Nearly nine years into the current economic expansion Federal Reserve policy actions appear to be benign, as even after six increases, the federal funds rate remains less than 2%. Changes in the reserve, monetary and credit aggregates, which have always been the most important Fed levers both theoretically and empirically, indicate however that central bank policy has turned highly restrictive.
Optimism is pervasive regarding U.S. economic growth in 2018. Based on the solid 3%+ growth rate during the last three quarters of 2017, this optimism is well-founded.
The worst economic recovery of the post-war period will continue to be restrained by a consumer sector burdened by paltry income growth, a low and falling saving rate, and an increasingly restrictive Federal Reserve policy. Additionally, with the extremely high level of U.S. government debt and deteriorating fiscal situation, the economy is unlikely to benefit from any debt-financed tax changes. Finally, from a longer-term perspective, the recent natural disasters are an additional constraint on economic growth.
“Dual mandate” is one of the most commonly used phrases in U.S. central banking. The current Chair of the Federal Reserve often mentions it in both speeches and testimony to Congress. Not surprisingly, this is an extremely hot topic in monetary economics, and execution of this mandate has profound significance.
The Federal Reserve has initiated the fifteenth tightening cycle since 1945 (Chart 1). Conspicuously, in 80% of the prior fourteen episodes, recessions followed, with outright business contractions being avoided in just three cases.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, the U.S. budget deficit jumped to $590 billion, compared with $438 billion in the prior fiscal year. However, over the same time period the change in total gross federal debt surged upward by $1.4 trillion, more than twice the annual budget deficit measure.