Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

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Showing posts for "U.S."

Is the Fed Gonna Tighten Like It’s 1994? Or 2004?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Fed Tightening 1994 2004 and Today

How will the Fed raise rates once it starts?  Gradually, in small steps?  Faster, with larger steps?

In 2012, before becoming Fed chair, Janet Yellen argued for a later first rate-hike than would be suggested by a traditional “Taylor Rule” approach, followed by more aggressive catch-up rate hikes.  Now, however, she is suggesting that those rate hikes will be gradual and measured after all.  Almost certainly she is wary of a repeat of 1994, when the Fed began raising rates and bond markets took a pounding. Read more »

Psychology and the Oil Market

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
oil prices and market psychology

In his recent book, Market Madness: A Century of Oil Panics, Crises, and Crashes, our colleague Blake Clayton explains the role of market psychology in contributing to the wild price swings that have characterized the oil market over the past hundred years.   Using data from Google Books NGrams, he shows that whenever oil prices climb for an extended period comments about “running out of oil” and “running out of gasoline” proliferate. These beliefs have repeatedly proven unfounded. Read more »

Move Over Big Mac: The Law of One Price Is Lovin’ Our Little Mac Index

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
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The “law of one price” holds that identical goods should trade for the same price in an efficient market. To what extent does it hold internationally?

The Economist magazine’s famous Big Mac Index uses the price of McDonald’s burgers around the world, expressed in a common currency (U.S. dollars), to estimate the extent to which various currencies are over- or under-valued. The Big Mac is a global product, identical across borders, which makes it an interesting one for this purpose. Yet it travels badly—cross-border flows of burgers won’t align their prices internationally. Read more »

Employment Data Suggest Fed Could Be “Patient” Until 2016—or Later

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Inflation Tracks the Employment/Population Ratio

In its last two statements, the FOMC has said that it “expects inflation to rise gradually toward 2 percent over the medium term”—2 percent being its target rate. What would it take to move it there?

We looked at how many different variables correlate with the Fed’s preferred inflation measure—core PCE inflation. Oil and the dollar have been much in the news of late, but their prices have had little relationship with core PCE inflation over the past decade, as shown in the bottom-left figures above. The single variable that seems to correlate best, as seen in the top-left figure, is the employment/population ratio among adults aged 25-54 years. If we follow this ratio’s trend-line since 2013, when it began its last major upturn, this suggests that core PCE inflation won’t hit 2% until late 2016 or early 2017—as seen in the large right-hand figure. If we follow it since its trough in 2011, core PCE inflation does not hit 2% until late 2017. Read more »

Which Countries Should Fear a Rate Ruckus?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
EM bond yields taper reaction

For many Emerging Markets, May 22, 2013 is a day that will live in infamy.  It marks the start of the great Taper Tantrum, when Ben Bernanke’s carefully hedged remarks on prospects for slowing Fed asset purchases triggered a massive sell-off in EM bond and currency markets. Read more »

Our Fed Dual-Mandate Tracker Affirms Taper Timing

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Fed Performance Measured

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard continues to burnish his reputation as the FOMC’s least predictable member, reversing course on policy for the second time in 3 months—going from dove to hawk and now back to dove again.  Having as recently as August publicly advocated a rate rise in early 2015, he is now calling for the Fed to halt its monthly taper of QE3 bond purchases, citing falling inflation expectations. Read more »

Are Fed Doves Mucking with Future Unemployment Estimates to Justify Dovishness?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
fed changing unemployment projections 2

Do Fed doves and hawks get their aviary classifications based on their cold, hard analysis of data, or is it the reverse – do they select data points to justify their dovish or hawkish perspectives?

The history of the Fed’s post-crisis focus on unemployment suggests the latter.  After June of 2013, as the figure above shows, the Fed’s estimate of the natural long-term unemployment rate begins declining in sync with the decline in the actual unemployment rate.  This suggests that FOMC members are lowering their estimates of the natural rate of unemployment to justify keeping interest rates at zero longer than they could if they stuck by their initial estimates, the 6% consensus upper bound of which is now above today’s actual 5.9% rate. Read more »