In Which I Once Again Do Not Understand the Thinking of the Federal Reserve's FOMC: Thursday Focus: May 1, 2014
BEA: "Real gross domestic product--the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States...
...increased at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the first quarter (that is, from the fourth quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.6 percent...
Looking back over the past two years, at no point has the growth rate of GDP been such as to even equal what we used to confidently see as the potential growth rate of the American economy: we have been falling further behind rather than catching up to potential. Over the past four quarters, the growth rate of real GDP has been 2.33%/year. Over the past eight quarters, the growth rate of real GDP has been 1.81%/year. If the output gap has been shrinking, it has not been because growth has been fast enough to converge to (the normal path of) potential output but rather that a depressed economy is transforming cyclical into structural non-employment and pulling the potential productive power of the economy downward.
In this context, I cannot help but find the Federal Reserve's latest communique strange:
Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement--April 30, 2014: "Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in March...
...indicates that growth in economic activity has picked up recently, after having slowed sharply during the winter in part because of adverse weather conditions. Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement. The unemployment rate, however, remains elevated. Household spending appears to be rising more quickly. Business fixed investment edged down, while the recovery in the housing sector remained slow. Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint is diminishing. Inflation has been running below the Committee's longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and labor market conditions will continue to improve gradually, moving toward those the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as nearly balanced. The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, and it is monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.
The Committee currently judges that there is sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing improvement in labor market conditions. In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions since the inception of the current asset purchase program, the Committee decided to make a further measured reduction in the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in May, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $20 billion per month rather than $25 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $25 billion per month rather than $30 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. The Committee's sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee's dual mandate.
The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability. If incoming information broadly supports the Committee's expectation of ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and inflation moving back toward its longer-run objective, the Committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings. However, asset purchases are not on a preset course, and the Committee's decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee's outlook for the labor market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases.
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess progress--both realized and expected--toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. The Committee continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and provided that longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored.
When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent. The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Richard W. Fisher; Narayana Kocherlakota; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Jerome H. Powell; Jeremy C. Stein; and Daniel K. Tarullo.
I cannot help but feel that a much better communique would acknowledge that over the past two years Federal Reserve policy has not been stimulative enough--that when inflation, output, and employment indicators are all below their target levels, the obvious implication is that the Federal Reserve should do more. In such a context, a failure to not decrease but increase the degree of policy accommodation requires a tight and convincing argument that additional policy accommodation runs large risks.
And nowhere has the Federal Reserve, or any of its spokespeople, made such a tight and convincing argument for the riskiness of additional policy accommodation.