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.


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)


  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?