You can download it here: Market Monetarism and Economic Prosperity
A James Alexander, Benjamin Cole, Justin Irving, Marcus Nunes post
After a six-year run, during which Historinhas helped spread the Market Monetarist approach, this blog will undergo a metamorphosis, becoming NGDP-Advisers. The blog will continue but be augmented by new products that will be available via subscription.”.
In watching the U.S. and global economy since 2008 (and before) it has become obvious there is a dearth of financial advice that is informed by Market Monetarism, or even close attention to nominal gross domestic product (NGDP).
A recent Economist magazine study of the International Monetary Fund’s national economic forecasts from 1999 to 2014 found, “Over the period, there were 220 instances in which an economy grew in one year before shrinking in the next. In its April forecasts the IMF never once foresaw the contraction looming in the next year.” Not once! Something is wrong in economic forecasting.
NGDP-watching is not a forecasting cure-all. However, Historinhas and the Market Monetarists have time and again been proven right on macroeconomic matters when the establishment was wrong. When old-school monetarists feared hyperinflation from unconventional easing measures, Market Monetarists correctly saw the real risk was still tight money. When Keynesians predicted recession from cuts in government spending during the 2013 US fiscal cliff episode, Market Monetarists anticipated the monetary offset and were proven right. When central banks in Europe raised interest rates in 2011, Market Monetarists called this for the debacle that it became.
It is time to bring these insights from the world of blogging, into the realm of macro forecasting, time to unseat the hopeless “experts”.
The bedrock of our approach is a healthy fear of market efficiency, though our approach still has important advice for investors. Many have missed historic bond rallies since 2008, so certain were established advisers that an inflationary surge, or even hyperinflation, was pending. Equity investing is equally tricky.
Central bank monetary policy sometimes feels like a game of blackjack, random. Time and again in its history, the Fed has tried to tighten (in recent years), or loosen (in earlier eras), yet been beaten back when markets question their view of economic reality. It is hard to forecast how stubborn a central bank will be in such situations and when it will inevitably buckle, but our approach frames the issues correctly, allowing all investors to understand where their risk lies.
At NGDP Advisers, we hope not only to continue our examination of the global economy, but also to recognize realities and advise accordingly. We’ll yell from the cliff tops ‘what should be’, but we’ll also help you get ready for what ‘will be’.
A James Alexander post
Seems like Ben Bernanke has tried to get the final word before the next FOMC meeting, as sort of ex officio member. In a blog post he strongly defends negative interest rates and rails against raising the inflation target as if people were proposing 10% inflation targets. It seems no more than 2% inflation or we are all doomed. He does mention NGDP targeting but misunderstands it badly.
His post is so full of errors that it has hard to know where to start.
“Nominal interest rates are very low, and in a world of excess global saving, low inflation, and high demand for safe assets like government debt, there’s a good chance that they will be low for a long time.”
What does “excess global saving” mean? In macroeconomics “saving” is part of an identity equal to “investment”. Like MV=PY. Saving can’t be in excess it has to equal investment.
Being generous, perhaps he means there is too much demand to hold money? In which case, central banks should supply more to bring demand and supply into balance; or threaten to do so until demand increases and more is spent.
Interest rates are my first love
“When the next recession arrives, there may be limited room for the interest-rate cuts that have traditionally been central banks’ primary tool for sustaining employment and keeping inflation near target.”
This is a very basic error. It is a view that sees interest rates as the primary tool, rather than a symptom of monetary policy. Interest rates react to nominal growth expectations and these are driven by central banks supplying more or less high-powered money. Interest rates are low in the US because nominal growth expectations are low. Yet US Base Money has been shrinking at between 3-6% for over a year now. Doesn’t he know this?
Gets the case for NGDP Targeting very wrong
“Outside the United States, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has expressed openness to targeting nominal GDP (which essentially involves targeting a higher inflation rate when GDP growth is low) … ”
Err, just no, that is not what it is. NGDP targeting asks for a stable growth of NGDP. It particularly targets expectations of growth as expectations drive action – just like in the theory of targeting inflation expectations. Targeting expectations also avoids near term noise in actual data, just like with inflation targeting. More generally, it provides nominal stability, thus preventing the occurrence of major demand shocks, especially those that flow from monetary policy reacting to supply shocks (like the one Bernanke himself presided over in 2008).
