What Does Data Dependence Mean at Present?
In summary, data dependence is, and always has been, at the heart of policymaking at the Federal Reserve. We are always seeking out new and better sources of information and refining our analysis of that information to keep us abreast of conditions as our economy constantly reinvents itself. Before wrapping up, I will discuss recent developments in money markets and the current stance of monetary policy.
Our influence on the financial conditions that affect employment and inflation is indirect. The Federal Reserve sets two overnight interest rates: the interest rate paid on banks’ reserve balances and the rate on our reverse repurchase agreements. We use these two administered rates to keep a market-determined rate, the federal funds rate, within a target range set by the FOMC. We rely on financial markets to transmit these rates through a variety of channels to the rates paid by households and businesses—and to financial conditions more broadly.
In mid-September, an important channel in the transmission process—wholesale funding markets—exhibited unexpectedly intense volatility. Payments to meet corporate tax obligations and to purchase Treasury securities triggered notable liquidity pressures in money markets. Overnight interest rates spiked, and the effective federal funds rate briefly moved above the FOMC’s target range. To counter these pressures, we began conducting temporary open market operations. These operations have kept the federal funds rate in the target range and alleviated money market strains more generally.
While a range of factors may have contributed to these developments, it is clear that without a sufficient quantity of reserves in the banking system, even routine increases in funding pressures can lead to outsized movements in money market interest rates. This volatility can impede the effective implementation of monetary policy, and we are addressing it. Indeed, my colleagues and I will soon announce measures to add to the supply of reserves over time. Consistent with a decision we made in January, our goal is to provide an ample supply of reserves to ensure that control of the federal funds rate and other short-term interest rates is exercised primarily by setting our administered rates and not through frequent market interventions. Of course, we will not hesitate to conduct temporary operations if needed to foster trading in the federal funds market at rates within the target range.
Reserve balances are one among several items on the liability side of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, and demand for these liabilities—notably, currency in circulation—grows over time. Hence, increasing the supply of reserves or even maintaining a given level over time requires us to increase the size of our balance sheet. As we indicated in our March statement on balance sheet normalization, at some point, we will begin increasing our securities holdings to maintain an appropriate level of reserves.18 That time is now upon us.
I want to emphasize that growth of our balance sheet for reserve management purposes should in no way be confused with the large-scale asset purchase programs that we deployed after the financial crisis. Neither the recent technical issues nor the purchases of Treasury bills we are contemplating to resolve them should materially affect the stance of monetary policy, to which I now turn.
Our goal in monetary policy is to promote maximum employment and stable prices, which we interpret as inflation running closely around our symmetric 2 percent objective. At present, the jobs and inflation pictures are favorable. Many indicators show a historically strong labor market, with solid job gains, the unemployment rate at half-century lows, and rising prime-age labor force participation. Wages are rising, especially for those with lower-paying jobs. Inflation is somewhat below our symmetric 2 percent objective but has been gradually firming over the past few months. FOMC participants continue to see a sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near our symmetric 2 percent objective as most likely. Many outside forecasters agree.
But there are risks to this favorable outlook, principally from global developments. Growth around much of the world has weakened over the past year and a half, and uncertainties around trade, Brexit, and other issues pose risks to the outlook. As those factors have evolved, my colleagues and I have shifted our views about appropriate monetary policy toward a lower path for the federal funds rate and have lowered its target range by 50 basis points. We believe that our policy actions are providing support for the outlook. Looking ahead, policy is not on a preset course. The next FOMC meeting is several weeks away, and we will be carefully monitoring incoming information. We will be data dependent, assessing the outlook and risks to the outlook on a meeting-by-meeting basis. Taking all that into account, we will act as appropriate to support continued growth, a strong job market, and inflation moving back to our symmetric 2 percent objective.
Excerpt from Fed Chair Powell: Data-Dependent Monetary Policy in an Evolving Economy