What’s The Problem?

The problem isn’t the recent decline in equity prices; the stock market tends to be more volatile than the underlying economy.  Nor is it the recent increase in the fed funds rates (2.4% isn’t very high in an economy growing at 5.5% in nominal terms.)  Rather, the problem is two-fold:

1. Unrealistic forward guidance, which ignores market forecasts.

2. Too much inertia in adjustments in the fed funds rate.

Elsewhere I’ve argued that the second factor may explain the strange absence of mini-recessions in postwar US history.  And this absence is really, really strange.  Just imagine how perplexed geologists would be if the Earth had no small earthquakes, only large ones.  What model could possible explain that? I’ve argued that the sluggishness in the response of interest rates might explain why it is that when we start to slide into a recession we never seem to stop halfway, with the unemployment rate rising by only 0.9 to 2.0 percentage points.

The fed funds rate is currently around 2.4%, and the market forecasts a rate of 2.3% out in July 2020.  That forecast is down sharply in recent months, although still not in recession territory.  Unfortunately, the Fed is forecasting two rate increases next year, and the markets seemed to react poorly to Powell’s attempt to explain this forward guidance.  Even worse, the Fed is often reluctant to change course, because of a perception that it reduces credibility.  Just the opposite is true.  The credibility that matters is the Fed hitting its macro targets, not its interest rate forecasts.

Earlier I suggested the following reform:  Each day, have every FOMC member email their preferred IOR rate, calculated to the nearest basis point.  Set the IOR at the median vote.  Tell the market that the rate will likely follow something close to a random walk, with an increase on one day often followed by a decrease the next.

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