Fed communications

If conveying information is considered important for market function, why not just say it clearly and directly in a targeted announcement?

Kohn Says Fed Is Trying to Signal When Views Shift `Materially’

2008-01-05 11:15 (New York)
By Scott Lanman and Steve Matthews

(Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn said the central bank has increased its communication on policy views to the public in the wake of the financial-market “turmoil” that began in August.

Fed officials have tried to signal when the central bank’s reading on the economic outlook shifted “materially” in between regular meetings, Kohn said in a speech in New Orleans. “We have tried to provide more information than usual to reduce uncertainty and clarify our intentions.”

Kohn spoke before a week in which Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and six other Fed policy makers are scheduled to deliver remarks. The speeches come amid increasing signs of danger to the U.S. economic expansion, including a jump in the unemployment rate to a two-year high and a contraction in manufacturing. Traders anticipate the Fed will cut interest rates again Jan. 30.

Still, investors “should understand” that officials “do not coordinate schedules and messages, and that members’ views are likely to be especially diverse” when circumstances are rapidly changing, Kohn said.

Kohn held out Bernanke’s last speech on Nov. 29 as a signal of a change in the Fed’s views. The chairman said at the time that volatility in credit markets had “importantly affected” the economic outlook and declined to repeat the Federal Open Market Committee’s October statement that inflation and growth risks were about equal. The Fed then cut rates on Dec. 11.

`Let People Know’

“We have attempted to let people know when our views of the macroeconomic situation had changed materially between FOMC meetings,” said Kohn said in prepared remarks at the National Association for Business Economics panel discussion, part of the Allied Social Science Associations annual meeting.

The vice chairman didn’t comment on the outlook for monetary policy or the economy in the text of his remarks.

Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Kazumasa Iwata and European Central Bank Vice President Lucas Papademos were also scheduled to speak in the same session.

Traders yesterday shifted to bets on 50 basis points of interest-rate cuts by the Fed this month from 25 basis points after U.S. hiring slowed more than forecast in December and unemployment rose to 5 percent. The Fed lowered its main rate a quarter percentage point to 4.25 percent at its last meeting on Dec. 11. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

Fed Speakers

Bernanke speaks Jan. 10 in Washington. Other Fed officials giving talks include Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren and Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig, the last two policy makers to cast dissenting FOMC votes. Charles Plosser, head of the Philadelphia Fed, votes as an FOMC member for the first time this month; he will discuss his economic outlook Jan. 8.

The FOMC is scheduled to meet Jan. 29-30 in Washington.

Separately, Kohn said today that the FOMC’s new forecasts for inflation three years out do not represent an “explicit numerical definition of price stability,” something the committee decided against, but rather the inflation rate that is “acceptable and consistent with fulfilling our congressional mandates.”

Kohn, who said in 2003 that he was “skeptical” about a price target, chaired a subcommittee of officials that coordinated work on the Fed’s communication review that began in 2006. He suggested in September that his doubts about the idea had eased.

Inflation Expectations

“I expect that our new projections will provide some of the benefits of an explicit target in better anchoring inflation expectations while not giving up any flexibility to react to developments that threaten high employment,” Kohn said today.

He also echoed remarks by Bernanke that the Fed will continue to look for “additional steps” to improve communication.

Fed officials decided last year not to report members’ assumptions of the “appropriate” path of interest rates because of concern that investors would “infer more of a commitment to following the implied path than would be appropriate for good policy,” the vice chairman said.

Kohn, speaking yesterday at the same conference, said diverse views on the 19-member FOMC lead to better monetary policy decisions. “The authority of the chairman rests on his ability to persuade the other members of the committee that the choices they are making under his leadership will accomplish their objectives,” he said.

–Editor: Chris Anstey, Christopher Wellisz
To contact the reporter on this story:
Scott Lanman in Washington at +1-202-624-1934 or
[email protected];
Steve Matthews in New Orleans at +1-404-507-1310 or
[email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Chris Anstey at +1-202-624-1972 or [email protected]


♥