MacroScope

If at first you don’t succeed… Fed’s Evans sticks to strong forecast despite misses

It’s nice to know Federal Reserve officials have a sense of humor about their own forecasting errors. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans was certainly humble enough to admit to some recent misses in a speech on Friday .

Still, he’s sticking to his guns, arguing that U.S. economic growth will finally break above 3 percent next year, allowing the Fed to gradually pull back on its bond-buying stimulus.

In 2009, I predicted that growth would pick up. I did the same in 2010, 2011 and 2012. And I was not alone – most FOMC participants and many outside analysts shared this overly optimistic view. Undaunted, I make my intrepid forecast: I anticipate growth to average about 2-1/2 percent in the second half of the year and to be in the neighborhood of 3 percent next year. I expect the unemployment rate to be somewhat below 7 percent by the end of 2014.

Why is this time different? Here is Evans’ reasoning:

The economic fundamentals are much improved. The cyclical repair process is well under way. Although many households are still distressed, the housing sector as a whole is much better off than it was earlier in the recovery. Housing prices have risen noticeably over the past year.1 The number of mortgages underwater is down from 12.1 million in early 2010 to 9.7 million in the first quarter of 2013. Equity markets have largely recovered and are now around 5 percent above their pre-recession peaks. After several years of restraint, there is pent-up demand for 5 consumer durables. Businesses that had generally delayed capital expenditures are in a relatively favorable position today to finance these outlays. Most big businesses’ balance sheets are in good shape, and surveys show that fewer small businesses see access to credit as a major concern and that there has been an increase in demand for loans from small firms.

Another factor behind my forecast is that it appears there will be less fiscal restraint in 2014 and 2015. Specifically, fiscal restraint will still have a negative impact on GDP growth, but it is expected to be smaller for the next few years. The tax hikes that occurred at the beginning of this year won’t be repeated in 2014. Furthermore, under current law, much of the impact of the sequester on government spending occurs in 2013; so, fiscal reductions in the next few years will be smaller, and the negative impact on growth will be less.

For markets, non-farms eclipse G20

The G20 will wrap up with entrenched positions on Syria and a little more entente over the emerging market turmoil prompted by the Federal Reserve’s impending move to slow the pace of its dollar creation programme.

The BRICS are plugging away with their plan for a $100 billion currency reserve pool to help calm forex volatility but officials admitted this is still a work in progress and won’t be deployable soon.

So, as China and Russia told India – and Washington said more broadly – it’s still incumbent upon countries to put their own houses in order.
The unsurprising rule of thumb is that countries with profound domestic problems have been the ones hit hardest since Ben Bernanke first put up his tapering plan in May. So, while the Fed may have caused the ripples, the fact the rupee is drowning is more due to India’s gaping current account deficit and general economic malaise.

ECB’s Draghi walks the line

After today’s news conference we would happily endorse a new skill on Mario Draghi’s LinkedIn profile: Tightrope walking.

Draghi – having just returned from a summer holiday and looking a lot more relaxed than a month ago – tried to convince markets that the euro zone economy was recovering as expected, yet not sounding too upbeat to warrant higher market rates.

And so he did. Recent confidence indicators confirmed the expected gradual improvement in the economy, he told a smaller than usual crowd of journalists – whether the low attendence was down to the blue sky and 30 degrees outside or the brighter economic climate remains unclear.

Say it with confidence: Consumer surveys as a leading indicator of jobs

It turns out people are better employment forecasters than economists. A report from New York Fed economists finds that confidence measures gleaned from consumer surveys are very tightly correlated with the path of U.S. employment.

The paper offers some illustrative charts that make a rather convincing case.

The chart below plots the Present Situation Index against the unemployment rate, whose scale is inverted so that high levels represent strong labor market conditions (low unemployment) and vice versa. One readily apparent feature is that the two series move together very closely throughout the period and, most notably, during all five of the recessions since 1977. It’s hard to tell from inspecting the chart, but the highest correlation (0.89) occurs at a two-month lead; that is, the Present Situation Index is even more strongly correlated with the unemployment rate two months into the future than it is with the concurrent rate.

The next chart looks at the relationship between changes in this index and payroll job growth – both over twelve-month intervals. This measure of employment is based on a different survey than the survey for the unemployment rate, but payroll employment is typically growing when unemployment is declining and vice versa. Once again, it’s very apparent that the two measures move closely together, and again formal analysis reveals that the Present Situation Index tends to foreshadow movements in employment by a couple of months. In particular, twelve-month changes in the index are most highly correlated with twelve-month job growth four months into the future – the correlation is 0.83.

History suggests rocketing British growth won’t last long

Britain’s economy is steaming ahead – by one measure faster than any other large developed or emerging economy – but history suggests it will struggle to sustain the rapid growth indicated in business and confidence surveys.

