Archive for the Category NGDP futures targeting


Like an ox

Six years ago, I wrote a post that reflected my view of the proper relationship between the Fed and the markets:

That’s not Bullard’s job.  He hasn’t been hired to outguess the markets.  If he wants to do that he should go run a hedge fund.  His job is to be led around by the markets like a stupid ox with a steel nose ring being dragged along by a farmer.

Here’s a Bloomberg headline, reacting to today’s Fed decision:

Congratulations, Market. The Fed Is Officially at Your Mercy.

So am I ready to declare victory for market monetarism?  Not quite.  We still need a NGDP market.  TIPS spreads and stock market indices are better than nothing, but there’s no substitute for a NGDP futures market.

But we are making real progress.  The Fed is not using macro “models” to set interest rates.

What’s the problem?

The problem isn’t the recent decline in equity prices; the stock market tends to be more volatile than the underlying economy.  Nor is it the recent increase in the fed funds rates (2.4% isn’t very high in an economy growing at 5.5% in nominal terms.)  Rather, the problem is two-fold:

1. Unrealistic forward guidance, which ignores market forecasts.

2. Too much inertia in adjustments in the fed funds rate.

Elsewhere I’ve argued that the second factor may explain the strange absence of mini-recessions in postwar US history.  And this absence is really, really strange.  Just imagine how perplexed geologists would be if the Earth had no small earthquakes, only large ones.  What model could possible explain that? I’ve argued that the sluggishness in the response of interest rates might explain why it is that when we start to slide into a recession we never seem to stop halfway, with the unemployment rate rising by only 0.9 to 2.0 percentage points.

The fed funds rate is currently around 2.4%, and the market forecasts a rate of 2.3% out in July 2020.  That forecast is down sharply in recent months, although still not in recession territory.  Unfortunately, the Fed is forecasting two rate increases next year, and the markets seemed to react poorly to Powell’s attempt to explain this forward guidance.  Even worse, the Fed is often reluctant to change course, because of a perception that it reduces credibility.  Just the opposite is true.  The credibility that matters is the Fed hitting its macro targets, not its interest rate forecasts.

Earlier I suggested the following reform:  Each day, have every FOMC member email their preferred IOR rate, calculated to the nearest basis point.  Set the IOR at the median vote.  Tell the market that the rate will likely follow something close to a random walk, with an increase on one day often followed by a decrease the next.

Looking further ahead, my preference would be to have the Fed entirely cease its targeting of interest rates and let the market determine the appropriate rates.  Instead, the Fed would give the New York open market desk the following instructions:

1.  A range for one year NGDP growth–say 3.5% to 4.5%.

2.  Instructions for the New York Fed to take unlimited short positions on NGDP futures contracts at 4.5% and unlimited long positions at 3.5%.

3.  Instructions to do open market purchases and sales (with Treasury securities) in such a way as to avoid losses in their trading of NGDP futures contracts.

That’s all.  Let the market set interest rates; they are much better able to determine the appropriate fed funds rate.

OK Fed, you’ve got a landing. Now let’s make it “soft”.

PS.  As I contemplate the Fed’s current (flawed) policy regime, I feel sad and blue:

Screen Shot 2018-12-25 at 12.59.20 PMTyler Cowen recently linked to an article on the Chinese industry of copying famous oil paintings. This is a detail from an oil painting I purchased in China, for about $15 dollars.  It hangs in my office.  In downtown LA, people spend thousands on paintings by hip new artists.  I can get better art in China for a tiny fraction of the price. You might argue that they aren’t really buying art, they are buying a story.  And “I support hip young artists” is more appealing than “I buy Chinese knockoffs of famous paintings.”  Fortunately, I don’t care what other people think of my taste in art.

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year

PPS.  You want a Christmas theme?  Here’s an even better painting (by Titian), recently restored to its former glory:

Screen Shot 2018-12-25 at 3.54.49 PM





Recent articles

I have three new pieces that just came out. At The Hill, I have an article that discusses wages:

On Friday, the government announced average hourly wage growth for October, which came in at an annual rate of 2.8 percent.

The case was similar in September, and the media reported that Fed officials may react by tightening monetary policy. Not surprisingly, this puzzles lots of people: Shouldn’t we welcome higher wages, especially after decades of sub-par wage growth?

The short answer is that we should welcome higher “real” wages, but the Fed does have reason to be concerned about higher “nominal” wages. . . .

It’s true that printing lots of money can lead to higher nominal wages. However, as workers in places like Mexico and Argentina have discovered, if productivity is stagnant, then large nominal pay raises do not translate into higher real wages.

