreme.

PS some Fed officials are obviously also concerned with the risk of asset market bubbles, but the Fed shouldn’t concern itself with such things (and by the way I don’t think there is any bubbles other than in the market for people concerning themselves with bubbles.)

 

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