Yellen says Fed should tie rate outlook to economic goals
Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Janet Yellen backed a proposal to link the Fed’s zero interest-rate policy to progress toward meeting its goals for inflation and employment rather than to a calendar date. The Committee might eliminate the calendar date entirely and replace it with guidance on the economic conditions that would need to prevail before liftoff of the federal funds rate might be judged appropriate,” Yellen said Wednesday in the text of remarks prepared for a speech in Berkeley, California. She is “strongly supportive” of such a change, she said.
Yellen Wednesday joined three other Fed officials who have endorsed tying zero interest rates with progress on fighting unemployment as a way to provide more clarity on the central bank’s outlook for monetary policy.
The policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said last month it expects to keep its benchmark rate near zero through at least mid-2015. “Under such an approach, liftoff would not be automatic once a threshold is reached,” Yellen said at the University of California at Berkeley, where she is a professor emeritus. “That decision would require further Committee deliberation and judgment.”
The Fed may adopt the approach as soon as its next meeting Dec. 11-12, said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies Group Inc in New York and a former Richmond Fed economist.
“They’ve been kicking around the idea of changing the communications policy for a while, and she pretty much summed it up,” McCarthy said. “They want to put rate guidance in the context of the dualmandate objectives. That was probably the main discussion at the most recent FOMC meeting.” Since June 2011, Yellen has led a committee created by Ben S. Bernanke to shed light on Fed decision-making and minimize public confusion over its goals. The central bank in January took one of its biggest steps ever toward greater openness by publishing a mission statement, an inflation target and anonymous forecasts by each FOMC participant for the benchmark interest rate.
“We’ve made progress, but much work remains to be done,” Yellen, 66, said today. Stocks fell today as investors watched for progress on Europe’s debt crisis and Washington’s budget debate. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slid 0.4 percent to 1,374.53 at the close of trading in New York. Treasury 10-year note yields fell two basis points to 1.59 percent after earlier falling to 1.57 percent, the lowest level since Sept. 5.
Last year, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans first called for the central bank to tie policy to specific numerical thresholds, saying it should keep rates near zero until unemployment falls below 7 percent or inflation rises above 3 percent.
In September, Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota endorsed a variation of the pledge, calling for low rates until joblessness falls to 5.5 percent as long as inflation remains below 2.25 percent.
Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said on Nov. 1 the central bank should buy mortgage bonds until the jobless rate falls to 7.25 percent and hold the target interest rate near zero until hitting 6.5 percent unemployment.
Yellen today said the Fed’s 2 percent inflation goal set in January should not be viewed as a ceiling, arguing that such an interpretation would lead to inflation that’s more frequently below the target than above. “To balance the chances that inflation will sometimes deviate a bit above and a bit below the goal, 2 percent must be treated as a central tendency around which inflation fluctuates,” she said.
The FOMC’s 19 participants are also considering changes to the Fed’s quarterly publication known as the Summary of Economic Projections.