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Posts Tagged ‘forward guidance’

US interest rates: edging upwards

On 14 December, the US Federal Reserve announced that its 10-person Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) had unanimously decided to raise the Fed’s benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to a range of between 0.5% and 0.75%. This is the first rise since this time last year, which was the first rise for nearly 10 years.

The reasons for the rise are two-fold. The first is that the US economy continues to grow quite strongly, with unemployment edging downwards and confidence edging upwards. Although the rate of inflation is currently still below the 2% target, the FOMC expects inflation to rise to the target by 2018, even with the rate rise. As the Fed’s press release states:

Inflation is expected to rise to 2% over the medium term as the transitory effects of past declines in energy and import prices dissipate and the labor market strengthens further.

The second reason for the rate rise is the possible fiscal policy stance of the new Trump administration. If, as expected, the new president adopts an expansionary fiscal policy, with tax cuts and increased government spending on infrastructure projects, this will stimulate the economy and put upward pressure on inflation. It could also mean that the Fed will raise interest rates again more quickly. Indeed, the FOMC indicated that it expects three rate rises in 2017 rather than the two it predicted in September.

However, just how much and when the Fed will raise interest rates again is highly uncertain. Future monetary policy measures will only become more predictable when Trump’s policies and their likely effects become clearer.

Articles
US Federal Reserve raises interest rates and flags quicker pace of tightening in 2017 Independent, Ben Chu (14/12/16)
US Federal Reserve raises interest rates: what happens next? The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (15/12/16)
Holiday traditions: The Fed finally manages to lift rates in 2016 The Economist (14/12/16)
US raises key interest rate by 0.25% on strengthening economy BBC News (14/12/16)
Fed Raises Key Interest Rate, Citing Strengthening Economy The New York Times, Binyamin Appelbaum (14/12/16)
US dollar surges to 14-year high as Fed hints at three rate hikes in 2017 The Guardian, Martin Farrer and agencies (15/12/16)

Questions

  1. What determines the stance of US monetary policy?
  2. How does fiscal policy impact on market interest rates and monetary policy?
  3. What effect does a rise in interest rates have on exchange rates and the various parts of the balance of payments?
  4. What effect is a rise in US interest rates likely to have on other countries?
  5. What is meant by ‘forward guidance’ in the context of monetary policy? What are the benefits of providing forward guidance?
  6. What were the likely effects on the US stock market of the announcement by the FOMC?
  7. Following the FOMC announcement, two-year US Treasury bond yields rose to 1.231%, the highest since August 2009. Explain why.
  8. For what reason does the FOMC believe that the US economy is already expanding at roughly the maximum sustainable pace?
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US interest rates and growth

The US economy has been performing relatively well, but as with the UK economy, growth in the first quarter of 2015 has slowed. In the US, it has slowed to 0.2%, which is below expectations and said to be due to ‘transitory factors’. In response, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at a record low, within the band 0.0% to 0.25%.

The USA appears relatively unconcerned about the slower growth it is experiencing and expects growth to recover in the next quarter. The Fed said:

“Growth in household spending declined; households’ real incomes rose strongly, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices, and consumer sentiment remains high. Business fixed investment softened, the recovery in the housing sector remained slow, and exports declined.”

Nothing has been said as to when interest rates may rise and with this unexpected slowing of the economy, further delays are likely. An investment Manager from Aberdeen Asset Management said:

“The removal of the Fed’s time dependent forward guidance could be significant. It means that any meeting from now on could be the one when they announce that magic first rate rise.”

Low rates will provide optimal conditions for stimulating growth. A key instrument of monetary policy, interest rates affect many of the components of aggregate demand. Lower interest rates reduce the cost of borrowing, reduce the return on savings and hence encourage consumption. They can also reduce mortgage repayments and have a role in reducing the exchange rate. All of these factors are crucial for any economic stimulus.

Analysts are not expecting rates to rise in the June meeting and so attention has now turned to September as the likely time when interest rates will increase and finally reward savers. Any earlier increase in rates could spell trouble for economic growth and similar arguments can be made in the UK and across the eurozone. The following articles consider the US economy.

