Deflation? Quantitative Easing?

Does today’s news that the CPI fell 1% last month mean we headed for deflation? Not if the Fed has anything to say about it:

Fed’s Kohn: Deflation Risk Bigger but Still Small, by Brian Blackstone, RTE: Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn said Wednesday the risk of deflation in the U.S. is bigger than a few months ago, but “still small.” He also said monetary policy should respond as aggressively as possible to any deflation possibility, suggesting additional interest rate cuts remain on the table.

Kohn’s remarks come on the heels of a government report showing that consumer prices fell by 1% last month, the sharpest plunge in 61 years.

Responding to questions following a speech…, Kohn said, “in terms of the risk of deflation, there is a risk out there but it’s still small in my mind.” The likeliest scenario, Kohn said, is a “couple of quarters” of negative gross domestic product and “inflation coming down” without getting into a deflationary state.Though Kohn noted that while “some have argued that we should save our ammunition” on interest rates, he thinks that “were we to see this [deflation] possibility…we should be very aggressive with our monetary policy, as aggressive as we can be.” Indeed, Kohn said the lesson from Japan’s experience with deflation is “not to let that get ahead of us.” …Meanwhile, Kohn added that the Fed has “already” engaged in forms of quantitative easing, and “we should be looking carefully” at the effect that could have “as a contingency plan should that still-remote possibility, but I think less remote than it was, occur.” … He said the Fed hasn’t abandoned monetary policy in favor of quantitative easing, noting the Fed’s recent reduction in its target federal funds rate. “I don’t think we’ve given up on one in favor of the other,” Kohn said. He also said there’s no “arithmetic” reason why the Fed can’t “blow up” the size of its balance sheet, which has already swelled in recent weeks to over $2 trillion.
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William Poole says he thinks there has been an unannounced change in policy, and he questions whether that is legal:

Has the Fed changed its policy unannounced? Poole says yes., Rebecca Wilder: The effective federal funds rate has deviated miles away from its Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)-set target over the last couple of months. I, along with really smart economists like James Hamilton, have fought to explain this phenomenon. But perhaps it cannot be explained because we don’t have all of the information!

A bit from Bloomberg (hat tip reader Stephen Saines):

The Federal Reserve’s efforts to rescue the U.S. from financial collapse risks the eclipse of the central bank’s benchmark interest rate as the most important signal of monetary policy.

Record injections of liquidity have driven the overnight lending rate between banks to less than half the 1 percent target set by officials last month. The gap is shifting investors’ focus toward the amount of money in the banking system as a better gauge of Fed intentions, something San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen last month called ”a kind of quantitative easing.”

Has the Fed moved toward a money growth target, rather than an interest rate target? William Poole – former President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – accuses the Fed of not being transparent and shifting monetary policy without announcement. Although he does not speculate as to what the new policy is, he does state that by not announcing its new policy, the Fed is breaking the law.

According to Poole: “Something is happening at the Fed that has not been announced.” [Watch the video here (hat tip reader Paul Cox).]

I will wait for the announcement because frankly I am confused.


Originally published at the Economist’s View and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

One Response to "Deflation? Quantitative Easing?"

  1. Guest   November 20, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    A blog I recently started reading made some good points on this issue:http://www.plusev.ca/how-worried-is-the-fed/