At present, the Bank of England has an inflation target of 2% CPI at a 24-month time horizon. Most, other central banks also have simple Inflation targets. But central bankers’ opinions seem to be changing.
Consider four facts.
1. Many central banks around the world have had record low interest rates for nearly four years, backed up in some cases by programmes of quantitative easing, officially in pursuit of an inflation target.
2. The world is mired in recession or sluggish growth, on which monetary policy seems to have had only a modest effect.
3. Inflation seems to be poorly related to aggregate demand, at least within an economy. Instead, inflation in recent years seems to be particularly affected by commodity prices.
4. Success in meeting an inflation target could mean failure in terms of an economy achieving an actual growth rate equal to its potential rate.
It’s not surprising that there have been calls for rethinking monetary policy targets.
There have recently been two interesting developments: one is a speech by Mark Carney, Governor designate of the Bank of England; the other is a decision on targets by the Fed, reported at a press conference by Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Mark Carney proposes the possible replacement of an inflation target with a target for nominal GDP (NGDP). This could be, say, 5%. What is more, it should be an annual average over a number of years. Thus if the target is missed in one year, it can be made up in subsequent years. For example, if this year the actual rate of nominal GDP growth is 4%, then by achieving 6% next year, the economy would keep to the average 5% target. As Stephanie Flanders points out:
Moving to nominal GDP targets would send a signal that the Bank was determined to get back the nominal growth in the economy that has been lost, even if it is at the cost of pushing inflation above 2% for a sustained period of time.
In the USA, Ben Bernanke announced that the Fed would target unemployment by keeping interest rates at their current record lows until unemployment falls below a threshold of 6.5%.
Until recently, the Fed has been more flexible than most other central banks by considering not only inflation but also real GDP when setting interest rates. This has been close to following a Taylor rule, which involves targeting a weighted averaged of inflation and real GDP. However, in January 2012, the Fed announced that it would adopt a 2% long-run inflation target. So the move to targeting unemployment represents a rapid change in policy
So have simple inflation targets run their course? Should they be replaced by other targets or should targeting itself be abandoned? The following articles examine the issues.
Mark Carney hints at need for radical action to boost ailing economies The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (11/12/12)
George Osborne welcomes inflation target review The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick and James Kirkup (13/12/12)
Monetary policy: Straight talk The Economist, R.A. (12/12/12)
New Bank of England governor Mark Carney mulls end of inflation targets The Guardian, Larry Elliott (12/12/12/)
Carney’s trail of carnage Independent, Ben Chu (12/12/12)
Mark Carney suggests targeting economic output BBC News (12/12/12)
A new target for the Bank of England? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (14/12/12)
Should the UK really ditch inflation target? Investment Week, Katie Holliday (14/12/12)
BoE economist Spencer Dale warns on Mark Carney’s ideas The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (12/12/12)
Ben Bernanke Outlines Fed Policy for 2013 IVN, Alex Gauthier (14/12/12)
Fed gives itself a new target BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (13/12/12)
Fed to Keep Easing, Sets Target for Rates CNBC, Jeff Cox (12/12/12)
Bernanke calls high unemployment rate ‘an enormous waste’ Los Angeles Times, Jim Puzzanghera (12/12/12)
Think the Fed has been too timid? Check out Britain and Japan. Washington Post, Brad Plumer (13/12/12)
Inflation Targeting is Dead, Long Live Inflation! The Market Oracle, Adrian Ash (14/12/12)
Speech and press conference
Guidance Bank of Canada, Mark Carney (11/12/12)
Transcript of Chairman Bernanke’s Press Conference Federal Reserve Bank, Ben Bernanke (12/12/12)
- Which of the following would meet an NGDP target of 5%: (a) 5% real growth and 0% inflation; (b) 5% real growth and 5% inflation; (c) 5% inflation and 0% growth?
- What are the main arguments in favour of an NGDP target?
- What factors would need to be taken into account in deciding the target rate of NGDP?
- What are the main arguments against an NGDP target?
- Is it possible to target two indicators with one policy instrument (interest rates)? Explain.
