Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Real FED Funds Rate

by Bill McBride on 7/07/2005 06:04:00 PM

Dr. Hamilton of Econbrowser asks: "How high will the Fed push interest rates?"

First, how high is the Fed Funds Rate now? In nominal terms, the FED Funds Rate is 3.25%. But in real terms it is barely positive.

Click on graph for larger image.

For this graph, I subtracted the averaged trailing 12 months median CPI (SOURCE: Cleveland Fed) from the average of the monthly Fed Funds rate (SOURCE: Federal Reserve).

After the '73-75 recession, the FED Funds Rate chased the inflation rate. This led to ever higher inflation until the Volcker FED put the brakes on in the early '80s. The Real FED Funds Rate has declined since the early '80s, with a low in the early '90s as the FED provided stimulus in reaction to the '90/'91 recession.

A neutral Real FED Funds Rate is probably 2% or higher. If the economy is as healthy as the FED claims "... the expansion remains firm and labor market conditions continue to improve gradually.", then the FED will raise the FED Funds Rate to over 4% unless inflation diminishes.

Like many others, I believe the economy has serious and intractable imbalances: the current account deficit, the structural budget deficits and the housing bubble. These are the result of global shifts and poor public and fiscal policies.