Data this week showed British businesses were at the forefront of Europe’s nascent economic recovery, outpacing major euro zone peers that are still grappling for momentum.

British services companies enjoyed their fastest growth since December 2006 in August, according to purchasing managers’ surveys, while housing market activity is gaining, and consumer sentiment is at its highest in almost four years.

‘The President’s Man’: Why a Summers Fed might be a more politicized Fed

Much, far too much, has been said and written about the circus that is the unofficial ‘race’ for the Federal Reserve’s chairmanship. Without rehashing the curious battle between former Obama adviser Larry Summers and Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, Oppenheimer Funds chief economist Jerry Webman makes a good point about why a Summers appointment could create the appearance of partisanship in the conduct of monetary policy:

Historically, U.S. presidents have had mixed results from putting ‘their man’ at the head of the Fed table. President Truman thought he had an accommodative chairman in William McChesney Martin and got the man who famously took away the punch bowl. President Nixon also looked for a more accommodative chairman and unfortunately got one. I’m more impressed with Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Obama, who reappointed their predecessor’s man and got independent and (mostly) sound monetary policy. Sure Bernanke moved to the Fed chair from the chair of President Bush’s council of economic advisors, but even to his critics he’s never appeared to be a partisan figure – certainly not a GOP operative.

Ironically, many expect Summers, who has expressed doubts about the effectiveness on quantitative easing, to be more hawkish than Yellen, long seen as among the most dovish of Fed officials on interest rate policy. But that doesn’t really matter in terms of the message that it would send to the public and financial markets, argues Webman.

China at a crossroads on yuan internationalization project

As China marks the third anniversary of the first ever bond sale by a foreign company denominated in renminbi, questions are rife on what lies next for the offshore yuan market.

Since hamburger chain McDonalds sold $29 million of bonds on a summer evening just over three years ago, China’s yuan internationalization project has notched up impressive milestones.More than 12 percent of China’s trade is now denominated in yuan from less than 1 percent three years ago, Hong Kong – the vanguard of the offshore yuan movement – has more than one trillion yuan of assets in bank deposits and bonds and central banks from Nigeria to Australia have added a slice of yuan to their foreign exchange reserves.

China’s aim to internationalize the yuan has two major objectives: One, to ensure that its companies do not have to shoulder the foreign exchange risk of swapping yuan into dollars in global trade. The second is that as China gradually makes the transition from a current account surplus nation to a deficit country, it would, like the United States, want its debt to be denominated in its own currency.

Fed taxonomy: Lacker is a hawk, not a bull

Not to mix too many animal metaphors but, generally speaking, monetary policy hawks also tend to bulls on the economy. That is, they are leery of keeping interest rates too low for too long because they believe growth prospects are stronger than economists foresee, and therefore could lead to higher inflation.

That is not the case, however, for Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, a vocal opponent of the central bank’s unconventional bond-buying stimulus program, particular the part of it that focuses on mortgages. He reiterated his concerns last week, saying the Fed should begin tapering in September by cutting out its mortgage bond buying altogether.

But when I asked him whether upward revisions to second quarter gross domestic product reinforced his case, Lacker was surprisingly skeptical of forecasts for a stronger performance in the second half of the year.

Turning up?

Manufacturing PMI surveys for euro zone countries and Britain will be the latest litmus test of the durability of fledgling economic recoveries.

Even the readings from Spain and Italy have shown improvement over the summer so it may well be that they are the most interesting given we’ve already had flash readings for the euro zone, Germany and France which showed business activity across the currency bloc picked up faster than expected in August.

Having exited recession in the second quarter, further euro zone growth now looks likely in the third.
Britain’s recovery looks more solid still following a 0.7 percent leap in GDP in Q2. Its PMI will be augmented by Bank of England figures on its funding for lending scheme, whereby banks are offered cheap money on the proviso they lend it on to smaller companies.

Curious timing for Fed self-doubt on monetary policy

If there was ever a time to be worried about whether the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying stimulus is having a positive effect on the economy, the last few months were probably not it. Everyone expected government spending cuts and tax increases to push the economic recovery off the proverbial cliff, while the outlook for overseas economies has very quickly gone from rosy to flashing red. But the American expansion has remained the fastest-moving among industrialized laggards, with second quarter gross domestic product revised up sharply to 2.5 percent.

Yet for some reason, at the highest levels of the U.S. central bank and in its most dovish nooks, the notion that asset purchases might not be having as great an impact as previously thought has become pervasive.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s 2012 Jackson Hole speech, made just a month before the Fed launched a third round of monetary easing, made a strong, detailed case for how well the policy was working.