- Explain what is meant by Taylor rule?
- Is having an unemployment target a type of Taylor rule?
- Why may the rate of inflation (whether current or forecast) be a poor indicator of the state of the real economy?
Since March 2009, the Bank of England has engaged in a process of quantitative easing (QE). Over the period to January 2010 the Bank of England injected £200 billion of new money into the economy by purchasing assets from the private sector, mainly government bonds. The assets were purchased with new money, which enters the economy as credits to the accounts of those selling the assets to the Bank of England. This increase in narrow money (the monetary base) is then able to form the basis of credit creation, allowing broad money (M4) to increase by a multiple of the increased monetary base. In other words, injecting £200 billion allows M4 to increase by considerably more.
But just how much more will M4 rise? How big is the money multiplier? This depends on the demand for loans from banks, which in turn depends on the confidence of business and households. With the recovery only just beginning, demand is still very dampened. Credit creation also depends on the willingess of banks to lend. But this too has been dampened by banks’ desire to increase liquidity and expand their capital base in the wake of the credit crunch.
Not surprisingly, the growth in M4 has been sluggish. Between March and Decmber 2009, narrow money (notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England) grew from £91bn to £203bn (an increase of 123%). M4, however, grew from £2011bn to £2048bn: an increase of only 1.8%. In fact, in December it fell back from £2069bn in November.
Despite the continued sluggishness of the economy, at its February meeting the Bank of England announced an end to further quantitiative easing – at least for the time being. Although Bank Rate would be kept on hold at 0.5%, there would be no further injections of money. Part of the reason for this is that there is still considerable scope for a growth in broad money on the basis of the narrow money already created. If QE were to continue, there could be excessive broad money in a few months’ time and that could push inflation well above target. As it is, rising costs have already pushed inflation above the 2% target (see Too much of a push from costs but no pull from demand).
So will this be an end to quantitative easing? The following articles explore the question.
Bank of England halts quantitative easing Guardian, Ashley Seager (4/2/10)
Bank calls time on quantitative easing (including video) Telegraph, Edmund Conway (5/2/10)
Bank of England’s time-out for quantitative easing plan BBC News (4/2/10)
Shifting goalposts keep final score in question Financial Times, Chris Giles and Jessica Winch (5/2/10)
Bank halts QE at £200bn despite ‘sluggish’ recovery Independent, Sean O’Grady (5/2/10)
Easy does it: No further QE BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (4/2/10)
Leading article: Easing off – but only for now Independent (5/2/10)
Not easy Times Online (5/2/10)
Quantitative easing: What the economists say Guardian (4/2/10)
- Explain how quantitative easing works?
- What determines the rate of growth of M4?
- Why has the Bank of England decided to call a halt to quantiative easing – at least for the time being?
- What is the transmission mechanism whereby an increase in the monetary base affects real GDP?
- What role does the exchange rate play in the transmission mechanism?
- Why is it difficult to predict the effect of an increase in the monetary base on real GDP?
- What will determine whether or not the Bank of England will raise interest rates in a few months’ time?
Inflation’s rising again! After a year of falling inflation, with CPI inflation being below the Bank of England’s target of 2% since June 2009, inflation began rising again in October 2009 and then shot up in December. In the year to November 2009, CPI inflation was 1.9%. In the year to December it had risen to 2.9% – well above the 2% target. As the National Statistics article states, however:
This record increase is due to a number of exceptional events that took place in December 2008:
the reduction in the standard rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) to 15 per cent from 17.5 per cent
sharp falls in the price of oil
pre-Christmas sales as a result of the economic downturn
These exceptional events led to the CPI falling by 0.4 per cent between November and December 2008 (a record fall between these two months). The CPI increase between November and December 2009 of 0.6 per cent is far more typical (the CPI increased by 0.6 per cent between November and December in both 2006 and 2007). These exceptional events also affected the change in the RPI annual rate.