Federal Reserve keeps interest rates at record low BBC News, Kim Gittleson (29/4/15)
Shock stalling of US economy hits chances of early Fed rate rise The Guardian, Larry Elliott (29/4/15)
US Fed leave interest rates unchanged after poor GDP figures Independent, Andrew Dewson (30/4/15)
Fed could give clues on first interest rate hike USA Today, Paul Davidson (28/4/15)
Fed’s downgrade of economic outlook signals longer rate hike wait Reuters, Michael Flaherty and Howard Schneider (29/4/15)
Five things that stopped the Fed raising rates The Telegraph, Peter Spence (29/4/15)

Questions

  1. By outlining the key components of aggregate demand, explain the mechanisms by which interest rates will affect each component.
  2. How can inflation rates be affected by interest rates?
  3. Why could it be helpful for the Fed not to provide any forward guidance?
  4. What are the key factors behind the slowdown of growth in the USA? Do you agree that they are transitory factors?
  5. Who would be helped and harmed by a rate rise?
  6. Consider the main macroeconomic objectives and in each case, with respect to the current situation in the USA, explain whether economic theory would suggest that interest rates should (a) fall , (b) remain as they are, or (c) rise.
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The MPC – looking for a remit (Part 2: new forward guidance)

With the publication of the February 2014 Inflation Report the Bank of England has adjusted its forward guidance to the markets.

As we saw in Part 1 of this blog, the economy should soon fall below the 7% unemployment threshold adopted in the original forward guidance issued last August. But the Bank feels that there is still too much slack in the economy to raise interest rates when unemployment does fall below 7%.

The Bank has thus issued a new vaguer form of forward guidance.

The MPC’s view is that the economy currently has spare capacity equivalent to about 1%–1½% of GDP, concentrated in the labour market. Around half of that slack reflects the difference between the current unemployment rate of 7.1% and an estimate of its
medium-term equilibrium rate of 6%–6½%. The remaining slack largely reflects a judgement that employees would like to work more hours than is currently the case. Companies appear to be operating at close to normal levels of capacity, although this is subject to some uncertainty.

The existence of spare capacity in the economy is both wasteful and increases the risk that inflation will undershoot the target in the medium term. Moreover, recent developments in inflation mean that the near-term trade-off between keeping inflation close to the target and supporting output and employment is more favourable than at the time the MPC announced its guidance last August: CPI inflation has fallen back to the 2% target more quickly than anticipated and, with domestic costs well contained, is expected to remain at, or a little below, the target for the next few years. The MPC therefore judges that there remains scope to absorb spare capacity further before raising Bank Rate.

Just what will determine the timing and pace of tightening? The Bank identifies three factors: the sustainability of the recovery; the extent to which supply responds to demand; and the evolution of cost and price pressures. But there is considerable uncertainty about all of these.

Thus although this updated forward guidance suggests that interest rates will not be raised for some time to come, even when unemployment falls below 7%, it is not at all clear when a rise in Bank Rate is likely to be, and then how quickly and by how much Bank Rate will be raised over subsequent months. Partly this is because of the inevitable uncertainty about future developments in the economy, but partly this is because it is not clear just how the MPC will interpret developments.

So is this new vaguer forward guidance helpful? The following articles address this question.

Articles
Bank of England Governor Carney’s statement on forward guidance Reuters (12/2/14)
Why has Mark Carney tweaked forward guidance? The Telegraph, Denise Roland (12/2/14)
Interest rates: Carney rips up ‘forward guidance’ policy Channel 4 News (12/2/14)
Forward guidance version 2: will the public believe it? The Guardian, Larry Elliott (12/2/14)
Mark Carney adjusts Bank interest rate policy BBC News (12/2/14)
Mark Carney’s almost promise on rates BBC News, Robert Peston (12/2/14)
Did the Bank of England’s Forward Guidance work? Independent, Ben Chu (2/2/14)
Forward Guidance 2.0: Is Carney just digging with a larger shovel? Market Watch, The Tell (12/2/14)
The U.K. Economy: Five Key Takeaways Wall Street Journal, Alen Mattich (12/2/14)

Bank of England pages
Inflation Report, February 2014 Bank of England (12/2/14)
Monetary Policy Bank of England
MPC Remit Letters Bank of England
Forward Guidance Bank of England