NGDP targeting does not target “higher inflation”. It is agnostic about inflation. Market Monetarists are often very sceptical that inflation can be accurately measured. And, they are certainly sceptical a central bank can target inflation. It is a sprite and it makes (Real) GDP equally hard to calculate, in real time or even forecast. People live and work in the nominal world, not the Real world.
Interest rates are best even when negative
The rest of the article is all about the pros and cons of negative interest rates (many pros) versus a higher inflation target (many cons).
The extended discussion on real rates leaves me cold. I don’t really understand what inflation is so I struggle to understand the meaning of a real interest rate and find it very hard to comprehend the neutral real rate.
I also know the public finds negative rates almost incomprehensible and regard such a policy as a total failure by “the authorities”, whoever they are. Bernanke’s strong support for negative rates shows just how out of touch he must be with real people. He claims Europeans and Japanese under these negative interest regimes are coping well. That is just not true.
He even suggests that negative rates are only temporary, and that everyone knows it, not realising that this renders them toothless, as it promises tightening around the corner.
Whoooo, don’t let the inflation genie out of the bottle
“Higher inflation has costs of its own, of course, including making economic planning more difficult and impeding the functioning of markets. Some recent research suggests that these costs are smaller than we thought, particularly at comparatively modest inflation rates. More work is needed on this issue. Higher inflation may also bring with it financial stability risks, including distortions it creates in tax and accounting systems and the fact that an unexpected increase in inflation would impose capital losses on holders of long-term bonds, including banks, insurance companies, and pension funds.”
It is hard to know what “higher inflation” he is talking about. 3%, 4%? The golden eras of the US economy usually had higher inflation than today. The lowflation, or rather low nominal growth, of the Great Stagnation he helped create is the thing making economic planning more difficult and impeding the functioning of markets. Economies need healthy nominal growth to be flexible enough in rewards to allow all to see growth in returns, some faster than others. At a crushing 3% or less nominal growth, at a depressed NGDP level (see chart below), this cannot happen.
Downwardly sticky wages are a massive problem causing recessions, but also constraining productivity growth in a low nominal growth environment. Yet Bernanke calls for more work! What have the thousands of central bank-employed PhDs been doing all these years? Twiddling their thumbs.
Is Bernanke talking his own book and/or that of his employers?
Financial stability risks are worst in deflationary environments, no question, just look at the Great Recession or the Great Depression. Tax and accounting issues arise only when inflation is well above 10% or more, and then they are still quite theoretical rather than real. Bernanke seems to be fearing a return to the worst years of the 1970s. He can’t be serious.
And then he worries about his various new employers seeing capital losses from betting wrong on financial markets. Well, does he think they should be guaranteed winnings?
The article goes on and on with the familiar litany of worries about higher inflation hurting savers, needing political approval etc. etc. No one is proposing 10% inflation. Just 3 or 4%, or better still a commitment to a level target, an average target, and not constant undershooting. Or, better, a nominal income/NGDP level target.
He seems to be randomly firing at straw men. He even clutches at the idea of more fiscal activism, as if that could work without threatening the inflation target. He well knows the Fed would offset it at the first opportunity.
He never used to be quite this bad, as Scott Sumner tirelessly points out when Market Monetarists get fed up with these manias of the modern Bernanke.
Perhaps he’s worried about his lowflation legacy crumbling. It couldn’t happen soon enough for us. He seems to have become a caricature of things he may have ridiculed in the past: an interest rate junkie and an inflation-targeting nutter.
A James Alexander post
The great mid-2015 tightening
From the August 2015 Inflation Report opening remarks:
The MPC’s projections are conditioned on Bank Rate following the gently rising path implied by
market yields. Under this assumption, demand growth is expected to be sufficient to return inflation to the target within two years. Inflation then moves slightly above the target in the third year of the forecast period as sustained growth leads to a degree of excess demand.
