Debate now rages about whether the Federal Reserve should continue to raise interest rates to tame inflation or slow down these hikes and see what happens. This is not the first debate we’ve had recently about inflation and Fed actions. The lesson we should learn, and I fear we won’t, is that government officials and those advising them from inside or outside the government don’t know as much as they claim to about the interventions they design to control the economy.
As a reminder, in 2021, the dominant voices including Fed Chairman Jerome Powell asserted that the emerging inflation would be “transitory” and disappear when pandemic-induced supply constraints dissolve. That was wrong. When this fact became obvious, the messaging shifted: Fed officials could and would fight inflation in a timely manner by raising rates to the exact level needed to avoid recession and higher unemployment. Never mind that the whole point of raising interest rates is precisely to soak money out of the economy by slowing demand, which often causes unemployment to rise.
Over at Discourse magazine, my colleague Thomas Hoenig—a former president of the Fed’s Kansas City branch—explains how Fed officials faced similar pressures during the late 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, he writes, “Bowing to congressional and White House pressure, [Fed officials] held interest rates at an artificially low level….What followed was a persistent period of steadily higher inflation, from 4.5% in 1971 to 14% by 1980. Only then did the [Federal Reserve Open Market Committee], under the leadership of Paul Volcker, fully address inflation.”
Often overlooked is Volcker’s accomplishment: the willingness to stay the course despite a painful recession. Indeed, it took about three years from when he pushed interest rates up to about 20 percent in 1979 for the rate of inflation to fall to a manageable level. As such, Hoenig urges the Fed to stay strong today. He writes, “Interest rates must rise; the economy must slow, and unemployment must increase to regain control of inflation and return it to the Fed’s 2% target.” There is a cost in doing this; a soft landing was never in the cards.
The curve has been inverted in places for over a year. This is a recession signal and I believe the economy went into recession in May.
The Fed is merrily hiking away and is likely to keep doing so until it breaks something big time. The Fed will hike 75 basis points tomorrow and the market thinks another 75 basis points is coming in November.
If so, it is doubtful the markets will like it much.
We simulate future realizations of the policy gap and the slope of inflation forecasts from the 2022:Q2 initial conditions through 2023:Q4 using the ABC model. We then evaluate the recession probability predicted by our preferred probit model for each of these simulated paths. Through this analysis, we show that future inflation outcomes and the odds of a recession depend critically on both the pace of removal of monetary policy accommodation and on how restrictive the monetary policy stance will become over the medium term. In particular, we highlight two scenarios: The first one, which we refer to as the “baseline case,” reflects the ABC model forecasts or, equivalently, the average of all simulated paths. The second one, which we label the “tighter-policy scenario,” is characterized by a faster removal of monetary policy accommodation; it is identified by the average of the simulated paths in which policy becomes restrictive by the end of 2022.11
1. Baseline case: As of early June 2022, the ABC model predicts that nominal and real yields will rise over the next six quarters, the current policy gap will narrow and become mildly restrictive in mid-2023, while core inflation will fall and remain around one percentage point above its model-implied longer-run expectations through 2023 (figure 2, blue lines in panels A and B). The expected tightening of the policy gap and a downward-sloping expected inflation path combine to increase the one-year-ahead recession probability to about 35% by 2023 (figure 2, blue line panel C). Such a level is comparable to the one estimated ahead of the 1994 monetary policy tightening cycle that was followed by a soft-landing scenario.
2. Tighter-policy scenario: In this alternative scenario, monetary policy becomes more restrictive than in the baseline case, in that the policy gap is markedly restrictive over 2023. In this case we find that core inflation declines more rapidly than under the baseline, closing the gap with its model-implied longer-run expectations almost completely by the end of 2023. By that date, in this scenario the likelihood of a recession approaches 60%, a level that, based on our historical estimates, is generally followed by a recession in our sample (figure 2, red lines).