Questions

  1. Summarize the new forward guidance given by the Bank of England.
  2. Why is credibility an important requirement for policy?
  3. What data would you need to have in order to identify the degree of economic slack in the economy?
  4. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  5. What is meant by the ‘output gap’? Would it be a good idea to target the output gap?
  6. Is it possible to target the rate of inflation and one or more other indicators at the same time? Explain.
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The MPC – looking for a remit (Part 1: the options)

Although the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England is independent in setting interest rates, until recently it still had to follow a precise remit set by the government. This was to target inflation of 2% (±1%), with interest rates set to meet this target in 24 months’ time. But things have changed since the new Governor, Mark Carney, took up office in July 2013. And now things are not so clear cut.

The Bank announced that it would keep Bank Rate at the current historically low level of 0.5% at least until unemployment had fallen to 7%, subject to various conditions. More generally, the Bank stated that:

The MPC intends at a minimum to maintain the present highly stimulative stance of monetary policy until economic slack has been substantially reduced, provided this does not entail material risks to price stability or financial stability.

This ‘forward guidance’ was designed to provide more information about future policy and thereby more certainty for businesses and households to plan.

But unemployment has fallen rapidly in recent months. It fell from a 7.7% average for the three months May to July 2013 to 7.1% for the latest available three months (September to November 2013). And yet there is still considerable slack in the economy.

It now, therefore, looks highly unlikely that the MPC will raise Bank Rate as soon as unemployment falls below 7%. This then raises the question of how useful the 7% target has been and whether, if anything, it has created further uncertainty about future MPC decisions.

The following still appears on the Bank of England website:

The MPC intends at a minimum to maintain the present highly stimulative stance of monetary policy until economic slack has been substantially reduced, provided this does not entail material risks to price stability or financial stability.

But this raises two questions: (a) how do you measure ‘economic slack’ and (b) what constitutes a substantial reduction?

So what should the Bank do now? What, if any, forward guidance should it offer to the markets? Will that forward guidance be credible? After all, credibility among businesses and households is an important condition for any policy stance. According to Larry Elliott in the first article below, there are five options.

Articles
Bank of England’s method of setting interest rates needs reviewing The Guardian, Larry Elliott (9/2/14)
Mark Carney set to adjust Bank interest rate policy BBC News (12/2/14)
Forward guidance: dead and alive BBC News, Robert Peston (11/2/14)
What “forward guidance” is, and how it (theoretically) works The Economist (11/2/14)
BOE’s forward guidance 2.0: Cheap talk, or big change? Market Watch (11/2/14)

Bank of England pages
Monetary Policy Bank of England
MPC Remit Letters Bank of England
Forward Guidance Bank of England

Questions

  1. What data would you need to have in order to identify the degree of economic slack in the economy?
  2. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  3. Why might the issuing of the forward guidance last July have itself contributed to the fall in unemployment?
  4. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  5. Why is credibility an important requirement for policy?
  6. Why may LFS unemployment be a poor guide to the degree of slack in the economy?
  7. Discuss the relative merits of each of the five policy options identified by Larry Elliott.
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Ways of pricking the house price bubble

House prices in the UK are rising and the rise seems to be accelerating – at least until the latest month (August). They are now growing at an annualised rate of nearly 4%. This is the fastest rate for three years (see chart below: click here for a PowerPoint of the chart).

This may be worrying for Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, who is committed to avoiding a new house price bubble. The problem is that, under the recently issued forward guidance, the Bank of England is set to retain the current historically low Bank rate of 0.5% until unemployment has fallen to 7%. But that could be some time – probably around two years.

So what can the Bank do in the meantime and what will be the consequences?

The following article from The Guardian looks at the options.
 

Article
How can the Bank of England prick the house price bubble? The Guardian, Patrick Collinson and Heather Stewart (30/8/13)

Data
Links to house price data The Economics Network, John Sloman

Questions

  1. What constitutes a housing price boom? Is the UK currently experiencing such a boom?
  2. What factors have led to the recent house price rises? Have these factors affected the demand or supply of houses (or both)?
  3. Who gains and who loses from rising house prices?
  4. Explain the policy adopted in New Zealand to curb house price inflation.
  5. Consider the merits of this option?
  6. Could borrowers find ways around this measure?
  7. Are there any other options open to the Bank of England?
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UK unemployment falls – very slightly

UK unemployment fell by 4000 to 2.51 million in second quarter of this year. But this was too small to have any significant effect on the unemployment rate, which remained at 7.8%.

