Wednesday, July 18, 2012

August 1st QE3 Departure Date?

by Bill McBride on 7/18/2012 11:47:00 AM

There is quite a bit of discussion on when (not if) the Fed will embark on QE3. As an example, from Goldman Sachs yesterday:

While we think that a modest easing step is a strong possibility at the August or September meeting, we suspect that a large move is more likely to come after the election or in early 2013, barring rapid further deterioration in the already-cautious near term Fed economic outlook.
And from Merrill Lynch this morning:
We expect that, as the data continue to soften, the Fed will undershoot its own forecasts and thus respond with further easing. We expect the Fed to push out its forward guidance until at least mid-2015, perhaps at the August 1 FOMC meeting, and to launch a $500bn QE3 asset purchase plan by the September 13 meeting.
Although the date is uncertain, I think there is a strong possibility that the Fed will launch QE3 on August 1st.

First, I think Bernanke paved the way for QE3 at the press conference on June 20th. Before embarking on previous rounds of QE, Bernanke always outlined the reasons - and I thought he made it clear that if the economy didn't improve, more accommodation was coming. And, if anything, the data has been worse since the last meeting. However there has only been a limited amount of data (Q2 GDP will be released next week), and some participants might argue they need additional data before supporting QE3.

Second, two of the key undecided voting members of the FOMC are clearly moving closer to supporting QE3. Last week Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart came close to advocating QE3. Although Lockhart weighed both sides of each issue in his speech, he concluded: 1) the risks of QE3 are "manageable", 2) QE3 will be modestly effective, and 3) his earlier forecast is becoming "untenable" and that means he will support more accommodation if the recent weak data continues.

And yesterday, Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto said more easing could be warranted.
My outlook calls for the pace of growth to pick up over the course of this year and into 2013 as the headwinds holding back the recovery gradually abate. I also expect inflation to remain close to 2 percent. If the expansion were to continue to lose momentum, and inflation threatened to run persistently below 2 percent, additional policy action could be warranted.
I expect Pianalto will revise down her outlook over the next couple of weeks.

Third, it appears some key members of the FOMC (Yellen, Dudley, Williams) are all pushing harder for QE now. San Francisco Fed President John Williams is definitely being more aggressive, from July 9th:
We are falling short on both our employment and price stability mandates, and I expect that we will make only very limited progress toward these goals over the next year. ... If further action is called for, the most effective tool would be additional purchases of longer-maturity securities, including agency mortgage-backed securities. ... At the Fed, we take our dual mandate with the utmost seriousness. ... We stand ready to do what is necessary to attain our goals of maximum employment and price stability.
By my count, if Bernanke decides that QE3 is appropriate, he will have 10 or 11 votes on August 1st. Maybe the FOMC will wait for more data, but I think QE3 is likely very soon.