Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Fed Promises to Share its Feelings

The Fed announced today that it would publish more detailed forecasts more often. Chairman Bernanke explained the rationale for increasing the Fed's openness:
[A] considerable amount of evidence indicates that central bank transparency increases the effectiveness of monetary policy and enhances economic and financial performance in several ways. First, improving the public's understanding of the central bank's objectives and policy strategies reduces economic and financial uncertainty and thereby allows businesses and households to make more-informed decisions. Second, if practitioners in financial markets gain a better understanding of how policy is likely to respond to incoming information, asset prices and bond yields will tend to respond to economic data in ways that further the central bank's policy objectives. For example, if market participants understand that arriving information about the economy increases the likelihood of certain policy actions, then market interest rates will tend to move in a way that reinforces the expected actions, effectively supporting the goals of the central bank. Third, clarity about the central bank's policy objectives and strategy may help anchor the public's long-term inflation expectations, which can substantially improve the efficacy of policy and the overall functioning of the economy. Finally, open discussion of the central bank's analyses and forecasts invites valuable input and feedback from the public.
As Bernanke explained in the speech, there has been a considerable evolution toward greater central bank transparency - it was only in 1994 that the Fed only began publicly announcing changes in the Fed Funds target. Real Time Economics had reaction from several academic economists, who interpreted this as a move in the direction of inflation targeting. Bernanke was careful to say otherwise:
As you may know, I have been an advocate of the monetary policy strategy known as inflation targeting, used in many countries around the world. Inflation targeting is characterized by two features: an explicit numerical target or target range for inflation and a high degree of transparency about forecasts and policy plans. The steps being taken by the Federal Reserve, I must emphasize, are intended only to improve our communication with the public; the conduct of policy itself will not change...

...some aspects of inflation targeting may be less well suited to the Federal Reserve's mandate and policy practice. In particular, although inflation-targeting central banks certainly pay attention to economic growth and employment, their formal accountability is often largely couched only in terms of a price-stability objective.... As I have emphasized today, the Federal Reserve is legally accountable to the Congress for two objectives, maximum employment and price stability, on an equal footing. My colleagues and I strongly support the dual mandate and the equal weighting of objectives that it implies. Of course, as I have discussed, the Federal Reserve's influence over these objectives differs importantly in the long run: Monetary policy determines the long-run inflation rate, whereas the factors that influence the sustainable rates of growth and employment in the long run are largely outside the central bank's control. Still, over time, monetary policy must strive to foster rates of growth and employment close to their long-run sustainable rates. The Federal Reserve must thus be accountable for the effects of its policies on the real economy as well as on inflation. The enhanced projections that I have described today will provide additional information pertinent to both halves of the Federal Reserve's mandate.

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