Friday, October 15, 2010

Bernanke: "Appears to be a case for further action"

by Calculated Risk on 10/15/2010 08:15:00 AM

From Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke: Monetary Policy Objectives and Tools in a Low-Inflation Environment

Given the Committee's objectives, there would appear--all else being equal--to be a case for further action. However, as I indicated earlier, one of the implications of a low-inflation environment is that policy is more likely to be constrained by the fact that nominal interest rates cannot be reduced below zero.
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For example, a means of providing additional monetary stimulus, if warranted, would be to expand the Federal Reserve's holdings of longer-term securities. Empirical evidence suggests that our previous program of securities purchases was successful in bringing down longer-term interest rates and thereby supporting the economic recovery.
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Central bank communication provides additional means of increasing the degree of policy accommodation when short-term nominal interest rates are near zero. For example, FOMC postmeeting statements have included forward policy guidance since December 2008, and the most recent statements have reflected the FOMC's anticipation that exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate are likely to be warranted "for an extended period," contingent on economic conditions. A step the Committee could consider, if conditions called for it, would be to modify the language of the statement in some way that indicates that the Committee expects to keep the target for the federal funds rate low for longer than markets expect. Such a change would presumably lower longer-term rates by an amount related to the revision in policy expectations. A potential drawback of using the FOMC's statement in this way is that, at least without a more comprehensive framework in place, it may be difficult to convey the Committee's policy intentions with sufficient precision and conditionality. The Committee will continue to actively review its communications strategy with the goal of providing as much clarity as possible about its outlook, policy objectives, and policy strategies.
This is less of a framework than I expected. There was one key paragraph on inflation:
Although the attainment of price stability after a period of higher inflation was a landmark achievement, monetary policymaking in an era of low inflation has not proved to be entirely straightforward. In the 1980s and 1990s, few ever questioned the desired direction for inflation; lower was always better. During those years, the key questions related to tactics: How quickly should inflation be reduced? Should the central bank be proactive or "opportunistic" in reducing inflation? As average inflation levels declined, however, the issues became more complex. The statement of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) following its May 2003 meeting was something of a watershed, in that it noted that, in the Committee's view, further disinflation would be "unwelcome." In other words, the risks to price stability had become two-sided: With inflation close to levels consistent with price stability, central banks, for the first time in many decades, had to take seriously the possibility that inflation can be too low as well as too high.