Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dudley Asks ‘Can You Hear Me Now?’
Bill Dudley (FRB-NY) is a voting member of the FOMC. In his prepared remarks at today’s “Regional Press Briefing” in NYC, he gave his spin on last week’s FOMC decisions. He also gave his spin on last Wednesday’s press conference held by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who that day had given his spin on those decisions. Is your head spinning? In case you didn’t hear or understand what the chairman said, Dudley offered a succinct summary:
At its meeting last week, the FOMC decided to continue its accommodative policy stance. It reaffirmed its expectation that the current low range for the federal funds rate target will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 percent, so long as inflation and inflation expectations remain well-behaved. It is important to remember that these conditions are thresholds, not triggers. The FOMC also maintained its purchases of $40 billion per month in agency MBS and $45 billion per month in Treasury securities, with a stated goal of promoting a substantial improvement in the labor market outlook in a context of price stability.

In its statement, the FOMC said that it may vary the pace of purchases as economic conditions evolve. As Chairman Bernanke stated in his press conference following the FOMC meeting, if the economic data over the next year turn out to be broadly consistent with the outlooks that the FOMC sees as most likely, which are roughly similar to the outlook I have already laid out, the FOMC anticipates that it would be appropriate to begin to moderate the pace of purchases later this year. Under such a scenario, subsequent reductions might occur in measured steps through the first half of next year, and an end to purchases around mid-2014. Under this scenario, at the time that asset purchases came to an end, the unemployment rate likely would be near 7 percent and the economy’s momentum strengthening, supporting further robust job gains in the future.
Dudley had four more pointers for Fed watchers who weren’t listening to what was said last week:
Here, a few points deserve emphasis. First, the FOMC’s policy depends on the progress we make towards our objectives. This means that the policy—including the pace of asset purchases—depends on the outlook rather than the calendar. The scenario I outlined above is only that—one possible outcome. Economic circumstances could diverge significantly from the FOMC’s expectations. If labor market conditions and the economy’s growth momentum were to be less favorable than in the FOMC’s outlook—and this is what has happened in recent years—I would expect that the asset purchases would continue at a higher pace for longer.

Second, even if this scenario were to occur and the pace of purchases were reduced, it would still be the case that as long as the FOMC continues its asset purchases it is adding monetary policy accommodation, not tightening monetary policy. As the FOMC adds to its stock of securities, this should continue to put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, making monetary policy more accommodative.

Third, the Federal Reserve is likely to keep most of these assets on its balance sheet for a long time. As Chairman Bernanke noted in his press conference last week, a strong majority of FOMC participants no longer favor selling agency MBS securities during the monetary policy normalization process. This implies a bigger balance sheet for longer, which provides additional accommodation today and continuing support for mortgage markets going forward.

Fourth, even under this scenario, a rise in short-term rates is very likely to be a long way off. Not only will it likely take considerable time to reach the FOMC’s 6.5 percent unemployment rate threshold, but also the FOMC could wait considerably longer before raising short-term rates. The fact that inflation is coming in well below the FOMC’s 2 percent objective is relevant here. Most FOMC participants currently do not expect short-term rates to begin to rise until 2015.
Fed watchers, who concluded last week that the Fed will be increasing the federal funds rate sooner rather than later, weren’t listening to what was said, according to Dudley:
Some commentators have interpreted the recent shift in the market-implied path of short-term interest rates as indicating that market participants now expect the first increases in the federal funds rate target to come much earlier than previously thought. Setting aside whether this is the correct interpretation of recent price moves, let me emphasize that such an expectation would be quite out of sync with both FOMC statements and the expectations of most FOMC participants.

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