MacroScope

The limits of Federal Reserve forward guidance on interest rates

The ‘taper tantrum’ of May and June, as the mid-year spike in interest rates became known, appears to have humbled Federal Reserve officials into having a second look at their convictions about the power of forward guidance on interest rate policy.

Take James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Fed. He acknowledged on Friday that the Fed’s view of the separation between rates guidance and asset purchases had not been fully accepted by financial markets. “This presents challenges for the Committee,” he noted.

A decision to modestly reduce the pace of asset purchases can still leave a very accommodative policy in place to the extent forward guidance remains intact.

The Committee needs to either convince markets that the two tools are separate, or learn to live with the joint effects of tapering on both the pace of asset purchases and the perception of future policy rates.

San Francisco Fed President John Williams also recently outlined some of the drawbacks on relying too greatly on promises of future behavior.

Recalculating: Central bank roadmaps leave markets lost

Central banks in Europe have followed in the Federal Reserve’s footsteps by adopting “forward guidance” in a break with traditionBut, as in the Fed’s case, the increased transparency seems to have only made investors more confused.

The latest instance came as something of an embarrassment for Mark Carney, the Bank of England’s new superstar chief from Canada and a former Goldman Sachs banker. The BoE shifted away from past practice saying it planned to keep interest rates at a record low until unemployment falls to 7 percent or below, which it said could take three years.

Yet the forward guidance announcement went down with a whimper. Indeed, investors brought forward expectations for when rates would rise – the opposite of what the central bank was hoping for – although the move faded later in the day.

Bonds take a dive

U.S. Treasuries have taken quite a battering this week, and there has been no shortage of explanations from market pundits. For some, the downturn reflects an improving economy and the pricing out of expectations for further monetary easing from the Federal Reserve. For others, the market is playing catch up after eyeing firmer inflation numbers and a better if still anemic employment backdrop.

The Fed’s statement this week lent itself to a hawkish interpretation since what few changes were made appeared positive. The bond market responded in kind, adding to a selloff that has seen ten-year note yields rise nearly 40 basis points in just over a week. George Goncalves at Nomura describes the price action:

U.S. Treasury yields had a seismic break and have finally moved this week, and boy did they move. The market blew through the range it had held for the past four months, our near-term targets and through several important technical levels, all in the space of two trading sessions.