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Sunday, July 29, 2012

FOMC Preview: QE3 now or later?

by Calculated Risk on 7/29/2012 06:19:00 PM

There is a chance that the FOMC will announce QE3 this week although some analysts expect QE3 in September and others after the election in November.

As an example, from Merrill Lynch last week:

There is quite a bit of uncertainty about the exact timing and shape of forthcoming Fed easing. Although there is a good chance of some QE3 at next week’s FOMC meeting, we still think it is an extension of the forward guidance language through “at least late 2015” is (slightly) more likely This would resemble the policy pattern last year, and would keep the Fed’s options open. It also would allow the Fed to make a compelling case that bad data, not politics, are driving QE3.
The "politics" argument cuts both ways - delaying action when projections show unemployment too high for years, and inflation too low - is also giving in to "politics".

Some arguments for waiting until September 13th are:
1) There will be more data available (two more employment reports for July and August, and the 2nd estimate of Q2 GDP on August 29th). Of course "waiting" always allows for "more data" - so people can always use this argument.
2) Housing data has been improving, and residential investment is usually the best leading indicator for the economy.
3) The FOMC members will update projections in September, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will hold a news conference to explain the reasons for any action. There is no news conference scheduled following the meeting this week.
4) There are also some arguments that seasonal factors are distorting the recent data.

Probably the most compelling reason for waiting is the housing argument, but even though housing is recovering, the housing market is still very weak.

And the most recent projections are already becoming "untenable" (as Atlanta Fed President Lockhart recently noted). Here were the projections for GDP:

GDP projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Change in Real GDP1201220132014
June 2012 Projections1.9 to 2.42.2 to 2.83.0 to 3.5
1 Projections of change in real GDP and in inflation are from the fourth quarter of the previous year to the fourth quarter of the year indicated.

Based on the Q2 advance GDP report released on Friday, GDP would have to increase at a 2.1% to 3.1% in the 2nd half of 2012 to meet the FOMC projections for 2012. That suggests a further downward revision in FOMC projections in September.

And the June projections were already very low - "shocking" as Tim Duy wrote) The FOMC members see unemployment in the 7% to 7.7% range at the end of 2014, and inflation also below target through 2014.

The data supports QE3 this week, but the data also supported QE3 in June. One of the reasons I thought QE3 was unlikely in June was the lack of foreshadowing from the Fed. There have been plenty of hints since then, so QE3 is very possible this week - but still uncertain.

Summary for Week Ending July 27th
Schedule for Week of July 29th