Central bank rates one year from now

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This post is a guest contribution by Rebecca Wilder*, author of the of the News N Economics blog.

The core inflation rate has dropped to 1.4%, while the unemployment rate surged to 9.7%….to date. And barring some unforeseen and positive economic surprise, like renewed confidence driving consumer spending more quickly than anticipated, these variables that define the Fed’s dual mandate are likely to remain outside the Fed’s comfort zone into next year. Therefore, policy is likely to be quite expansionary in the foreseeable future (which in forecasting terms, that is 2010). But how far into the future; and what will be its exit strategy?

rw2309-1

I just wanted to chime in on this issue of Fed exit strategy, specifically with rate hikes (or, as some of you will properly identify, target rate hikes). The Fed has a ton of policy to unwind, over a $trillion in direct asset purchase: >$800 in billion MBS, soon to be $300 billion in Treasuries, and soon to be $200 billion in agency debt. Furthermore, the Fed dropped its target rate (the federal funds rate, ff rate) to practically 0%. Therefore, there are several permutations of exit strategy to consider. Here are the main ones:

The Fed unwinds the assets first, and then raises its target rate

The Fed unwinds its assets after raising its target rate

The Fed mixes exits: unwinding assets while contemporaneously raising its target rate

Timing is key here, and NOBODY expects the Fed to raise tomorrow. The Fed will monitor financial markets and the economy, and decide which action is appropriate. But given the obvious interdependence between financial markets and the economy, my bet’s on a contemporaneous rate hike and asset sell-off. But let’s be real, even the Fed hasn’t mapped out its exit strategy in full.

The MBS market is tricky. Unless the housing market is plugging away, it will be difficult for the Fed to inundate the MBS market with its very huge supply of MBS (11% of the market as of June 2009, and counting). Therefore, it is likely that the Fed exits in a more weighted way: more quickly selling off assets, but also raising its target rate.

According to Morgan Stanley and the overnight indexed swap curve, the Fed’s target rate is expected to be just 52.9 bps higher than it is today (see cum in the chart below) in June 2010, or about 0.75%.

rw2309-2

Given that consensus expects the unemployment rate to be in the 9%-10% range by then, I’d say that 75 bps is more of an upper bound. Unless inflation gets a push forward – at the core level, this is very unlikely given the long lags in price fluctuations – the economy will be just too weak. The decline in all measures of prices (including wages) will keep inflation very much in check, with some upside risk on the back of emerging market growth and energy price gains.

So there you have it. Is the market correct? 75 bps next year? That’s still a lot of stimulus left in the system.

Source: Rebecca Wilder, News N Economics, September 23, 2009.

* Rebecca Wilder is an economist in the financial industry. She was previously an assistant professor and holds a doctorate in economics.

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