The Fed is behind the curve (as usual)

There’s a widespread impression that the Fed has recently tightened monetary policy. And it’s true that they have taken specific steps to signal an intention to raise rates and end QE earlier than had been expected six months ago. Nonetheless, monetary policy has effectively eased in the past six months, becoming more expansionary. The stance of monetary policy is not about Fed actions, it’s about market expectations of inflation/NGDP growth.

During the summer of 2021, 5-year TIPS spreads hovered around 2.5%. As of today, they are over 2.9%. The problem is that the equilibrium interest rate is rising faster than the Fed’s signals about future rate increases. This is actually the typical pattern over the business cycle. The Fed tends to raise rates too slowly during booms and cut them too slowly during recessions.

Actually, the situation is even worse than suggested by the rising TIPS spreads. The Fed isn’t targeting inflation; it’s targeting average inflation. That means a period of above target inflation should be followed by expectations of lower inflation going forward. Ideally, after the high inflation of the past 6 months, TIPS spreads should have declined, as markets anticipated a make-up period of below 2% inflation.

I still believe the Fed did a good job in promoting a rapid recovery in NGDP. Monetary policy is not binary situation of “success” and “failure”. All monetary policy ends in failure of some sort, it’s just a question of how bad. There’s still time for the Fed to remedy the situation and produce a soft landing. To do that, they need to aim for no more than 4% NGDP growth going forward, and no less than 3%. (In my view, trend RGDP growth is now below 2%) To do that the Fed needs to get ahead of the curve. Tighten policy enough to significantly reduce market inflation forecasts.

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