MacroScope

Banks keeping most of QE3 benefits for themselves

Federal Reserve officials have been worried that their policy of ultra-low interest rates may be having less of an effect than usual because of a “broken transmission channel.” In plain English, this means the money hasn’t really been flowing smoothly from liquidity-flooded banks to would-be borrowers.

Economists at TD Securities argue banks have passed on less than half of their lower funding rates as reflected in yields on mortgage-backed securities onto consumers.

During the current iteration of monetary policy easing, pass-though peaked at 66% during the third week following the QE3 announcement, when MBS yields rebounded from their post-QE3 lows and 30-year mortgage rates fell to a record-low 3.36%. However, since the QE3 announcement, our calculations suggest that banks have passed through an average of just 40% of their lower funding rates (i.e. lower MBS yields) in the form of lower mortgage rates.

The concern was flagged in a speech by New York Fed President William Dudley this week:

Federal Reserve MBS purchases have succeeded in driving down mortgage rates to historically low levels. But these purchases would have had still more effect on the economy if pass-through rates from the secondary market to the primary market had been higher. As can be seen in Exhibit 3, the Federal Reserve’s purchases significantly narrowed the spread between agency MBS and Treasury yields, with the latest round of purchases significantly narrowed the spread between agency MBS and Treasury yields, with the latest round of purchases notably effective in this regard. But, as shown in Exhibit 4 the spread between primary mortgage rates and agency MBS yields3 has widened and this has limited the drop in primary mortgage rates.

Ambling through the archives: Don’t blame the deficit, 1983 edition

The battle over the amount and nature of government spending is the focus of the current U.S.presidential campaign and is unlikely to go away even after the November election is well in the rear view mirror.

In such a setting, a paper presented by economist Albert M. Wojnilower at the October 1983 Bald Peak Conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, sounds as timely today as it did then. Wojnilower, then chief economist at First Boston, prepared his “Don’t Blame the Deficit” talk as a commentary on “Implications of the Government Deficit for U.S. Capital Formation,” a paper by Benjamin M. Friedman, a professor of political economy at Harvard.

Here is the jist of Wojnilower’s argument, made almost three decades ago when the Ronald Reagan presidency was almost three years old: If the United States is under-investing, the “villain” is not the Federal budget deficit, he said.

Too big to exist? Fed’s regulation czar backs limits on bank size

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Regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents who oppose quantitative easing have made little way in convincing the central bank’s dovish core. Apparently, not so on the cause célèbre of policymakers like Richard Fisher at the Dallas Fed, who have called for too big to fail banks to be broken up.

In a speech this week, Fed board governor and regulation czar Daniel Tarullo stopped short of calling for outright break-ups. But he did take the unprecedented step of backing size limitations on banks that would be linked to overall U.S. economic output.

In his own words:

In these circumstances, however, with the potentially important consequences of such an upper bound and of the need to balance different interests and social goals, it would be most appropriate for Congress to legislate on the subject. If it chooses to do so, there would be merit in its adopting a simpler policy instrument, rather than relying on indirect, incomplete policy measures such as administrative calculation of potentially complex financial stability footprints.

Why rise in part-time employment does not explain U.S. jobless rate decline

The September unemployment rate was the lowest since December 2008 after surprisingly large back-to-back declines, sending economists back to the drawing board after big forecast misses. Some pointed to the large increase in involuntary part-time employment – erroneously so, according to an analysis from Ray Stone, economist and managing director at Stone & McCarthy.

The jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent last month from 8.1 percent in August.

After a quick, superficial look at the September household data, several commentators embraced the thesis that it was due to a 582,000 increase in Part-Time Employment for Economic Reasons. These are people who prefer full-time employment, but sadly had to settle for a part-time job. These 582,000 part-timers accounted for much of the overall 873,000 increase in September civilian employment.

This Part-Time for Economic Reasons statistic “was a Greenspan favorite, and certainly over longer periods of time such is a measure of labor distress,” Stone said. “But, the month-to-month wiggles in this series usually turn out to be noise. In September this metric rose to 8.613 million.”

