Tag: monetary policy

The Fed’s Exit Strategy

The Federal Reserve finally addresses how it plans to unwind trillions in toxic assets

Finally, we hear from the Federal Reserve about how they plan to unwind the billions of dollars of toxic assets they purchased over the last 18 months or so without creating further distortions in the U.S. and world financial markets (Fed lays out exit detail). This after the Fed barely acknowledged one of the most dramatic runups in the money supply in U.S. history.

Brian Sack, EVP Markets Group, Federal Reserve
The announcement came in a speech by Brian P. Sack, the executive Vice President of the Markets Group at the Fed.  I am impressed by this guy. He seems to know what he’s talking about and seems to understand how markets and fed policy interact.

In earlier posts I wondered aloud how the Fed might accomplish this tricky task. It is a very delicate balance between reducing the money supply too quickly, which would spike short term rates, and too slowly, which would increase long-term rates due to worries about inflation (which occurs when money growth is higher than the economy’s real growth, even if money growth is falling).

The Fed, the article explains, apparently intends to let $200 billion of the estimated $1.25 trillion in new money supply simply “mature” by the end of 2011 without replacing it. This represents largely toxic assets. The Fed might let another $140 billion of Treasuries it purchased during normal open market operations mature at the end of 2011, but they aren’t committing to that.  So that’s about $340/$1,250 or about 35% of the historic increase in money supply that may be vaporized over the next 21 months. What about the rest?  It would be nice to know but….

The Fed is doing the right thing by explaining its policy intentions — ANY of its policy intentions — to the markets.  Markets want, need, and deserve information from our officials, something that has been sorely lacking of late. With information, lenders and borrowers can plan, they can optimize. Without information, guessing, withdrawing from the market, and fear rule the day. Not a good environment for economic recovery.

by Sherry Jarrell

Fed Funds Rate and Consumer/Business Costs

Looking more closely at the implications of changes in the Fed rate

Fed funds rate chart_img
Fed Funds rate influences consumer and business interest costs

Does the Fed Funds Rate, the rate charged by the Federal Reserve to make short-term loans to banks, directly influence the interest rate consumers and businesses pay on credit cards, mortgages, and consumer and business loans?  If you took the word of the average business news commentator, you would think not.  But the answer, of course, is yes.

One way to view the market rate of interest, although certainly not the only correct or useful way, is to think of it as a base rate that represents the risk-free rate, a rate that compensates the population for its impatience to consume the goods it would have consumed had it not lent the funds out in the first place. This risk-free rate is also influenced by the efficiency and functioning of the capital markets that bring borrowers and lenders together.

A risk premium is then added to this base rate of risk-free interest, one that varies depending on the degree of uncertainty of the lender getting repaid.  The risk of default, the risk of prepayment, the risk of political uprising, exchange rate risk, and many other sources of uncertainty — including the risk of inflation — raise the level of the risk premium commanded by lenders in the market.  As an example, over the last 100 years or so, the average annual risk-free rate in the U.S. has been about 4%, and the average annual risk premium for equity securities has been about 8%, bringing the average annual observed interest rate or rate of return to about 12% on these securities.

So what happens to the interest rate charged to consumers and businesses when the Fed raises the fed funds rate?  Basically, the level of the risk-free rate in the economy rises and, as debt contracts expire or new lending takes place, this higher base rate gets factored into the market rate of interest charged.

Overall, the demand for loanable funds falls, the aggregate demand curve for the economy falls, and equilibrium output and employment fall, RELATIVE to where they would have been without the rate increase. The bright side is that a reduction in the money supply that accompanies an increase in the fed funds rate is absolutely essential to curtailing inflation, which drives the risk premium, and represents a much greater cost to the economy.

By Sherry Jarrell

Why the Fed Raised the Interest Rate

Contractionary Fed policy in a recession?

What does it mean when the Fed raises the interest rate? It helps to first understand how the Fed raises the rate, which may surprise some people.  The Fed does not “set” the interest rate as it might, for example, by declaration or edict or by fixing prices.  No, it targets a higher interest rate by contracting the money supply until that money supply intersects the market demand for money at a higher market-clearing rate of interest.

Ben Bernanke, recently reconfirmed Fed Chairman

How does the Fed reduce the money supply? Typically by conducting open market operations, which is the purchase or sale of government securities by the Fed.  To raise the money supply, it purchases new government securities, paying for them by creating — out of thin air — reserves for the commercial banking system. To reduce the money supply, it sells securities which shrinks the amount of deposits in circulation in the economy. In other words, it reduces the liquidity or amount of credit in the system.  This is equivalent to reducing aggregate demand for the goods and services in the economy. (Yes, you heard right — a reduction in the money supply decreases the aggregate demand for goods and services by businesses and consumers.)

Raising interest rates is a contractionary policy decision.  It is designed to “slow down” the economy, reducing output and employment, and raising the equilibrium prices of goods and services in the economy.  Why would the Fed choose to contract an already anemic economy?  To head off inflation, which has it own set of insidious costs and distortions that significantly hurt the economy.

The Fed has always had to tread a very fine line between increasing the money supply enough in the short run to pump up demand and minimize the depth and length of a recession, but not increasing the money supply so much that the increase in demand outstrips the ability of the economy to produce, which creates inflation in the longer run.   Excessive money growth is what causes inflation.  And over the last two years, the U.S. has witnessed a record-shattering increase in the money supply as policymakers struggled to deal with an unprecedented financial crisis.

I have been saying for months that this behemoth money supply would inevitably lead to significant inflation unless steps were taken to shrink it.  I believe the Fed has now begun to take those steps.

By Sherry Jarrell