Central Bank Solvency and Inflation
The monetary base in the United States, defined as currency plus bank reserves, grew from about $800 billion in 2008 to $2 trillion in 2012, and to roughly $4 trillion at the end of 2014 (see chart below). Some commentators have viewed this increase in the monetary base as a sure harbinger of inflation. For example, one economist wrote that this “unprecedented expansion of the money supply could make the ’70s look benign.” These predictions of inflation rest on the monetarist argument that nominal income is proportional to the money supply. The fact that the money supply has expanded ...
Municipal Debt Markets and the COVID-19 Pandemic
In March, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the market for municipal securities was severely stressed: mutual fund redemptions sparked unprecedented selling of municipal securities, yields increased sharply, and issuance dried up. In this post, we describe the evolution of municipal bond market conditions since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. We show that conditions in municipal markets have improved significantly, in part a result of the announcement and implementation of several Federal Reserve facilities. Yields have decreased substantially, mutual funds ...
Responding to COVID-19: A Note
We consider several epidemiological simulations of the COVID-19 pandemic using the textbook SIR model and discuss the basic implications of these results for crafting an adequate response to the ensuing economic crisis. Our simulations are meant to be illustrative of the ﬁndings reported in the epidemiological literature using more sophisticated models (e.g., Ferguson et al. (2020)). The key observation we stress is that moderating the epidemiological response of social distancing according to the models may come at a steep price of extending the duration of the pandemic and hence the time ...
More Than Meets the Eye: Some Fiscal Implications of Monetary Policy
In 2012, the Fed’s remittances to the U.S. Treasury amounted to $88.4 billion. The vast majority of these remittances originated as income from the SOMA portfolio (see the second post in this series for an account of the history of SOMA income). While net income has been high in recent years because of the Fed’s large balance sheet, it is likely to drop in the future as the Fed normalizes interest rates. This is because the Fed will likely face increased interest expense on its reserve balances and possibly realize losses in the case of asset sales. A recent paper by economists at the ...
Economic Activity during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Model with “Acquired Immunity”
We calibrate a macroeconomic model with epidemiological restrictions using Colombian data. The key feature of our model is that a portion of the population is immune and cannot transmit the virus, which improves substantially the fit of the model to the observed contagion and economic activity data. The model implies that during 2020, government restrictions and the endogenous changes in individual behavior saved around 15,000 lives and decreased consumption by about 4.7 percent. The results suggest that most of this effect was the result of government policies.
The Debt Ceiling as a “Fiscal Rule”
A few months ago, the federal government was once again confronted with the need to raise the statutory limit on the amount of debt issued by the Treasury. As in the past, the protracted stalemate and associated uncertainty led to calls to eliminate the debt ceiling. In this post, I make the counterargument. Likely because of its straightforwardness, the debt ceiling has been an effective “fiscal rule.” The reduction of the federal deficit from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s was due in large part to a series of budget compromises, all of which were accompanied by the need to raise the ...
Forecasting Interest Rates over the Long Run
In a previous post, we showed how market rates on U.S. Treasuries violate the expectations hypothesis because of time-varying risk premia. In this post, we provide evidence that term structure models have outperformed direct market-based measures in forecasting interest rates. This suggests that term structure models can play a role in long-run planning for public policy objectives such as assessing the viability of Social Security.
Discounting the Long-Run
Expectations about the path of interest rates matter for many economic decisions. Three sources for obtaining information about such expectations are available. The first is extrapolation from historical data. The second consists of surveys of expectations. The third are expectations drawn from financial market prices, often referred to as market expectations. The last are usually considered to be model-based expectations, because, generally, a model is needed to reliably extract expectations from current prices. In this post, we explain the need for and usage of term structure models for ...
A History of SOMA Income
Historically, the Federal Reserve has held mostly interest-bearing securities on the asset side of its balance sheet and, up until 2008, mostly currency on its liability side, on which it pays no interest. Such a balance sheet naturally generates income, which is almost entirely remitted to the U.S. Treasury once operating expenses and statutory dividends on capital are paid and sufficient earnings are retained to equate surplus capital to capital paid in. The financial crisis that began in late 2007 prompted a number of changes to the balance sheet. First, the asset side of the balance sheet ...
Is the United States Relying on Foreign Investors to Finance Its Bigger Budget Deficit?
The fiscal packages passed in 2020 and 2021 to help the economy cope with the pandemic caused a dramatic increase in federal government borrowing. One might have expected that foreign investors were important buyers of this new debt, but that was not the case. They were instead net sellers of Treasury securities. Still, the amount of money flowing into the United States increased last year, which helped fund the government’s borrowing, if only indirectly. The upturn in inflows, though, was quite modest as a surge in domestic personal saving largely covered the government’s heightened ...