The market’s message to Yellen: You have become too hawkish

Recently the communication from the Federal Reserve seems to have become more hawkish. It all started on July 15 when Fed chair Janet Yellen testified in front of the House Financial Services Committee. Yellen among other things said:

“If the economy evolves as we expect, economic conditions likely would make it appropriate at some point this year to raise the federal funds rate target”

This has been followed by comments from other Fed officials such as St. Louis Fed president James Bullard who in an interview with Fox TV on July 20 said that there was a “50% probability” a September rate hike. As my loyal readers know I like to watch the markets to assess monetary conditions. So lets see what the markets are saying about the US monetary policy stance right now – and how it has changed on the back of Yellen and Bullard’s comments. Lets start with the much talked about gold price. gold price It is hard to miss that it was Yellen’s hawkish comments that has sent gold prices down in recent weeks. So the drop in gold prices certainly is a indication that US monetary conditions are getting tighter. But it would of course be wrong to reason from the change in one price. We need more – so how about the dollar? DXY This is the so-called Dollar Index (DXY). Here the picture certainly is less clear than from the gold price. In fact the dollar index today is more or less a the same level as on July 15 when Yellen hinted at a rate hike this year.

However, we should remember that the exchange rate is telling us something about the relative monetary policy, so if US monetary conditions is in fact getting tighter and the dollar index is flat then it is an indication that monetary conditions are also getting tighter outside of the US. Given the Greek crisis and Chinese growth worries this is not an unreasonable assumption.

So how about inflation expectations? This is 2-year/2-year inflation expectations (so basically the expectation to the average inflation rate from August 2017 to August 2019) inflation expectations 2y2y Again the picture is clear – after Yellen and Bullard’s comments 2y/2y inflation expectations have dropped and equally important this happened at a time when inflation expectations already where below 2%. It should also be noted that prediction markets are telling the same story. Hence, from some time Hypermind’s market for nominal GDP growth in 2015 has been somewhat below 4% (which I believe has been Fed’s unannounced target for some time – see here.) The Fed is too hawkish and rate hikes should be postponed Concluding, the Fed’s more hawkish rhetoric has de facto led to a tightening of US monetary conditions already, which has pushed inflation expectations below the Fed’s own 2% inflation target. So effectively the markets are tellling the Fed that monetary conditions are becoming too tight and a September rate hike as suggested by advocated by Bullard would be premature. So if I was on the FOMC I would certainly vote against any rate hike in the present situation.

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Hypermind prediction: Nearly 50% probability of Grexit in 2015

Have a look at the latest numbers from Hypermind’s prediction market on the likelihood of Greece leaving the euro in 2015.

Grexit probability

In my view this likely is also the kind of probability that the rest of the financial markets put on Grexit in 2015 and given the relatively calm reaction in the European markets to recent developments then this a fairly good indication that we would not face an European financial armageddon if Greece were to leave the euro area.

In this regard it is also worthwhile noticing that Hypermind also runs a prediction market for euro zone GDP growth in 2015 and if anything the expectations for GDP growth have inched up slightly recently (to around 1.5% around 1.4% a month ago). Said in another way there seems to be little correlation between the increased likelihood of Grexit and euro zone growth expectations.

HT Maxime Cartan

Prediction market: Fed on track to hit 4% NGDP growth in 2015

Since December last year the prediction market site Hypermind has been running a prediction market for US nominal GDP growth for 2015 (plus markets for each quarter of the year).

I think the development of a prediction market for NGDP growth is extremely interesting and such market can help us much better to understand monetary and economic issues. Furthermore, the Federal Reserve should be very excited about such markets as they provide a minute-by-minute “tracker” of the Fed’s performance and credibility.

Of course the Federal Reserve does not official target nominal GDP growth, but I have earlier argued that the Fed effectively since Q2 2009 has kept US NGDP on a (very narrow) path close to a 4% trend. The graph below shows this.

What does the Hypermind’s prediction market then tell us? Well, guess what – right now the market is predicting NGDP growth to be exactly 4% in 2015! So at least judging from the prediction market US monetary policy is right now perfectly calibrated to keep actual NGDP on the 4% path through 2015.

