Real interest rate

Trump v. Fed

Last month, interrupting decades of presidential self-restraint, President Trump openly criticized the Federal Reserve. Given the President’s penchant for dismissing valuable institutions, it is hard to be surprised. Perhaps more surprising is the high quality of his appointments to the Board of Governors. Against that background, the limited financial market reaction to the President’s comments suggests that investors are reasonably focused on the selection of qualified academics and individuals with valuable policy and business experience, rather than a few early-morning words of reproof.

Nevertheless, the President’s comments are seriously disturbing and—were they to become routine—risk undermining the significant benefits that Federal Reserve independence brings. Importantly, the criticism occurred despite sustained strength in the economy and financial markets, and despite the stimulative monetary and fiscal policies in place….

Read More

Bank of Japan at the Policy Frontier

Since Governor Haruhiko Kuroda took office in March 2013, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has been the most aggressively expansionary advanced-economy central bank. Its announcement last month of a “new framework for strengthening monetary easing”—coming only six months after introducing negative policy rates—distances it even further from the pack.

That a central bank is willing to assess its performance transparently and to consider new approaches to achieving its key goals is something we have come to expect. While it’s much too early to tell whether the latest BoJ innovations will be more successful, there is reason to be skeptical. No less important, the new approach involves risks to the central bank and to financial market stability that may not be fully appreciated. Given the difficulties that other advanced-economy central banks seem to be having in raising inflation and inflation expectations, how the BoJ fares is of interest far beyond Japan.

Read More

Negative Nominal Interest Rates (again)

There is an obsession with negative nominal interest rates. People seem to think that they make no sense. And, there is a fixation with keeping track of the fraction of sovereign debt that is trading at negative nominal rates. (At this writing, the number is approaching one-third of the total outstanding.) Clearly many central bankers believe that setting the policy rate below zero is a legitimate use of this conventional instrument, a point that we have supported in the past. But the fact that people are so disturbed prompts us to ask why. In this post, we first discuss why we are confused by this reaction, and then try to identify what might account for it....

Read More

Falling Interest Rates and Government Investment

Switzerland is an amazing place, not least the skiing, the chocolate, and the punctual trains. The latter is part of the country’s exquisitely maintained infrastructure: there are no potholes, and no deferred maintenance of train tracks, tunnels, airports, or public buildings. Few countries go so far, but many can take a lesson: it pays to maintain infrastructure at least so that it doesn’t fail.

We bring this up now because financial markets are telling us that it’s a very good time to build and repair infrastructure: real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates have fallen so low that it has become exceptionally cheap to finance the improvement and repair of neglected roads, bridges, transport hubs, and public utilities. Yet, in the United States, we are doing less public investment than ever: net government investment has fallen to what is probably a record low...

Read More

A Simple Guide to "Secular Stagnation"

Since its cyclical peak in 2007 – just prior to the financial crisis – the U.S. economy has grown by only 1.2% at an annual rate. This is down sharply from the 3.0% pace that had prevailed since 1990. The resulting cumulative shortfall now exceeds $2 trillion, or more than $6,500 per capita. Naturally, we all want to know why. And what, if anything, to do about it...

Read More

How much is our distant future worth?

In the first Superman movie, released in 1978, Lex Luthor, the supervillain played by Gene Hackman, buys up large swaths of real estate in the deserts of eastern California and Nevada. His plan is to hijack a nuclear missile and use it to cleave off coastal California into the Pacific Ocean, leaving him with newly valuable beach-front property. Well, maybe all Lex really needed was patience, not a nuclear device...

Read More

Should I buy or should I sell?

The U.S. stock market dropped last week, but the S&P 500 index is still 13% above its year-ago level and a whopping 181% above its March 2009 trough. If you are an investor, your goal is to buy low and sell high. Looking at the stock market, what would we do today?  Are prices too high? Are they too low? Or, are they just right?

Read More

Inflation Expectations: How Credibility Pays Off

Monetary policymakers always worry about inflation expectations. They can’t directly observe what households and business anticipate for the future path of prices, so they construct estimates from market prices and surveys. Why do they care so much? The reason is simple: keeping inflation expectations low and stable is the first step to keeping inflation low and stable. It also makes the economy more resilient in the face of adverse shocks...

Read More