Thursday, January 19, 2017

Yellen: The Economic Outlook and the Conduct of Monetary Policy

by Bill McBride on 1/19/2017 08:07:00 PM

From Fed Chair Janet Yellen: The Economic Outlook and the Conduct of Monetary Policy

In my remarks today, I will review the considerable progress the economy has made toward the attainment of the two objectives that the Congress has assigned to the Federal Reserve--maximum employment and price stability. The upshot is that labor utilization is close to its estimated longer-run normal level, and we are closing in on our 2 percent inflation objective. I will then discuss the prospects for adjusting monetary policy in the manner needed to sustain a strong job market while maintaining low and stable inflation. Determining how best to adjust the federal funds rate over time to achieve these objectives will not be easy. For that reason, in the balance of my remarks, I will discuss some considerations that will help inform our decisions, including the guidance provided by simple policy rules. I will conclude by touching on some key uncertainties affecting the outlook.
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I think that allowing the economy to run markedly and persistently "hot" would be risky and unwise. Waiting too long to remove accommodation could cause inflation expectations to begin ratcheting up, driving actual inflation higher and making it harder to control. The combination of persistently low interest rates and strong labor market conditions could lead to undesirable increases in leverage and other financial imbalances, although such risks would likely take time to emerge. Finally, waiting too long to tighten policy could require the FOMC to eventually raise interest rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting financial markets and pushing the economy into recession. For these reasons, I consider it prudent to adjust the stance of monetary policy gradually over time--a strategy that should improve the prospects that the economy will achieve sustainable growth with the labor market operating at full employment and inflation running at about 2 percent.
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To sum up, simple policy rules can serve as useful benchmarks to help assess how monetary policy should be adjusted over time. However, their prescriptions must be interpreted carefully, both because estimates of some of their key inputs can vary significantly and because the rules often do not take into account important considerations and information pertaining to the outlook. For these reasons, the rules should not be followed mechanically, since doing so could have adverse consequences for the economy.
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Conclusion
My remarks have focused on the policy trajectory that the Committee now considers likely to be appropriate to sustain the economic expansion while keeping inflation close to our 2 percent goal. In concluding, it is important to emphasize the considerable uncertainty that attaches to such assessments and the need to constantly update them.

In particular, the path of the neutral federal funds rate, which plays an important role in determining the appropriate policy path, is highly uncertain. For example, productivity growth is a key determinant of the neutral rate, and while most forecasters expect productivity growth to pick up from its recent unusually slow pace, the timing of such a pickup is highly uncertain. Indeed, there is little consensus among researchers about the causes of the recent slowdown in productivity growth that has occurred both at home and abroad. The strength of global growth will also have an important bearing on the neutral rate through both trade and financial channels, and here, too, the scope for surprises is considerable. Finally, I would mention the potential for changes in fiscal policy to affect the economic outlook and the appropriate policy path. At this point, however, the size, timing, and composition of such changes remain uncertain. However, as this discussion highlights, the course of monetary policy over the next few years will depend on many different factors, of which fiscal policy is just one.