So what should the Bank of England do? 2.9% is well above the target of 2%. So should the Monetary Policy Committee raise interest rates at its next meeting? The answer is no. Although inflation is above target, the Bank of England is concerned with predicted inflation in 24 months’ time. Almost certainly, the rate of inflation will fall back as the special factors, such as the increase in VAT back to 17.5% and earlier falls in VAT and oil prices, fall out of the annual data.
What is more, the sudden rise in CPI inflation is almost entirely due to cost-push factors, not demand-pull ones. Rises in costs have a dampening effect on demand. Raising interest rates in these circumstances would further dampen demand – the last thing you want to do as the economy is beginning a fragile recovery from recession.
The Bank of England’s policy recognises that the prime determinant of inflation over the medium term is aggregate demand relative to potential output. For this reason it doesn’t respond to temporary supply-side (cost) shocks.
Avoid false alarm over UK inflation Financial Times (20/1/10)
Oh dear. Inflation is back again Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (19/1/10)
Mervyn King confident on inflation target Times Online, Grainne Gilmore (19/1/10)
How should we remember 2009? As the year the Bank of England’s inflation target died Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (20/1/10)
An embarrassing bungee-jump The Economist (21/1/10)
Priced in BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders’ blog (19/1/10)
This MPC is not fit for purpose New Statesman, David Blanchflower (21/1/10)
Jobs joy takes sting out of inflation misery Sunday Times, David Smith (24/1/10)
For CPI inflation data, see Consumer Prices Index (CPI) National Statistics
- For what reasons might inflation be expected to fall back to 2% later in the year?
- Does the rise in inflation to 2.9% put pressure on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to raise interest rates? Explain why or why not.
- What factors is the MPC likely to consider at its February meeting when deciding whether or not to embark on a further round of quantitative easing?
- What effects has the depreciation of sterling had on inflation? Explain whether this effect is likely to continue and what account of it should be taken by the MPC when setting interest rates.
- What is meant by ‘core inflation’? Why did this rise to 2.8% in December 2009?
- What is the role of expectations in determining (a) inflation and (b) real GDP in 24 months’ time?
- Why, according to David Blanchflower, is the MPC not ‘fit for purpose’?
Rising food prices (5.5% increase over the past year) and rising energy costs have led to a rise in overall inflation. The consumer price index rose from 2.5% in March to 3% in April, triggering concerns that the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, would have once again to write an explanatory letter to the Chancellor for inflation going over its target rate.
Biggest jump in cost of living for six years surprises the city Guardian (4/5/08)
The danger of inflation fixation Guardian (14/5/08)
Dear Alistair …. Guardian (13/5/08)
Rising food prices send inflation surging to 3% Guardian (13/5/08)
Playing the percentage game for high stakes Guardian (9/5/08)
High street prices in biggest surge since 1992 Times Online (29/5/08)
UK inflation jumps to 3% in April BBC News Online (13/5/08)
||Explain the principal factors that led to the sharp rise in the cost of living for April.
||Assess the extent to which inflation may be higher for many groups in society than the consumer price index figures indicate.
||Discuss the extent to which an interest rate increase would help to reduce inflation in a climate of rising food and energy prices.
The start of 2008 saw oil prices hit $100 per barrel – a new record. This important psychological as well as economic milestone has, as a result, also seen petrol prices rising to over £1 per litre. The increase in prices may prove to be an important factor in determining whether the Bank of England is able to lower interest rates.
The heavy price of $100 per barrel Guardian (4/1/08)
Oil sets fresh record above $100 BBC News Online (3/1/08)
Oil price at record $100 a barrel BBC News Online (2/1/08)
What is driving oil prices so high? BBC News Online (2/1/08)
Global oil industry in figures BBC News Online (2/1/08)
Plenty of oil left in the global tank Times Online (16/12/07)
Oil at $100 threatens to choke economy Times Online (3/1/08)
Oil prices break $100 barrier BBC News Online
||What are the main factors that have driven oil prices over $100 per barrel.
||Using diagrams as appropriate, illustrate the changes that have taken place in the oil market.
||Assess the likely impact of the increase in the oil price on the major UK economic targets.
||Discuss the extent to which the Bank of England will need to take account of higher oil prices in its decisions on interest rates.