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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fed's Dudley: Expect Long Run Fed Funds Rate to be well below the 4¼ percent average level with 2 percent inflation

by Calculated Risk on 5/20/2014 01:23:00 PM

An important speech from NY Fed President William Dudley: The Economic Outlook and Implications for Monetary Policy. A few excerpts on housing:

On the housing side, residential investment has stalled out over the past few quarters. Although I expected some slowing due to the rise in mortgage rates in the middle of 2013, the extent of the slowdown has surprised me given that the recent pace of housing starts—roughly 1 million per year—is far below what is consistent with the economy’s underlying demographic trends.

I think housing has been weaker than anticipated because several significant headwinds persist for this sector. First, mortgage credit is still not readily available to households with lower credit scores. Second, some people are coping with higher student loan debt burdens that have delayed their entry into the housing market as first-time homebuyers. This, in turn, makes it more difficult for existing homeowners to sell and trade-up. Third, there may be some ongoing difficulties increasing housing supply. The housing downturn was very deep and protracted. It takes time to shift resources back into this area. Also, in some markets house prices still appear to be below the cost of building a new home. Thus, in those markets, it remains uneconomic to undertake new home construction. Although I expect that the housing recovery will resume, the pace will likely be slow, especially relative to past economic recoveries.
On the Fed Funds rate:
I expect that the level of the federal funds rate consistent with 2 percent PCE inflation over the long run is likely to be well below the 4¼ percent average level that has applied historically when inflation was around 2 percent. Precisely how much lower is difficult to say at this point in time.
emphasis added
And on monetary policy:
The next question I wish to consider is how the Fed will likely manage its balance sheet as the taper process is completed and lift-off eventually occurs. Unlike previous normalizations of monetary policy, which only involved the level of short-term rates, this prospective tightening cycle also involves considerations with respect to the size and composition of our balance sheet. The Committee stated in its June 2011 exit principles that changes in short-term rates will be the primary means for adjusting monetary policy post-liftoff, not discretionary shifts in the balance sheet. In other words, the balance sheet will be set on automatic pilot. I believe this approach still very much applies.

However, the language in the June 2011 exit principles concerning agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) sales no longer applies. As Chairman Bernanke noted in the press conference following the June 2013 FOMC meeting: “While participants continue to think that in the long run the Federal Reserve’s portfolio should consist predominantly of Treasury securities, a strong majority now expects that the Committee will not sell agency mortgage-backed securities during the process of normalizing monetary policy.” The balance sheet would shrink post-lift-off as Treasury securities matured and mortgages were prepaid, but outright agency MBS sales are no longer contemplated during the process of monetary policy normalization.

Also, I think that the language in the June 2011 exit principles with respect to reinvestment needs to be revisited. The exit principles state: “To begin the process of policy normalization, the Committee will likely first cease reinvesting some or all payments of principal on the securities holdings in the SOMA.” There are two considerations that suggest to me that ending the reinvestments prior to lift-off may not be the best strategy. First, such a decision might complicate our communications regarding the process of normalization. Ending reinvestments as an initial step risks inadvertently bringing forward any tightening of financial conditions as this might foreshadow the impending lift-off date for rates in a manner inconsistent with the Committee’s intention.

Second, when conditions permit, it would be desirable to get off the zero lower bound in order to regain some monetary policy flexibility. This goal would argue for lift-off occurring first followed by the end of reinvestment, rather than vice versa. Delaying the end of reinvestment puts the emphasis where it needs to be—getting off the zero lower bound for interest rates. In my opinion, this is far more important than the consequences of the balance sheet being a little larger for a little longer