From Fernanda Nechio and Glenn D. Rudebusch at the San Francisco Fed: Has the Fed Fallen behind the Curve This Year?

Last December, monetary policy analysts inside and outside the Fed expected several increases in short-term interest rates this year. Indeed, the median federal funds rate projection in December 2015 by Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants was consistent with four ¼ percentage point hikes in 2016. So far, none of those increases has taken place.

Of course, monetary policy decisions are often described as data-dependent, so as economic conditions change, FOMC projections for the appropriate path of monetary policy adjusts in response. However, as Rudebusch and Williams (2008) note, changes in forward policy guidance can confound observers and whipsaw investors. In fact, some have complained that the lower path for the funds rate this year represents an inexplicable deviation from past policy norms. A reporter described these complaints to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen at the most recent FOMC press conference (Board of Governors 2016b): “Madam Chair, critics of the Federal Reserve have said that you look for any excuse not to hike, that the goalpost constantly moves.” Such critics have accused the Fed of reacting to transitory, episodic factors, such as financial market volatility, in a manner very different from past systematic Fed policy responses to underlying economic fundamentals.

This Economic Letter examines whether the recent revision to the FOMC’s projection of appropriate monetary policy in 2016 can be viewed as a reasonable course correction consistent with past FOMC behavior. We first show that the projected funds rate revision is not large relative to historical forecast errors. Next, we show that a simple interest rate rule that summarizes past Fed policy can account for this year’s revision to the funds rate projection based on recent changes to the FOMC’s assessment of economic conditions.

And the conclusion:

The downward shift to the FOMC’s 2016 funds rate projection was not large by historical standards and appears consistent with past Fed policy behavior in response to evolving economic fundamentals. Therefore, if monetary policy was correctly calibrated at the end of last year, it likely remains so, and the Fed has not fallen behind the curve this year.