Author Archives: James_Hamilton

Libra: economics of Facebook’s cryptocurrency

Facebook last week announced plans for Libra, a new global cryptocurrency. The name seems to be a marriage of the words “livre”, the French currency throughout the Middle Ages based on a pound of silver, and “liber,” which is Latin for “free.” Facebook claims that Libra will give the freedom to easily transmit funds across borders to the 1.7 billion adults in the world without access to traditional banks.
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Yield curve inversion

The gap between long-term and short-term interest rates has narrowed sharply over the last year and is now dipping into negative territory. Historically that’s often been a signal that slower economic growth or even an economic recession could lie ahead.

Gap between average interest rate on 10-year Treasury bond and 3-month Treasury bill during the last month of the quarter (1953:Q2 to 2019:Q1) and May 1-24 for 2019:Q2. NBER dates for U.S. recessions shown as shaded regions.

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Tools of monetary policy

I just finished a new paper on current U.S. monetary policy operating procedures. Here’s the abstract:

The Federal Reserve characterizes its current policy decisions in terms of targets for the fed funds rate and the size of its balance sheet. The fed funds rate today is essentially an administered rate that is heavily influenced by regulatory arbitrage and divorced from its traditional role as a signal of liquidity in the banking system. The size of the Fed’s balance sheet is at best a very blunt instrument for influencing interest rates. In this paper I compare the current operating system with the historical U.S. system and the procedures of other central banks. I then examine strategies for transitioning from the current system to one that would give the Federal Reserve better tools with which to achieve its strategic objective of influencing inflation and output.

Here’s a link to a video of my presentation of the paper at a conference at Stanford last week.

Factors in Unemployment Dynamics

That’s the topic of a new FEDS Note that I just published with Hie Joo Ahn. Here’s what we discuss:

The U.S. unemployment rate averaged 8.4% during the first five years of recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the weakest recovery on record. But as the expansion continued, unemployment continued to decline and by 2018 reached the lowest levels in almost half a century. Why did unemployment remain so high for so long, and what factors contributed to the recent lows?

Measuring monetary policy shocks

What are the effects on the economy when the Fed raises interest rates? This is a key question in empirical research, but is notoriously hard to answer. The reason is that when the Fed raises interest rates, it usually does so in anticipation of a stronger economy or rising inflation. If we look at what happens to inflation or output following an interest rate hike, it is impossible to distinguish the effect of the Fed’s actions from the effects of the changing fundamentals that led the Fed to act in the first place. New research by a graduate student at UCSD may have finally solved this problem.
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Warren B. Hamilton, 1925-2018

From the Denver Post:

Warren Hamilton passed away at his home in Golden, Colorado on October 26, 2018 at age 93. His primary career was as a research scientist with the US Geological Survey in geologic, and later geophysical branches. He was a geologist known for integrating observed geology and geophysics into planetary-scale syntheses describing the evolution of Earth’s crust and mantle. After retirement in 1995, he became a Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Department of Geophysics, Colorado School of Mines where he taught classes through fall of 2017. Warren also taught classes through winter of 2017 with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a holder of the Penrose Medal, the highest honor of the Geological Society of America.

Warren served in the US Navy from 1943 to 1946, completed a bachelor’s degree at UCLA in a Navy training program in 1945, and was a commissioned officer on the aircraft carrier USS Tarawa. After returning to civilian life, he earned an MSc in Geology from USC and a PhD in Geology from UCLA in 1951. Warren was preceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Alicita. He is survived by three children, Larry (wife Leslie), Kathy (husband Steve Harhai) and Jim (wife Marjorie Flavin), six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.