NGDP prediction market Hypermind

This of course does not mean that US monetary policy is “perfect”. First, of all the Fed does not official have a 4% NGDP target. Second, communication about the Fed’s policy instrument(s) is far from perfect. But if we decide to say that the Fed effectively has a 4% NGDP target then at least the “market” now perceives this target as credible.

I have earlier argued that central bankers should endorse prediction markets such as Hypermind. This is what I wrote back in 2012:

My point is that the “average” forecast of the market often is a better forecast than the forecast of the individual forecaster. Furthermore, I know of no macroeconomic forecaster who has consistently over long periods been better than the “consensus” expectation. If my readers know of any such super forecaster I will be happy to know about them.

…Unlike the market where the profit motive rules central banks and governments are not guided by an objective profit motive but rather than by political motives – that might or might not be noble and objective.

It is well known among academic economists and market participants that the forecasts of government institutions are biased. For example Karl Brunner and Allan Meltzer have demonstrated that the IMF consistently are biased in a too optimistic direction in their forecasts.

…Instead of relying on in-house forecasts central banks could consult the market about the outlook for the economy and markets. Scott Sumner has for example argued that monetary policy should be conducted by targeting NGDP futures. I think that is an excellent idea. However, first of all it could be hard to set-up a genuine NGDP futures markets. Second, the experience with inflation linked bonds shows that the prices on these bonds often are distorted by for example lack of liquidity in the particular markets.

I believe that these problems can be solved and I think Scott’s suggestion ideally is the right one. However, there is a more simple solution, which in principle is the same thing, but which would be much less costly and complicated to operate. My suggestion is the central bank simply set-up a prediction market for key macroeconomic variables – including of the variables that the central bank targets (or could target) such as NGDP level and growth, inflation, the price level.

…The experience with prediction markets is quite good and prediction markets have been used to forecast everything from the outcome of elections to how much a movie will bring in at the box office. A clear advantage with prediction markets is that they are quite easy to set-up and run. Furthermore, it has been shown that even relatively small size bets give good and reliable predictions. This mean that if a central bank set up a prediction market then the average citizen in the country could easily participate in the “monetary policy market”.

I hence believe that prediction markets could be a very useful tool for central banks – both as a forecasting tool but also as a communication tool. A truly credible central bank would have no problem relying on market forecasts rather than on internal forecast.

I of course understand that central banks for all kind of reasons would be very reluctant to base monetary policy on market predictions, but imagine that the Federal Reserve had had a prediction market for NGDP (or inflation for that matter) in 2007-8. Then there is no doubt that it would have had a real-time indication of how much monetary conditions had tightened and that likely would caused the Fed into action much earlier than was actually the case. A problem with traditional macroeconomic forecasts is that they take time to do and hence are not available to policy makers before sometime has gone by.

With Hypermind’s NGDP prediction market we now have such a market I was calling for back in 2012 and in the future I will try to keep track of the Hypermind’s NGDP prediction market as I believe that such markets can teach us quite a bit about the workings of monetary policy.

Furthermore, it would be extremely interesting to see a similar market being set up for the euro zone so I hope Hypermind in the future will find a sponsor to set up such a market.


Some of my earlier posts on prediction markets:

The Crowd: “Lars, you are fat!”
Prediction markets and UK monetary policy
Leave it to the market to decide on “tapering”
Guest post: Central bankers should watch the Eurovision (by Jens Pedersen)
Remembering the “Market” in Market Monetarism
Gabe Newell on prediction markets – NGDP level targeting and Lindsay Lohan
Yet another argument for prediction markets: “Reputation and Forecast Revisions: Evidence from the FOMC”
Benn & Ben – would prediction markets be of interest to you?
Prediction markets and government budget forecasts
Central banks should set up prediction markets
Markets are telling us where NGDP growth is heading
Scott’s prediction market
Bank of England should leave forecasting to Ladbrokes
Ben maybe you should try “policy futures”?
Robin Hanson’s brilliant idea for central bank decision-making

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