According to the forward guidance issued by the Bank of England, Bank Rate will stay at 0.5%, barring serious unforeseen circumstances, until unemployment reaches 7%. So will this be soon?

There are good reasons to suggest that the answer is no. Reasons include the following:

(a) Many firms may choose to employ their part-time workers for more hours, rather than taking on extra staff, if the economy picks up.

(b) The recovery is being fuelled by a rise in consumption, which, in turn, is being financed by people drawing on savings or borrowing more. The household saving ratio fell from 7.4% in 2012 Q1 to 4.2% in 2013 Q1. This trend will be unsustainable over the long run, especially as the Bank of England may see a rapid rise in borrowing/decline in saving as serious enough to raise interest rates before the unemployment rate has fallen to 7%.

(c) Despite the modest recovery, people’s average real incomes are well below the levels prior to the deep recession of 2008/9.

The articles consider the outlook for the economy and unemployment

Articles
UK unemployment holds steady at 7.8pc The Telegraph, Rebecca Clancy (14/8/13)
Unemployment rate is unlikely to fall sharply The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/13)
UK unemployment falls by 4,000 to 2.51 million BBC News (14/8/13)
UK wages decline among worst in Europe BBC News (11/8/13)
Squeezing the hourglass The Economist (10/8/13)
More people in work than ever before as unemployment falls Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (14/8/13)

Data
Labour Market Statistics, August 2013 ONS
United Kingdom National Accounts, The Blue Book, 2013: Chapter 06: Households and Non-profit Institutions Serving Households (NPISH) ONS

Questions

  1. What factors determine the rate of unemployment?
  2. With reference to the ONS data in Labour Market Statistics, August 2013 above, what has happened to (a) the long-term unemployment rate; (b) the unemployment rate for 18–24 year olds?
  3. How would you define ‘living standards’?
  4. How is labour productivity relevant to the question of whether unemployment is likely to fall?
  5. How much have living standards fallen since 2008?
  6. Under what circumstances might the Bank of England raise interest rates before the rate of unemployment has fallen to 7%?
  7. Property prices are beginning to rise. Consider the effects of this and whether, on balance, a rise in property prices is beneficial.
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Forward guidance: managing expectations (update)

Tight fiscal policies are being pursued in many countries to deal with high public-sector deficits that resulted from the deep recession of 2008/9. This has put the main onus on monetary policy as the means of stimulating recovery. As a result we have seen record low interest rates around the world, set at only slightly above zero in the main industrialised countries for the past 4½ years. In addition, there have been large increases in narrow money as a result of massive programmes of quantitative easing.

Yet recovery remains fragile in many countries, including the UK and much of the rest of Europe. And a new problem has been worries by potential investors that loose monetary policy may be soon coming to an end. As the June blog The difficult exit from cheap money pointed out:

The US economy has been showing stronger growth in recent months and, as a result, the Fed has indicated that it may soon have to begin tightening monetary policy. It is not doing so yet, nor are other central banks, but the concern that this may happen in the medium term has been enough to persuade many investors that stock markets are likely to fall as money eventually becomes tighter. Given the high degree of speculation on stock markets, this has led to a large-scale selling of shares as investors try to ‘get ahead of the curve’.

Central banks have responded with a new approach to monetary policy. This is known as ‘forward guidance’. The idea is to manage expectations by saying what the central bank will do over the coming months.

The USA was the first to pursue this approach. In September 2012 the Fed committed to bond purchase of $40bn per month (increased to $85bn per month in January 2013) for the foreseeable future; and record low interest rates of between 0% and 0.25% would continue. Indeed, as pointed out above, it was the ‘guidance’ last month that such a policy would be tapered off at some point, that sent stock markets falling in June.

The Fed has since revised its guidance. On 10 July, Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chairman said that monetary policy would not be tightened for the foreseeable future. With fiscal policy having been tightened, QE would continue and interest rates would not be raised until unemployment had fallen to 6.5%.

Japan has been issuing forward guidance since last December. Its declared aim has been to lower the exchange rate and raise inflation. It would take whatever fiscal and monetary policies were deemed necessary to achieve this (see A J-curve for Japan? and Japan’s three arrows).

