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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fed Cuts & Inflation

*Sorry for the delay in posting we were experiencing serious computer issues

One of the questions on everybodys’ minds is how high would inflation need to go before the Fed would reconsider any further rate cuts. During the recent months’ we have seen increasing down side risks to the US growth forecast, while at the same time growing inflation expectations. This is a dangerous mix in terms of continuing to use Fed policy as a stimulus to the economy. Historically, looking back at the data (since 1995), we can see that the Fed has never lowered rates when the Core CPI has gone above 2.9%, this means we could have at some room left, before the Fed rates cuts could potentially come off the table. To further test this we applied an ordered probit model with a grouping of economic indicators (ISM, core PCE – 2.0% inflation target, & a 1 month lag in the change in initial claims - 350) to see how the current situation compares to those in the past and to see which way the Fed is likely to move and in what magnitude based on inflation rates. What we discovered after running the model for both Core CPI and Core PCE (which we see as the Fed’s indicator of choice) was in-line with our original estimation that for the Fed to reconsider the cuts we would need to see the Core rates move to between 2.7% & 3.0%. Currently, the Core PCE and Core CPI are at 2.2% and 2.5%, respectively, with expectations rising.

To quantify the rate change we created five categories ranging from –2 to 2, with 0 implying no change. We created these categories after individually analyzing all FOMC rate changes from 1995 until 2007. To quantify the change we categorized the magnitude of the Fed rate hikes or cuts at each individual meeting into three groups: 0, 0.25%, and =>0.50%. So for example, a rate hike of 0.50% points would lead to a score of 2, while a rate cut of 0.25% would equal a score of -2.

With the left-hand side variable defined this way we ran them using an ordered Probit model against the ISM, inflation gap, and initial claims. We found that all of the variables were statistically significant.

The results show that the implied Fed rate change currently stands at -0.03 on our scale of -2 to 2, and has decreased in intensity over the last two months from its interim low of 0.09 in June (Chart 1). This movement corresponds to the decreasing growth and wavering employment levels. The current reading shows that there is a downward Fed bias, which implies the Fed is more likely to lower rates rather than raise them…


So long as the Fed considers downside risk to growth exists we can expect that rate cuts will remain on the table as long as Core PCE remains below the 2.7% to 3.0% range, or growth conditions do not deteriorate more significantly.

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