As the UK expansion progresses, speculation about the precise timing of the first move in Bank Rate is increasing. This is understandable and is another welcome sign of the economy returning to normal. The likely timing of the first Bank rate increase is drawing closer.
The great mid-2016 loosening
From the August 2016 Inflation Report opening remarks :
The MPC’s Remit recognises that when the effects of shocks persist over an extended period, the MPC is likely to face an exceptional trade-off between returning inflation to target promptly and stabilising output.
When this is the case, the Remit requires the MPC to explain how it has balanced that trade-off, including the horizon over which it aims to return inflation to target.
Fully offsetting the persistent effects of sterling’s depreciation on inflation would require exerting further downward pressure on domestic costs. And that would mean even more lost output and a total disregard for higher unemployment.
In the Committee’s judgement, such outcomes would be undesirable in themselves and, moreover, would be unlikely to generate a sustainable return of inflation to the target beyond its three-year forecast period.
As a result, in order to mitigate some of the adverse effects of the shock on growth, the MPC is setting policy so that inflation settles at its target over a longer period than the usual 18-24 months.
The title of his speech is revealing: Nomonetary Problems: Diagnosing and Treating the Slow Recovery, where he says:
I must acknowledge up front that most of the policy prescriptions I will identify are outside the scope of monetary policy. Monetary policy is largely doing what it can to support a robust recovery, and what remains are fiscal and regulatory policies. If we are able to apply our research expertise to identify potential solutions, I believe it is appropriate to do so and then leave it to other branches of government to decide whether or not to pursue them
If, as he says “I joined the Federal Reserve because I want to help tackle the most important economic policy challenges we face as a country”, he´s wasting his time at the Fed!
The view of central bankers that the problems they face are “nonmonetary” is prevalent. Just to give one example (among many):
Throughout the “Great Inflation” Arthur Burns argued that inflation was a nonmonetary phenomenon (Unions, Oligopolies, Oil Producers, etc.).
Now, the view remains the same “throughout the “Great Stagnation”!
A James Alexander post
In the last day of public comments by FOMC members before the whole committee entered purdah the market was treated to three separate statements.
First off was Neel Kashkari. He knows little about monetary economics and it showed he hasn’t bothered to find out anything since his appointment. He should take this course for starters. At least is he is enthusiastic and inquisitive.
In a blog post entitled “Nonmonetary Problems: Diagnosing and Treating the Slow Recovery” he rather airily dismissed the idea that the slow recovery was due to poor monetary policy. He tasked his economics team at the Minneapolis Fed with building on some random thoughts of Greg Mankiw in a New Times op-ed. Mankiw came up with five, Kashkari and his team added two more, I think. I have read so many of the secular stagnation theses and other ad hoc nostrums I go a bit bored.
What was not seriously discussed was monetary policy. He did at least mention raising the inflation target, moving to a level target or even NGDP targeting. But he then spoilt these promising thoughts with this incredible statement:
“However, there are significant downside risks with these policy recommendations [raising the IT, LT of NGDPLT] that I believe must be carefully considered before being adopted. First, the Federal Reserve is struggling to hit its current target of 2 percent and has come up short for four years. Market forecasts and expectations about our ability to hit 2 percent have fallen. If we announced a new higher target, it isn’t clear why anyone would believe that we could hit it. The Federal Reserve’s credibility could be weakened.“
The trouble is, the Fed has buckets of credibility. Despite “struggling to hit its current target” it ended QE in 2014, threatened all through 2015 to raise rates and did so in December. And then the Fed projected four more 25bps hikes in 2016 and around eight more within two years or so. What on earth effect does Kashkari think all that actual and clearly threatened firepower have on inflation expectations? No wonder the inflation data the Fed is so dependent upon keeps disappointing.
Still Kashkari is a lot more dovish than his two peers in the Kansas (George) and San Francisco (Williams) Feds, and will swing the average vote much more dovish in 2017 when it is his turn to vote.
