Defending the Fed’s Independence

I’m not usually one to sign public petitions, but I made an exception today for a key issue: defending the independence of the Federal Reserve.

Like many other economists (here’s the list of signatories, with a day’s lag), I am troubled by the anti-Fed rhetoric emanating from some parts of the Congress. The Fed has taken a remarkable series of actions that deserve close congressional oversight. But that oversight should not endanger the Fed’s fundamental independence in executing monetary policy.

The petition therefore makes three important points about Fed independence:

First, central bank independence has been shown to be essential for controlling inflation. Sooner or later, the Fed will have to scale back its current unprecedented monetary accommodation. When the Federal Reserve judges it time to begin tightening monetary conditions, it must be allowed to do so without interference.

Second, lender of last resort decisions should not be politicized.

Finally, calls to alter the structure or personnel selection of the Federal Reserve System easily could backfire by raising inflation expectations and borrowing costs and dimming prospects for recovery. The democratic legitimacy of the Federal Reserve System is well established by its legal mandate and by the existing appointments process. Frequent communication with the public and testimony before Congress ensure Fed accountability.

Over at the WSJ, David Wessel has a nice piece on the petition.

The Exploding Federal Deficit

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released its latest snapshot on the federal budget. The headlines:

  • The budget deficit was $1.1 trillion during the first nine months of the fiscal year (through June). That’s up from $286 billion at this point last year.
  • Spending has risen 21% over last year, while tax revenues have fallen 18%.
  • For the first time in more than ten years, the government ran a deficit in June. June is a big tax-paying month, so it usually records a surplus.

Exploding Deficit - June

The charts shows the main drivers of the exploding deficit:

Continue reading “The Exploding Federal Deficit”

The Exploding Federal Deficit

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released it’s latest snapshot on the Federal budget. CBO estimates that the federal budget deficit was $984 billion — just short of a trillion dollars — during the first eight months of the fiscal year (October 2008 through May 2009). During the same period last year, the deficit was “only” $319 billion. Why has the deficit been exploding so rapidly? Lower tax revenues and higher spending (yes, that’s obvious, but keep reading).

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released its latest snapshot on the Federal budget.  CBO estimates that the federal budget deficit was $984 billion — just short of a trillion dollars — during the first eight months of the fiscal year (October 2008 through May 2009).  During the same period last year, the deficit was “only” $319 billion.

Why has the deficit been exploding so rapidly? Lower tax revenues and higher spending (yes, that’s obvious, but keep reading):

Exploding Deficit

As the chart shows, there have been three basic factors driving up the deficit:

Continue reading “The Exploding Federal Deficit”

What a Strange Round Trip It Has Been

In the months after Lehman’s fall, yields on regular Treasuries plummeted in a massive flight to liquidity, while yields on less-liquid inflation-indexed bonds rose sharply. Those moves have reversed in recent months bringing both 10-year Treasury yields back to where they started.

Treasury yields have been surging.  The yield on 10-year Treasuries, for example, closed at 3.71 percent on Wednesday, up more than 60 basis points over the past two weeks.  That’s a big move.

Economic commentators are grappling to understand the causes and implications of this increase.  Is it the return of bond vigilantes worrying about the grim U.S. fiscal situation?  Concern that aggressive policy actions will ignite inflationary pressures?  Or, perhaps, just a sign of healing in the financial markets?

I don’t have an answer for you today.  But I did find one tidbit that suggests that there’s something to the healing hypothesis.  Treasury yields – on both regular 10-year bonds and their inflation-indexed equivalents – are almost exactly where they were before the fall of Lehman:

                                    9/12/2008                           5/27/2009

     Regular                      3.74%                                      3.71%                                   

     Inflation-Indexed       1.79%                                      1.83%

In the months after Lehman’s fall, yields on regular Treasuries plummeted in a massive flight to liquidity, while yields on less-liquid inflation-indexed bonds rose sharply.

Those moves have reversed in recent months bringing both 10-year Treasury yields back to where they started.

Source: Federal Reserve Board, Release H.15