Author(s): Andrea Ajello , Luca Benzoni , Makena Schwinn , Yannick Timmer , Francisco Vazquez-Grande
Q: The financial press often states the definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. How does that relate to the NBER’s recession dates?
A: Most of the recessions identified by our procedures do consist of two or more consecutive quarters of declining real GDP, but not all of them. In 2001, for example, the recession did not include two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. In the recession from the peak in December 2007 to the trough in June 2009, real GDP declined in the first, third, and fourth quarters of 2008 and in the first and second quarters of 2009. Real GDI declined for the final three quarters of 2001 and for five of the six quarters in the 2007–2009 recession.
Q: Why doesn’t the committee accept the two-quarter definition?
A: There are several reasons. First, we do not identify economic activity solely with real GDP, but consider a range of indicators. Second, we consider the depth of the decline in economic activity. The NBER definition includes the phrase, “a significant decline in economic activity.” Thus real GDP could decline by relatively small amounts in two consecutive quarters without warranting the determination that a peak had occurred. Third, our main focus is on the monthly chronology, which requires consideration of monthly indicators. Fourth, in examining the behavior of production on a quarterly basis, where real GDP data are available, we give equal weight to real GDI. The difference between GDP and GDI—called the “statistical discrepancy”—was particularly important in the recessions of 2001 and 2007–2009.
Publication Date: 19 July 2021 last updated, accessed 3 August 2022
New York City’s pension funds lost 8.65% of their value for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to a release Friday from city Comptroller Brad Lander.
While more detailed information won’t be released until September, the losses reduced the pension funds to about $240 billion.
While the S&P 500 stock index fell 14% in the first six months of 2022, Lander said that all is well with the pension funds “Despite market declines on a scale that hasn’t been seen in decades, the New York City retirement system outperformed our benchmarks and are well positioned to weather market volatility in the long run,” he said in a statement.
But the city budget — currently $101 billion — will still take a hit.
Roughly 2.4 million additional Americans retired in the first 18 months of the pandemic than expected, making up the majority of the 4.2 million people who left the labor force between March 2020 and July 2021, according to Miguel Faria-e-Castro, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
The percentage of retirees returning to work has picked up momentum in recent months, hitting a pandemic high of 3.2 percent in March, according to Indeed. In interviews with nearly a dozen workers who recently “un-retired,” many said they felt comfortable returning to work now that they’ve gotten the coronavirus vaccine and booster shots. Almost all said they’d taken on jobs that were more accommodating of their needs, whether that meant being able to work remotely, travel less or set their own hours.
“This is primarily a story of a tight labor market,” said Bunker of Indeed, who added that there was a similar rebound in people returning from retirement after the Great Recession. “For so much of last year, the big question in the labor market was: Where are all the workers? This year we’re seeing that they’re coming back.”
1. Clients could swarm on life and annuity products with benefits guarantees like ants on a candy bar that fell under the picnic table.
Sales of products such as non-variable indexed annuities and non-variable indexed universal life insurance policies soar, as clients flocks to arrangements that can protect them against further drops in stock prices but help them share in gains if and when prices go back up.
On May 19, the S&P 500 opened the day near bear market territory; i.e., at a 20% drop from a recent high. On May 18, the S&P 500 experienced a 4% decline—the largest single-day decrease since June 2020. The last time the S&P 500 entered bear market territory was in March 2020, albeit short-lived, as the market turned around and headed into a two-year rally that peaked in early January 2022.
The current equity market losses (and some corporate bond losses) are primarily the result of several factors: 1) earnings reports from large American retailers, including Walmart and Target, show evidence that the continued high inflation rate may be affecting consumer demand; 2) the war in Ukraine has added to inflationary pressures, prompting the Federal Reserve (Fed) to increase interest rates and reduce bond holdings; and 3) recent COVID-19 shutdowns in China have led to a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy.
Author(s): Jennifer Johnson and Michele Wong
Publication Date: 19 May 2022
Publication Site: NAIC Capital Markets Special Report