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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fed's Evans suggests a Price Level Target

by Calculated Risk on 10/16/2010 03:19:00 PM

From Chicago Fed President Charles Evans: Monetary Policy in a Low-Inflation Environment: Developing a State-Contingent Price-Level Target

I think there are special circumstances when price-level targeting would be a helpful complement to our current and prospective strategies in the U.S. ... There are quite a number of academic studies of liquidity trap crises that find either price-level targeting or temporary above-average inflation to be nearly optimal policies; and yet, central bankers and the public generally loathe the idea that even a temporarily higher inflation rate could be beneficial or be consistent with price stability over the longer term.
In my opinion, much more policy accommodation is appropriate today. In a speech two weeks ago, I stated that I believe the U.S. economy is best described as being in a bona fide liquidity trap.
In this setting, even a moderate expansion without a double dip will not lead to appropriate labor market improvement. Accordingly, highly plausible projections are 1 percent for core Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCE) inflation at the end of 2012 and 8 percent for the unemployment rate. For me, the Fed’s dual mandate misses are too large to shrug off, and there is currently no policy conflict between improving employment and inflation outcomes.
[CR Note: the currect FOMC forecast is for the unemployment rate to be in the 7.1% to 7.5% range in 2012, so clearly Evans is even more pessimistic]
If the Federal Reserve decided to increase the degree of policy accommodation today, two avenues could be: 1) additional large-scale asset purchases, and 2) a communication that policy rates will remain at zero for longer than “an extended period.”

A third and complementary policy tool would be to announce that, given the current liquidity trap conditions, monetary policy would seek to target a path for the price level. Simply stated, a price-level target is a path for the price level that the central bank should strive to hit within a reasonable period of time. For example, if the slope of the price path, which I will refer to as P*, is 2 percent and inflation has been underrunning the path for some time, monetary policy would strive to catch up to the path: Inflation would be higher than 2 percent for a time until the path was reattained. I refer to this as a state-contingent policy because the price-level targeting regime is only intended for the duration of the liquidity trap episode.
Evans suggests committing to low rates until the price level target is achieved. That way investor know that rates will stay low even with an increase in inflation. Once the price level is achieved, the Fed will move back to a 2% inflation target.