The president of the Atlanta Fed is a bit on the hawkish side, but mostly a bit of a tease. He said nothing of note in his speech and ended a bit dovish, but teasingly so:
“Among these—and I will close on this note—are, first, what is the right policy setting given an outlook of getting to full employment and price stability relatively soon—in the next couple of years? And, if 1.6 percent inflation and 4.9 percent unemployment were all you knew about the economy, would you consider a policy setting one tick above the zero lower bound still appropriate? These are some of the questions on my mind as I approach the next few meetings. I think circumstances call for a lively discussion next week.”
This was the big one. The speech worried markets on Friday 9th September when it was announced, especially after a litany of hawkish regional Fed presidents reiterating their inane and extremely tired views on the coming hyperinflation unless rates were raised soon.
The markets need not have worried. Brainard echoed many of the very sensible comments made by her governor colleague Tarullo.
“1. Inflation Has Been Undershooting, and the Phillips Curve Has Flattened … With the Phillips curve appearing to be a less reliable guidepost than it has been in the past, the anchoring role of inflation expectations remains critically important. On expected similar to realized inflation, recent developments suggest some reasons to be concerned more about undershooting than overshooting. Although some survey measures have remained well anchored at 2 percent, consumer surveys have moved to the lower end of their historical ranges and have not risen sustainably“
The other four sections were all pretty sensible:
2. Labor Market Slack Has Been Greater than Anticipated …the unemployment rate is not the only gauge of labor market slack, and other measures have been suggesting there is some room to go …
- Foreign Markets Matter, Especially because Financial Transmission is Strong …In turn, U.S. activity and inflation appear to be importantly influenced by these exchange rate movements. In particular, estimates from the FRB/US model suggest that the nearly 20 percent appreciation of the dollar from June 2014 to January of this year could be having an effect on U.S. economic activity roughly equivalent to a 200 basis point increase in the federal funds rate
[but whose fat finger caused the USD appreciation?] …
- The Neutral Rate Is Likely to Remain Very Low for Some Time … Ten years ago, based on the underlying economic relationships that prevailed at the time, it would have seemed inconceivable that real activity and inflation would be so subdued given the stance of monetary policy. To reconcile these developments, it is difficult not to conclude that the current level of the federal funds rate is less accommodative today than it would have been 10 years ago. Put differently, the amount of aggregate demand associated with a given level of the interest rate is now much lower than before the crisis
[OK, this is really confused. Interest rates are not monetary policy, expected nominal growth is. High rates mean money is or was easy, low rates mean it is or was tight] …
- Policy Options Are Asymmetric… From a risk-management perspective, therefore, the asymmetry in the conventional policy toolkit would lead me to expect policy to be tilted somewhat in favor of guarding against downside risks relative to preemptively raising rates to guard against upside risks.”
And then we get what seems to be a highly encouraging trend, seen first with John Williams, but repeated by Neel Kashkari today, a nod to alternative policy options:
“There is a growing literature on such policy alternatives, such as raising the inflation target, moving to a nominal income target, or deploying negative interest rates.15 These options merit further assessment. However, they are largely untested and would take some time to assess and prepare. For the time being, the most effective way to address these concerns is to ensure that our policy actions align with our commitment to achieving the existing inflation target, which the Committee has recently clarified is symmetric around 2 percent–and not a ceiling–along with maximum employment.”
The last point echoes what we have identified coming from the Bank of England, that 2% is not necessarily a ceiling, although the Fed is not yet saying that about projected inflation.
There is no mea culpa, that the Fed has caused the inflation undershooting by excessively tight monetary policy but, hey, we can’t have everything just yet.
And all this is going to be evaluated in the “months ahead”. Read my lips: no September, November or even December rate hike. A good news day!
From a recent Vox post: “The tail that wags the economy: The origin of secular stagnation”:
The Great Recession has had long-lasting effects on credit markets, employment, and output. This column combines a model with macroeconomic data to measure how the recession has changed beliefs about the possibility of future crises. According to the model, the estimated change in sentiment correlates with economic activity. A short-lived financial crisis can trigger long-lived shifts in expectations, which in turn can trigger secular stagnation.