Fed speak galore

The pace of Federal Reserve speeches intensifies next week, with Vice Chair Janet Yellen kicking off the calendar on Tuesday with a speech on financial stability. Yellen will be speaking in Tokyo at an IMF meeting panel. The cacophony picks up on Wednesday, with remarks from Minneapolis Fed president and recent dovish convert Narayana Kocherlakota, the board’s regulation-czar Dan Tarullo and the ever hawkish Richard Fisher from Dallas. On Thursday, Yellen will directly address monetary policy in another speech, while board governors Jeremy Stein and Sarah Raskin offer a rare peak into their macroeconomic views. Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser and Jim Bullard of the St.Louis Fed, both of whom have opposed QE3, are also on tap. Jeff Lacker, the lone dissenter on this year’s FOMC, will close the week on Friday.

Sustainable full employment is within reach: Green Party U.S. presidential candidate Stein

As Americans get ready or tonight’s presidential debate, there’s one candidate they won’t be seeing on television and may not even have heard of: Jill Stein, a Harvard-trained doctor and Green Party candidate. Stein is promising a Green New Deal that she says could create more than 20 million jobs, 16 million through a government-sponsored program for full employment and millions more due to the increase in demand that would come from the new investments. She wants to expand Medicare coverage for all Americans and sharply reduce military spending, and says her policies would reduce the deficit by boosting tax revenues. She spoke to Reuters recently by telephone. What follows is an abbreviated transcript of the interview.

The Green Party does not appear to have realistic chance to win a major election at the moment. What is the goal of your candidacy?

An election is a wonderful time when people get involved and have a much broader conversation than usual. My hope is that we can drive some really critical solutions that already have majority support from the American public, that we can actually drive them into a political system that has been terribly hijacked and disconnected from the interests of everyday people.

Why the Fed shouldn’t raise rates to discipline Congress

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has been trying for some time to fend off critics of his bond-buying policies who argue the central bank is making it easier for the federal government to run deficits. In remarks to the Economic Club of Indiana on Monday, he seems to have found a useful way to help illustrate his point.

It follows logically that those who say the Fed is abetting profligate governments might want to see higher interest rates that would discourage excess federal borrowing. Bernanke pursues this line of thinking to its natural conclusions – and is very uncomfortable with the results:

I sometimes hear the complaint that the Federal Reserve is enabling bad fiscal policy by keeping interest rates very low and thereby making it cheaper for the federal government to borrow. I find this argument unpersuasive. The responsibility for fiscal policy lies squarely with the Administration and the Congress. At the Federal Reserve, we implement policy to promote maximum employment and price stability, as the law under which we operate requires. Using monetary policy to try to influence the political debate on the budget would be highly inappropriate.

U.S. recession signal from the Philly Fed

Will the U.S. economy continue coasting along at a slow but steady clip or does it actually risk tipping into a new recession? Tom Porcelli, economist at RBC Capital, says he’s concerned about a new trough from a little-watched Philadelphia Fed survey of coincident indicators.

Here’s another indicator flashing red. The three-month trend for the Philly coincident index (which captures state employment and wage metrics) fell to a fresh cycle low of +24 in August – it was +80 just three months ago.

A reading this low historically bodes ill for future economic activity. Looking back at the last five downturns, this index averaged +41 three months prior to the official start of the recession. We have decidedly crossed that threshold.

Lucky enough to pay taxes

“People. People who pay taxes, Are the luckiest people in the world …” That may not be exactly how the lyrics, most memorably sung by Barbra Streisand in the musical “Funny Girl” actually go, but one could argue that one is lucky to be well off enough to pay federal income taxes.

A research note from Stone & McCarthy Research Associates economist Nancy Vanden Houten wonders why “obsessing about taxpayers with no federal income tax liability” has become a focus of the U.S. presidential campaign.

We think the emphasis is misplaced. A more appropriate question to ask is how much all taxpayers benefit from provisions of the tax code.

Not enough jobs? Blame the government

The U.S. labor market has been adding jobs for two-and-a-half years, helping bring down the jobless rate from a peak of 10 percent in late 2009 to the current 8.1 percent rate. But recently, job growth has slowed to under 100,000 per month – not enough to keep the jobless rate on a downward path. Heidi Shierholz at the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington says this leaves the U.S. economy well short of achieving its full capacity:

We’d need to add around 350,000 jobs a month to get back to the pre-recession unemployment rate in three years.

With just 96,000 jobs created in August, we’re still a long way off from that kind of strength – and a steady flow of job losses from the public sector isn’t helping. State and local governments have been slashing public payrolls to balance their budgets. In August, the public sector lost 7,000 jobs, but that was mere drop in the bucket of public sector job losses that now total 680,000 lost jobs since August 2008. The total impact is even larger, says Shierholz.