Central Bank Independence: “Price stability is the bedrock of a healthy economy and provides the public with immeasurable benefits over time. But restoring price stability when inflation is high can require measures that are not popular in the short term as we raise interest rates to slow the economy. The absence of direct political control over our decisions allows us to take these necessary measures without considering short-term political factors.”
New Goals: “Taking on new goals, however worthy, without a clear statutory mandate would undermine the case for our independence.”
Stick to Mandates: “It is essential that we stick to our statutory goals and authorities, and that we resist the temptation to broaden our scope to address other important social issues of the day.”
Climate Change: “Without explicit congressional legislation, it would be inappropriate for us to use our monetary policy or supervisory tools to promote a greener economy or to achieve other climate-based goals. We are not, and will not be, a ‘climate policymaker.‘”
The U.S. Federal Reserve announced a new rate increase of half a percentage point Wednesday in its ongoing effort to curb inflation.
The Fed raised the rate by 50 basis points, as expected, the seventh rate hike this year. This increase is smaller than the four previous 75 basis point increases but is still a notable increase, putting the range at 4.25%-4.5%.
“Recent indicators point to modest growth in spending and production. Job gains have been robust in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low,” the Fed said. “Inflation remains elevated, reflecting supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic, higher food and energy prices, and broader price pressures.”
The Fed blamed the Russian war in Ukraine for the price hikes. That war delayed the supply chain and increased costs, but the price increases began long before that war, due in part to trillions of dollars in federal debt spending since the pandemic began.
American politicians had tried to control inflation before. The presidents and power brokers of the 1970s had tried price controls, public campaigns, pressure programs, blame games, and attempts to redefine basic economic terminology. The parties differed on the specifics, but both seemed to agree that the voting public and the private sector were to blame, not the bureaucrats and politicians in charge.
Inflation, in short, was a political problem, in the sense that it caused problems for politicians. But it wasn’t one America’s politicians knew how to solve.
On the contrary, America’s political class had spent the ’70s failing to fix inflation, or actively making it worse, often with policies designed to address other political and economic problems. That decade’s price hikes were prolonged and exacerbated by political decisions born of short-term thinking, outright cowardice, and technocratic hubris about policy makers’ ability to enact sweeping changes and manage the macroeconomy.
To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.
Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.
“We continue to believe markets underappreciate just how entrenched U.S. inflation has become and the magnitude of response that will likely be required from the Fed to dislodge it,” the economists at Nomura wrote in a report to clients.
The last time the Fed made such a drastic move was in the early 1980s — another period marked by sky-high inflation.
At each of the last two meetings, the monetary-policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee raised the targeted rate by 0.75 point.
Of the $8.3 trillion of liquid marketable securities in the Fed’s portfolio (see the chart below), 37 percent are overnight repos and Treasury securities maturing in one year or less, 26 percent are T-notes maturing in one to five years, and another 30 percent are mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which pay down principal and interest monthly. So all it takes to pull back the excessive monetary stimulus left over from the COVID-relief era is to let such holdings roll off in 2022-24 without replacing them with new purchases. Operationally, it’s really not rocket science — it’s just a matter of conviction and messaging. Unlike the rising stairstep expected in the Fed’s overnight rates, its bond portfolio runoff won’t make nightly news headlines; it’s like watching paint dry. In this regard, doing nothing is actually doing something quite constructive on the inflation front, despite the lack of fanfare.
What would be the impact on interest rates? Little doubt they must go higher, barring an exogenous shock like a global virus lockdown or a Ukraine-war flight-to-safety. The key question is really how much higher, and how fast. My best guess is that markets have recently discounted about one-third of the potential move higher in long-term rates.
In May of 2020, Hoenig published a paper that spelled out his grim verdict on the age of easy money, from 2010 until now. He compared two periods of economic growth: The period between 1992 and 2000 and the one between 2010 and 2018. These periods were comparable because they were both long periods of economic stability after a recession, he argued. The biggest difference was the Federal Reserve’s extraordinary experiments in money printing during the latter period, during which time productivity, earnings and growth were weak. During the 1990s, labor productivity increased at an annual average rate of 2.3 percent, about twice as much as during the age of easy money. Real median weekly earnings for wage and salary employees rose by 0.7 percent on average annually during the 1990s, compared to only 0.26 percent during the 2010s. Average real gross domestic product growth — a measure of the overall economy — rose an average of 3.8 percent annually during the 1990s, but by only 2.3 percent during the recent decade.
The only part of the economy that seemed to benefit under quantitative easing and zero-percent interest rates was the market for assets. The stock market more than doubled in value during the 2010s. Even after the crash of 2020, the markets continued their stellar growth and returns. Corporate debt was another super-hot market, stoked by the Fed, rising from about $6 trillion in 2010 to a record $10 trillion at the end of 2019.
Our first set of results concern the effects of monetary policy on disposable income. We show that softer monetary policy increases disposable income at all income levels, but that the gains are highly heterogeneous and monotonically increasing in the income level. As shown in Figure 1, a decrease in the policy rate of one percentage point raises disposable income by less than 0.5% at the bottom of the income distribution, by around 1.5% at the median income level, and by more than 5% for the top 1% over a two-year horizon.
Author(s): Asger Lau Andersen, Niels Johannesen, Mia Jørgensen, José-Luis Peydró
Does expansionary monetary policy drive up prices of risky assets? Or, do investors interpret monetary policy easing as a signal that economic fundamentals are weaker than they previously believed, prompting riskier asset prices to fall? We test these competing hypotheses within the U.S. corporate bond market and find evidence strongly in favor of the second explanation—known as the “Fed information effect”. Following an unanticipated monetary policy tightening (easing), returns on corporate bonds with higher credit risk outperform (underperform). We conclude that monetary policy surprises are predominantly interpreted by market participants as signaling information about the state of the economy.
The gap between the income and wealth of black and white households in the US is large and persistent. According to the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), the median wealth of a white household is almost nine times higher than that of a black household. The income gap is smaller (1.7 times) but still large. Moreover, these gaps are as large as they were 50 years ago (Kuhn et al. 2020). Concern about racial inequality has increased recently with evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate effect on the black community (Bertocchi and Dimico 2020). These stark facts have attracted the attention of economists (e.g. Mayhew and Wills 2020, Chetty et al. 2018) and policymakers. For instance, Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, recently stated that the Federal Reserve “can play an important role in helping to reduce racial inequities and bring about a more inclusive economy”.1
A prominent line of thinking is that an accommodative monetary policy lowers unemployment rates and increases labour income for marginal workers, who are oftentimes low-income and minority households. This is what Coibion et al. (2014) call the earnings channel of monetary policy. More specifically, Carpenter and Rodgers (2004) show that a monetary policy accommodation reduces the gap between the unemployment rates of black and white households.
Author(s): By Alina Kristin Bartscher, PhD candidate, University of Bonn, Moritz Kuhn, Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Bon, Moritz Schularick, Professor of Economics, University of Bonn, CEPR Research Fellow, Member of the Academy of Sciences of Berlin-Brandenburg and Paul Wachtel, Professor of Economics, New York University Stern School of Business. Originally published at VoxEU