The typical post-WWII recession has a distinct trough, followed by a sharp rebound toward a stable trend line. Following the Great Recession, however, this rebound is missing. The missing recovery is what Summers (2016) and Eggertsson & Mehotra (2014) call ‘secular stagnation’ (see also Teulings and Baldwin 2014).
And show a version of this chart
Why did the dysfunction in credit markets impact the real economy for so long? Many explanations for the real effects have been advanced, and these are still being compared to data (e.g. Gertler and Kiyotaki 2010, Brunnermeier and Sannikov 2014, and Gourio 2012, 2013). Existing theories about why the crisis took place assume that the shocks that triggered it were persistent. Yet such shocks in previous business cycle episodes were not so persistent. This differential in persistence is just as puzzling as the origin of the crisis. What most explanations of the Great Recession miss is a mechanism that takes some large, transitory shocks and then transforms them into long-lived economic responses.
Perhaps the fact that this recession has been more persistent than others is because, before it took place, it was perceived as an extremely unlikely event. Today, the question of whether the financial crisis might repeat itself arises frequently. Financial panic is a new reality that was never perceived as a possibility before.
I believe there´s a simpler and more direct explanation – or mechanism – consistent with the changes in “beliefs, expectations or sentiment” which, in addition to helping understand the fall in productivity growth, is also consistent with the post war history of the behavior of RGDP depicted in the chart above.
That alternative explanation relies on observing that what is manifestly different in the present cycle is the behavior of monetary policy, if you understand monetary policy to be the main determinant of aggregate nominal spending (NGDP).
My strategy divides the post war period (actually the period after 1953, to avoid complications from the immediate post war years and the period of the Korean War) in four parts. The “low inflation” 1950s and early 1960s, the “rising-high inflation” of the late 1960s to the early 1980s, the “falling-low inflation” years from the mid-1980s to 2006, and the “Great Recession/Great Stagnation/Too Low Inflation” years thereafter.
In this story, it´s not “the tail that wags the economy”, but the “hydra-head” of the FOMC, who wields close control of aggregate nominal spending in the economy.
The panel depicts NGDP and RGDP during the four episodes. All corresponding charts have the same scale and they cover the period from the peak of the cycle to 28 quarters from the trough (which is the time span since the Great Recession ended in June 2009).
From looking at the behavior of NGDP and the associated behavior of RGDP during the episodes, it becomes clear why we´re living a Great Stagnation. For the past 60 years, monetary policy has never been this tight! That´s the mechanism that transforms transitory shocks into long-lived economic responses.
And on the productivity implications of inadequate AD growth, this was tweeted by Adam Tooze:
Keynes on the aggregate demand context necessary for rapid productivity growth
A Benjamin Cole post
There is a still-popular framework in some monetary circles (including parts of the Alt-M crowd) that fiat-money central banks are statist-inflationist redoubts, despite the last 35 years of global disinflation and then deflation, along with falling interest rates.
The track record of the last few decades suggests that major fiat-money central banks are actually disinflationist and then deflationist, and appear unwilling to alter course.
The old argument was that nations want to pay off debts with cheap money. So nations deploy central banks to print money—the word “debauchery” and “theft” are often used—and pay off bondholders with devalued currency, cheating the lenders of their just due.
Of course, today we see Europe and Japan in quicksand-deflation and ZLB, and the U.S. perhaps but one recession away from a similar fate.
The sinister statist-inflationist central banks are proving themselves incompetent at printing up cheap money. How can this be?
What if the statist central banks are actually very clever? They have figured out that if they can engineer deflation, then nations can borrow in perpetuity for something close to free. Japan, for example, is floating the idea of perma-bonds that pay no interest.
And through quantitative easing, nations are paying off national debt without inflationary consequence, as long as central banks can keep deflation as the norm. In Japan, for example, the Bank of Japan owns one-third of that nation’s national debt.
Central banks, by keeping interest rates artificially high—remember, with ZLB rates have a floor, despite some negative-interest rates here and there—they can use QE to pay off national IOUs forever.