Then on 4 July both the Bank of England and the ECB adopted forward guidance too. Worried that growth in the US economy would lead to an end to loose monetary policy before too long and that this would drive up interest rates worldwide, both central banks committed to keeping interest rates low for an extended period of time. Indeed, the ECB declared that the next movement in interest rates would more likely be down than up. Mario Draghi, the ECB president said that the ending of loose monetary policy is ‘very distant’.

The effect of this forward guidance has been to boost stock markets again. The hope is that by managing expectations in this way, the real economy will be affected too, with increased confidence leading to higher investment and faster economic growth.

Update (8/8/13)
With the publication of its August 2013 Inflation Report, the Bank of England clarified its approach to forward guidance. It was announced that Bank Rate would stay at the current historically low level of 0.5% ‘at least until the Labour Force Survey headline measure of unemployment has fallen to a threshold of 7%’. In his Inflation Report Press Conference opening remarks, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, also stated that:

While the unemployment rate remains above 7%, the MPC stands ready to undertake further asset purchases if further stimulus is warranted. But until the unemployment threshold is reached the MPC intends not to reduce the stock of asset purchases from the current £375 billion.

Nevertheless, the Bank reserved the right to abondon this undertaking under cirtain circumstances. As Mark Carney put it:

The Bank of England’s unwavering commitment to price stability and financial stability is such that this threshold guidance will cease to apply if material risks to either are judged to have arisen. In that event, the unemployment threshold would be ‘knocked out’. The guidance will remain in place only if, in the MPC’s view, CPI inflation 18 to 24 months ahead is more likely than not to be below 2.5%, medium-term inflation expectations remain sufficiently well anchored, and the FPC has not judged that the stance of monetary policy poses a significant threat to financial stability that cannot otherwise be contained through the considerable supervisory and regulatory policy tools of the various authorities. The two inflation knockouts ensure that the guidance remains fully consistent with our primary objective of price stability. The financial stability knockout takes full advantage of the new institutional structure at the Bank of England, ensuring that monetary and macroprudential policies coordinate to support a sustainable recovery. The knock-outs would not necessarily trigger an increase in Bank Rate – they would instead be a prompt for the MPC to reconsider the appropriate stance of policy.

Similarly, it is important to be clear that Bank Rate will not automatically be increased when the unemployment threshold is reached. Nor is 7% a target for unemployment. The rate of unemployment consistent with medium-term price stability – a rate that monetary policy can do little to affect – is likely to be lower than this. So 7% is merely a ‘way station’ at which the MPC will reassess the state of the economy, the progress of the economic recovery, and, in that context, the appropriate stance of monetary policy.

The articles in the updated section below consider the implications of this forward guidance and the caveat that the undertaking might be abondoned in certain circumstances.

Articles
Q&A: What is ‘forward guidance’ BBC News, Laurence Knight (4/7/13)
Forward guidance crosses the Atlantic The Economist, P.W. (4/7/13)
ECB has no plans to exit loose policies, says Benoit Coeure The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (25/6/13)
ECB issues unprecedented forward guidance The Telegraph, Denise Roland (4/7/13)
Independence day for central banks BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (4/7/13)
The Monetary Policy Committee’s search for guidance BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (16/7/13)
The Monetary Policy Committee’s search for guidance (II) BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (17/7/13)
Bank of England surprise statement sends markets up and sterling tumbling The Guardian, Jill Treanor and Angela Monaghan (4/7/13)
Forward guidance only works if you do it right Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (7/7/13)
Fed’s Forward Guidance Failing to Deliver Wall Street Journal, Nick Hastings (15/7/13)
Talking Point: Thoughts on ECB forward guidance Financial Times, Dave Shellock (11/7/13)
Forward guidance in the UK is likely to fail as the Fed taper approaches City A.M., Peter Warburton (12/7/13)
Forward guidance more than passing fashion for central banks Reuters, Sakari Suoninen (11/7/13)
Markets await Mark Carney’s ‘forward guidance’ The Guardian, Heather Stewart (17/7/13)
Beware Guidance The Economist, George Buckley (25/7/13)