The recent 2.8 percent average hourly wage growth doesn’t pose a large threat, but the Fed has good reasons to be wary of a steep upsurge in nominal wage growth.

At Mercatus, I have a new policy report discussing the Hypermind NGDP prediction market:

It is difficult to understand why it took so long for an NGDP prediction market to be created, as NGDP is probably the best single indicator of whether monetary policy is too expansionary or too contractionary. Given that the Fed has already expressed an interest in TIPS spreads, it likely would be equally interested in market forecasts of NGDP growth.

Had this market been in existence during 2008–2009, it might well have provided valuable signals to the Fed. After all, even Ben Bernanke admits that the Fed erred in September 2008, when it refused to cut its target interest rate from 2 percent right after Lehman failed. At the time, TIPS market expectations of inflation were much lower than Fed forecasts. But NGDP growth expectations are even more informative about the state of the economy than inflation expectations.

In the end, the Hypermind NGDP prediction market is a sort of demonstration project. One would hope that the Fed will set up its own (better-funded) NGDP futures market, which could help it to make more informed policy decisions. The cost would be trivial relative to the potential gains from more effective monetary policy.

At The Bridge, I have a piece pointing out that monetary policy is becoming increasingly accommodative:

Thus whether you judge policy solely by considering inflation, or both inflation and employment, you reach the same conclusion. Policy was too restrictive to hit both the Fed’s inflation target and its employment target during 2009-16, and policy is now relatively accommodative, with inflation above the two percent target and the unemployment rate below the 4.0 percent to 4.6 percent range that the Fed views as “full employment”.

The fact that monetary policy is increasingly accommodative does not necessarily imply it is too accommodative. The Fed needs to look beyond the current data and forecast the impact of its policy on the future condition of the economy. Inflation has recently been pushed up by a sharp rise in oil prices, and it’s possible that it may fall back below two percent during 2019. Even so, the balance of risks has recently shifted, and the long period of excessively restrictive monetary policy is over.


Seven hundred $100 bills are lying on the sidewalk. Pick them up!!

I have wonderful news for everyone.  The prize money for two Hypermind NGDP markets has soared to $70,000, which includes $35,000 in prize money for the 2017:Q1 to 2018:Q1 contract (currently trading at about 39, or 3.9% NGDP growth), and another $35,000 for the 2018:Q1 to 2019:Q1 contract.

Update:  This announcement triggered a lot of interest in the contract. Hypermind sent me a better link to the two markets.

Remember that this is free money.  You do not have to invest any of your own money to participate.  You can win money, but you cannot lose.  Our hope is that this prize money will lead to more trading in the NGDP markets, more liquidity.

Once again, NGDP growth expectations are the single most important market price, the single most important measure of the performance of the macroeconomy.  It’s a scandal that the economics profession has ignored this issue, but the Mercatus Center and Hypermind have cooperated so that we will have a real time measure of the public’s NGDP growth expectations.  (Here is the Mercatus announcement.)

Participating in this market can result in free money, thousands of dollars worth of free money for the more talented/lucky (pick one) participants. But the more important reason for participating is that this will tend to shine a spotlight on expected growth in aggregate demand.  Progressives should want that to happen.

And there’s something for conservatives too.  I hope that the financial press will eventually start reporting current NGDP futures prices.  This will gradually put more pressure on the Fed to pay attention to market forecasts, and move from a discretionary policy approach to a more rules-based approach.  Thus NGDP targeting has something for both progressives and conservatives, which is why it’s an increasingly popular idea among economists on both the left and the right.

PS.  I’m also a believer in the “watched pot never boils” theory, so I believe this market makes it less likely that a recession will occur before 2019. (Making this the longest expansion ever.) Recessions only occur when NGDP expectations fall sharply, and I believe the Fed will not want to see NGDP expectations fall sharply. Please file away this prediction, and remind me of it if I am wrong.

PPS.  David Beckworth has a very interesting podcast with Larry Summers.

In this Econlog post I comment.



NBA GMs and Fed Governors

Here is Nate Silver, discussing the growing accuracy of NBA mock drafts:

Mock drafts — and rumors/reporting about who would go where — were shockingly accurate this year. There aren’t a lot of dumb teams in the NBA anymore, and it’s getting harder to find picks that come out of nowhere.

I suppose one could think of mock drafts as sort of like “the market” and NBA general managers as sort of like the Fed.  Are the mock drafts getting more accurate because mock drafters are getting smarter, or because (As Silver hints) NBA GMs are getting smarter?  Or maybe GMs are realizing the market is smarter than they are.

My hope is that the market will become increasingly accurate in predicting monetary policy, because monetary policymakers will increasing take their lead from the market.