The long road to deflation and ZLB has also resulted in incredible riches for bondholders, who saw their holdings soar in value. Far from being robbed, bondholders have effectively enjoyed three decades of Fat City Boom Days thanks to central banks.
Just by chance, I am sure.
A good cabal theory is that wealthy and politically influential bondholders, through captive central banks, have engineered an economy-sapping long disinflation and then deflation, extorting rising real rents along the way on soaring bond values.
Well, as cabal theories go, it holds more water than the inflation-statist fiat money central banks tale.
A James Alexander post
It’s taken a while but the evidence is now in. Euro Area NGDP growth has overtaken US NGDP growth. Congratulations to the ECB, commiserations to the Fed. Go Europe!
Sadly, it is not quite so simple. While the Fed has much to atone for letting NGDP drift so far off trend, the ECB has much more below trend growth to make up as the growth “gap” since the Great Recession makes very clear.
For those who prefer “Real” GDP, i.e. a real number GDP deflated by inflation, then we can also see a similar pattern of Europe overtaking the US.
The main reason for this Euro Area relative resurgence is that monetary policy remains on a tightening bias in the US despite these terrible trends in Nominal and Real GDP, while the ECB is still very much in easing mode. The trends are equally visible in Base Money growth: 6% down YoY in the US, 30-40% up in the Euro Area.
The regional drivers of Euro Area growth are the big four countries who make up 75% of Euro Area GDP, while BeNeLux makes up a further 10%. Their report cards show:
- Germany (29%) – NGDP slowed to 3.2% YoY in 2Q 2016 from a 3.6% trend over the last five quarters. It seems to have been driven by a fall in the deflator rather than RGDP growth which was stable at 1.7% YoY.
- France (21%) – still growing at over 2% YoY NGDP doesn’t sound exciting but is very good for that country which has a terribly sluggish nominal economy hidebound by labor regulations and other restrictions. QoQ growth was 0%, which wasn’t too bad given the country had terror attacks and a major football championship keeping people away from the shops. Equally, keeping large parts of the labor force out of the economy as evidenced by its very low Labor Force Participation and Employment/Population ratios helps France´s productivity statistics but doesn’t make the country happy or grow very fast.
- Italy (15%) – Despite the long-drawn out saga of the low nominal growth-inspired banking crisis, NGDP growth in Italy is above 2% for a second quarter running, helping keep RGDP positive YoY. ECB monetary policy is set for the average grower inside the Euro Area and Italy is very definitely average.
- Spain (10%) – NGDP picked up after a 1Q2016 dip but did not regain the 4% recorded in 2H 2016. Still, it is very welcome given the political chaos engendered by not having a government and as the country has much catch up to do in terms of lost NGDP growth during the double dip recession.
Even writing these mini-report cards on various regions within the Euro Area, one feels very conscious that one is approaching the monetary area the wrong way. It is, or should be, seen as one bloc but the national politics keeps interfering. It mirrors the tension between the permanent Federal Reserve governors and the regional Fed presidents on the FOMC. The US is far more of a single market than the Euro Area but can still see tensions, especially when the central governors are two seats short due to nomination blocs by Congress on Presidential appointees.
Perhaps the sheer diversity of ECB council members strengthens the central officers in a way Janet Yellen can only dream. Who knows? But what is clear is that the ECB is on the right path at the moment while the Fed is not.
Now, we are told that Lael Brainard will give a speech in Chicago on September 12:
One of the most influential Fed doves has announced that she will speak on Monday, Sept 12 on the US economy in Chicago at noon local time (1 pm ET).
The location is the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and they say she will discuss “the economic outlook for the United States and monetary policy implications” and will be in conversation with Michael Moskow, who was CEO of the Chicago Fed.
Maybe it’s been in the works for a while, maybe she’s been dispatched to reel in hike expectations for September 21. Either way, that’s going to be a critical speech.
The fact that she´s regarded as an “influential dove” increases the “likelyhood” of a September hike if she so indicates. It will certainly be interesting to read.