Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Question #10 for 2012: Monetary Policy

by Bill McBride on 12/28/2011 11:46:00 AM

Over the weekend I posted some questions for next year: Ten Economic Questions for 2012. I'll try to add some thoughts, and maybe some predictions for each question over the next week.

Many of the questions are interrelated. The question on monetary policy depends on inflation (question #9), the unemployment rate (question #6) and what happens in Europe (question #8). And the unemployment rate is related to GDP growth (question #4), and on and on ...

10) Monetary Policy: Will the Fed introduce QE3? Will the Fed change their communication strategy and include the likely future path of the Fed Funds rate?

Last year many analysts were arguing that the Fed would end QE2 early and raise rates before the end of 2011. That seemed very unlikely. Not only didn't the Fed raise rates, but they went a step further at the August meeting and dropped the somewhat ambiguous "extended period" language and replaced it with a time frame: "economic conditions ... are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through mid-2013."

Now it appears the FOMC will drop the time frame from the FOMC statement and replace it with a forecast of the likely future path of the Fed Funds rate. There have been several recent articles suggesting this change (see the WSJ: Federal Reserve Prepares to Make Itself Perfectly Clear and Fed Could Keep Rates Near Zero Into 2014)

When the Fed revises its communications approach, there is a good chance it will cease offering a fixed date for the timing of rate increases. Instead, officials could signal their intentions by publishing a range of their forecasts for rates along with their quarterly economic projections.
This change in communication strategy will probably happen at the two day January FOMC meeting on the 24th and 25th.

There is also a good chance the Fed will embark on another round of Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP or QE3) in 2012. The Fed will probably take a wait and see approach early in the year, and QE3 would be dependent on the unemployment rate and inflation (the Fed's dual mandate).

If the economy tracks the most recent projections, QE3 would seem likely at either the April or June meetings. Others are arguing that QE3 could happen at the March meeting. If the economy performs better than expected, then the Fed will probably wait longer. QE3 will probably be focused on purchases of agency Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS).

Of course, if the economy performs worse than projected early in the year - or Europe implodes - the Fed would probably move quickly on QE3.

To summarize my views:
• I expect the Fed will change their communication strategy and add a likely future path of the Fed Funds rate to the quarterly economic forecasts.
• I think QE3 is likely, but more towards mid-year - and is data dependent.

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