MacroScope

Fed’s numerical thresholds are a bad idea: Goldman’s Hatzius

December 12, 2012

Updates with Fed decision

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday took the unprecedented step of tying its low rate policy directly to unemployment, saying it will keep rates near rock bottom until the jobless rate falls to 6.5 percent. That’s as long as inflation, the other key parameter of policy, does not exceed 2.5 percent.

Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, however, said in a research note published ahead of the decision that the shift may not be very effective.

Would such a move be a good idea? We’re not so sure. Calendar guidance may be theoretically flawed, but it is working reasonably well in practice. Fed officials have managed to keep expectations for the funds rate in the next few years pinned near zero, and the market now understands that this is more of a commitment to the promotion of future economic recovery than an expectation of future economic weakness.

Threshold guidance is theoretically appealing because it makes this commitment even more explicit, but it could be problematic in practice because the unemployment rate – almost certainly the activity variable of choice – is an imperfect measure of progress toward the committee’s jobs mandate.

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