Author Archives: James_Hamilton

Fed balance-sheet reduction not scaring anyone

Today the Federal Reserve announced that it is increasing its target for the fed funds rate to a new range of 1 to 1.25%, a development that surprised no one. But something that was not heralded in advance was the announcement that the Fed intends to “begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated.” The Fed spelled out in detail exactly what that will entail. Sometime later this year, the Fed will begin limiting the amount of maturing Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities that it reinvests, initially bringing its balance sheet down by $10 billion each month as its holdings are redeemed. Those amounts will gradually increase each month until after a year balance-sheet reduction reaches a pace of $50 billion per month. That compares with a net increase of $100B/month on the way up during QE1. Given current Fed security holdings of $4.2 trillion, this would reduce the Fed’s security holdings by about 14% per year once it gets into full swing.
Continue reading

Treasury debt held by the public

How much does the U.S. government owe? The number that is subject to the recurrent debt-ceiling wrangling includes intra-government debts that the Treasury is imputed to owe to other Federal government operations. For example, Social Security taxes have historically exceeded benefits paid out. The surplus was used to pay for other government programs, and the Social Security Trust Fund was credited with corresponding holdings of U.S. Treasury securities representing the accumulated value of those surpluses. Many of us think of this as an I.O.U. that the government issued to itself. Economists usually subtract those intra-government debts when talking about the size of the federal debt, relying instead on the Treasury’s measure of debt held by the public. Although many of us have made use of the latter numbers in academic research, policy analysis, and lectures to our students, those data are also getting less reliable in recent years.
Continue reading

China’s tetralemma

Many countries have three policy objectives: (1) being able to set their own monetary policy, in order to keep their own inflation and unemployment at desired levels; (2) having a stable exchange rate, in order to avoid disruptive shifts in exports or imports; and (3) allowing free capital flows, in order to help the country’s citizens and firms find the most efficient sources and uses of capital. But the famous policy trilemma of international economics claims that any country is going to be forced to give up on one of those three goals.
Continue reading

2017 Econbrowser NCAA tournament challenge

March Madness returns! All are invited to sign up for the world famous tenth annual Econbrowser NCAA tournament challenge, in which you can demonstrate your inability to predict the outcome of the U.S. college men’s basketball tournament. If you want to participate, go to the Econbrowser group at ESPN, do some minor registering to create a free ESPN account if you haven’t used that site before, and fill in your bracket before Thursday at noon!

I see that a number of the more serious Econbrowsers have already joined the group before I even got this announcement up, including last year’s winner Jackiegee. So watch out, these guys are good at correctly anticipating!

Repealing Dodd-Frank and Basel III

One of the responses to the financial turmoil of 2008 was new legislation and regulation intended to prevent such a disaster from recurring. These measures include the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 and the third international accord from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision of 2010-11. But today there are powerful voices seeking to amend or overturn these measures. President Donald Trump said on December 12:

We have to end Dodd-Frank…. The head of the banks, they’re petrified of the regulators….I mean, unless you have 5 time what you want to borrow, they don’t lend you any money. They’re afraid to loan people money and those are the people that should be able to borrow.

And Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Vice Chair of the Financial Services Committee, wrote on January 31:

Agreements like the Basel III Accord … turned into domestic regulations that forced American firms of various sizes to substantially raise their capital requirements, leading to slower growth here in America.

Here I review the motivations for Dodd-Frank and Basel III and some of the proposals to amend or replace them.
Continue reading

Back to normal?

A year ago, the Federal Reserve decided to raise its target for the fed funds rate by 25 basis points above the floor of 0-0.25% at which we’d been stuck for 7 years. FOMC members indicated at the time that they were expecting to end 2016 at 1.4%, or four rate hikes during the last year. We started this December at 0.41%, and the first hike of 2016 didn’t come until last week. Now FOMC members say they are expecting to end 2017 at 1.4%, or three more hikes from here during the next year. The January 2018 fed funds futures contract is currently priced at 1.23%, suggesting that the market is buying into two, not three hikes during 2017.
Continue reading