Articles for update
The watered down version of Forward Guidance Reuters, Kathleen Brooks (8/8/13)
Clarity Versus Flexibility at the Bank of England Bloomberg (7/8/13)
Mark Carney’s guidance leaves financial markets feeling lost Independent, Ben Chu (8/8/13)
Bank links interest rates to unemployment target BBC News (7/8/13)
Mark Carney says forward guidance should boost economy BBC News (8/8/13)
The Bank’s new guidance BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (7/8/13)
Uncertainty over BoE guidance lifts sterling to 7-week peak Reuters, Spriha Srivastava (8/8/13)
Bank of England’s guidance is clear, say most economists: Poll The Economic Times (8/8/13)
Britain’s economy: How is it really doing? The Economist (10/8/13)
Markets give thumbs down to Mark Carney’s latest push on forward guidance The Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/8/13)
Carney’s guidance on guidance BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (28/8/13)

Webcasts and podcasts for update
Inflation Report Press Conference Bank of England (7/8/13)
Interest rates to be held until unemployment drops to 7% BBC News, Extracts of Statement by Mark Carney, Governor of the Band of England (7/8/13)
Bank of England links rates to unemployment target BBC News (7/8/13)
Mark Carney: Financial institutions ‘have to change culture’ BBC Today Programme (8/8/13)
Bank of England’s Mark Carney announces rates held BBC News. John Moylan (7/8/13)

Central Bank Statements and Speeches
How does forward guidance about the Federal Reserve’s target for the federal funds rate support the economic recovery? Federal Reserve (19/6/13)
Remit for the Monetary Policy Committee HM Treasury (20/3/13)
Bank of England maintains Bank Rate at 0.5% and the size of the Asset Purchase Programme at £375 billion Bank of England (4/7/13)
Monthly Bulletin ECB (see Box 1) (July 2013)
Inflation Report Press Conference: Opening remarks by the Governor Bank of England (7/8/13)
MPC document on Monetary policy trade-offs and forward guidance Bank of England (7/8/13)
Monetary policy and forward guidance in the UK Bank of England, David Miles (24/9/13)
Monetary strategy and prospects Bank of England, Paul Tucker (24/9/13)

Questions

  1. Is forward guidance a ‘rules-based’ or ‘discretion-based’ approach to monetary policy?
  2. Is it possible to provide forward guidance while at the same time pursuing an inflation target?
  3. If people know that central banks are trying to manage expectations, will this help or hinder central banks?
  4. Does the adoption of forward guidance by the Bank of England and ECB make them more or less dependent on the Fed’s policy?
  5. Why may forward guidance be a more effective means of controlling interest rates on long-term bonds (and other long-term rates too) than the traditional policy of setting the repo rate on a month-by-month basis?
  6. What will determine the likely success of forward guidance in determining long-term bond rates?
  7. Is forward guidance likely to make stock market speculation less destabilising?
  8. Is what ways is the ‘threshold guidance’ by the Bank of England likely to make the current expansionary stance of monetary policy more effective?
  9. Is 7% the ‘natural rate of unemployment’? Explain your reasoning.
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Forward guidance: managing expectations

Tight fiscal policies are being pursued in many countries to deal with high public-sector deficits that resulted from the deep recession of 2008/9. This has put the main onus on monetary policy as the means of stimulating recovery. As a result we have seen record low interest rates around the world, set at only slightly above zero in the main industrialised countries for the past 4½ years. In addition, there have been large increases in narrow money as a result of massive programmes of quantitative easing.

Yet recovery remains fragile in many countries, including the UK and much of the rest of Europe. And a new problem has been worries by potential investors that loose monetary policy may be soon coming to an end. As the June blog The difficult exit from cheap money pointed out:

The US economy has been showing stronger growth in recent months and, as a result, the Fed has indicated that it may soon have to begin tightening monetary policy. It is not doing so yet, nor are other central banks, but the concern that this may happen in the medium term has been enough to persuade many investors that stock markets are likely to fall as money eventually becomes tighter. Given the high degree of speculation on stock markets, this has led to a large-scale selling of shares as investors try to ‘get ahead of the curve’.

Central banks have responded with a new approach to monetary policy. This is known as ‘forward guidance’. The idea is to manage expectations by saying what the central bank will do over the coming months.

