Translating Fedspeak

The Federal Reserve has released its periodic statement explaining how the Fed's leaders view the economy and how they plan to act in the coming weeks. (The Fed intends to buy $600 billion in long-term Treasury securities through June — in effect starting up an electronic monetary printing press.) These statements come out every six weeks, and they affect stock markets and government policies around the world. But the language is nearly impenetrable. So Slate and NPR's "Planet Money" have collaborated to translate it into plain English. Here is the original and the translation:

The original statement: Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in September confirms that the pace of recovery in output and employment continues to be slow. Household spending is increasing gradually, but remains constrained by high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth, and tight credit. Business spending on equipment and software is rising, though less rapidly than earlier in the year, while investment in nonresidential structures continues to be weak. Employers remain reluctant to add to payrolls. Housing starts continue to be depressed. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable, but measures of underlying inflation have trended lower in recent quarters.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. Currently, the unemployment rate is elevated, and measures of underlying inflation are somewhat low, relative to levels that the Committee judges to be consistent, over the longer run, with its dual mandate. Although the Committee anticipates a gradual return to higher levels of resource utilization in a context of price stability, progress toward its objectives has been disappointingly slow.

To promote a stronger pace of economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with its mandate, the Committee decided today to expand its holdings of securities. The Committee will maintain its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings. In addition, the Committee intends to purchase a further $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011, a pace of about $75 billion per month. The Committee will regularly review the pace of its securities purchases and the overall size of the asset-purchase program in light of incoming information and will adjust the program as needed to best foster maximum employment and price stability.

The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and continues to anticipate that economic conditions, including low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations, are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate for an extended period. The Committee will continue to monitor the economic outlook and financial developments and will employ its policy tools as necessary to support the economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with its mandate.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; James Bullard; Elizabeth A. Duke; Sandra Pianalto; Eric S. Rosengren; Daniel K. Tarullo; and Kevin M. Warsh. Voting against the policy was Thomas M. Hoenig. Mr. Hoenig believed the risks of additional securities purchases outweighed the benefits. Mr. Hoenig also was concerned that this continued high level of monetary accommodation increased the risks of future financial imbalances and, over time, would cause an increase in long-term inflation expectations that could destabilize the economy.

The translation: The economy still stinks. People are spending a little bit more, but they're stretched thin: One in 10 workers can't find a job, wages are basically flat, home prices are way down and nobody can get a loan. Companies are buying more stuff, for now, but they're not building new factories or offices. Nobody's hiring. Nobody's building. Inflation has gone from low to super low.

The Fed has two main jobs: Keep unemployment low and prices stable. At the moment, as you may have heard, unemployment is really high. And inflation is so low that it's making us nervous. We keep saying that unemployment's going to fall. And it keeps not falling.

So to give the economy a kick in the butt — and to pump up inflation a little bit — we decided to go on a shopping spree. First of all, we're going to keep buying new stuff when our old investments pay off. Second — and this is the big news for today — we're going to create $600 billion out of thin air and use it over the next eight months to buy bonds from the federal government. We hope this will make interest rates go so low that people will borrow and spend more money, and companies will start hiring. By the way, this is an experiment, and we don't really know how it's going to work out. We reserve the right to change our plans at any time.

Of course, we'll continue our policy of letting banks borrow money for free. If you're worried this is going increase inflation and destroy the dollar, please reread everything we've said to this point. We plan to keep rates near zero for as long as it takes, but we won't tell you how long that is. In the meantime, we'll keep an eye on things.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; James Bullard; Elizabeth A. Duke; Sandra Pianalto; Eric S. Rosengren; Daniel K. Tarullo; and Kevin M. Warsh. Voting against the policy was Thomas M. Hoenig. He's the president of the Kansas City Fed, and he's voted against Fed policy at every one of our meetings this year. He thinks this whole creating-$600-billion-out-of-thin-air thing is going to do more harm than good. He also thinks that all this money we've pumped into the economy could inflate another bubble and create widespread worries about inflation. That could lead us right into another crisis.

What the fed said:

Information received ... confirms that the pace of recovery in output and employment continues to be slow.

What the fed meant:

The economy still stinks.

Translating Fedspeak 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 6:53pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...