The USA was the first to pursue this approach. In September 2012 the Fed committed to bond purchase of $40bn per month (increased to $85bn per month in January 2013) for the foreseeable future; and record low interest rates of between 0% and 0.25% would continue. Indeed, as pointed out above, it was the ‘guidance’ last month that such a policy would be tapered off at some point, that sent stock markets falling in June.

The Fed has since revised its guidance. On 10 July, Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chairman said that monetary policy would not be tightened for the foreseeable future. With fiscal policy having been tightened, QE would continue and interest rates would not be raised until unemployment had fallen to 6.5%.

Japan has been issuing forward guidance since last December. Its declared aim has been to lower the exchange rate and raise inflation. It would take whatever fiscal and monetary policies were deemed necessary to achieve this (see A J-curve for Japan? and Japan’s three arrows).

Then on 4 July both the Bank of England and the ECB adopted forward guidance too. Worried that growth in the US economy would lead to an end to loose monetary policy before too long and that this would drive up interest rates worldwide, both central banks committed to keeping interest rates low for an extended period of time. Indeed, the ECB declared that the next movement in interest rates would more likely be down than up. Mario Draghi, the ECB president said that the ending of loose monetary policy is ‘very distant’.

The effect of this forward guidance has been to boost stock markets again. The hope is that by managing expectations in this way, the real economy will be affected too, with increased confidence leading to higher investment and faster economic growth.

Articles
Q&A: What is ‘forward guidance’ BBC News, Laurence Knight (4/7/13)
Forward guidance crosses the Atlantic The Economist, P.W. (4/7/13)
ECB has no plans to exit loose policies, says Benoit Coeure The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (25/6/13)
ECB issues unprecedented forward guidance The Telegraph, Denise Roland (4/7/13)
Independence day for central banks BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (4/7/13)
The Monetary Policy Committee’s search for guidance BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (16/7/13)
The Monetary Policy Committee’s search for guidance (II) BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (17/7/13)
Bank of England surprise statement sends markets up and sterling tumbling The Guardian, Jill Treanor and Angela Monaghan (4/7/13)
Forward guidance only works if you do it right Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (7/7/13)
Fed’s Forward Guidance Failing to Deliver Wall Street Journal, Nick Hastings (15/7/13)
Talking Point: Thoughts on ECB forward guidance Financial Times, Dave Shellock (11/7/13)
Forward guidance in the UK is likely to fail as the Fed taper approaches City A.M., Peter Warburton (12/7/13)
Forward guidance more than passing fashion for central banks Reuters, Sakari Suoninen (11/7/13)
Markets await Mark Carney’s ‘forward guidance’ The Guardian, Heather Stewart (17/7/13)
Beware Guidance The Economist, George Buckley (25/7/13)
UK interest rates held until unemployment falls BBC News (7/8/13)

Central Bank Statements
How does forward guidance about the Federal Reserve’s target for the federal funds rate support the economic recovery? Federal Reserve (19/6/13)
Remit for the Monetary Policy Committee HM Treasury (20/3/13)
Bank of England maintains Bank Rate at 0.5% and the size of the Asset Purchase Programme at £375 billion Bank of England (4/7/13)
Monthly Bulletin ECB (see Box 1) (July 2013)
Inflation Report Press Conference: Opening remarks by the Governor Bank of England (7/8/13)
MPC document on Monetary policy trade-offs and forward guidance Bank of England (7/8/13)
Interest rates to be held until unemployment drops to 7% BBC News, Statement by Mark Carney, Governor of the Band of England (7/8/13)

Questions

  1. Is forward guidance a ‘rules-based’ or ‘discretion-based’ approach to monetary policy?
  2. Is it possible to provide forward guidance while at the same time pursuing an inflation target?
  3. If people know that central banks are trying to manage expectations, will this help or hinder central banks?
  4. Does the adoption of forward guidance by the Bank of England and ECB make them more or less dependent on the Fed’s policy?
  5. Why may forward guidance be a more effective means of controlling interest rates on long-term bonds (and other long-term rates too) than the traditional policy of setting the repo rate on a month-by-month basis?
  6. What will determine the likely success of forward guidance in determining long-term bond rates?
  7. Is forward guidance likely to make stock market speculation less destabilising?
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