Fed’s Powell on balance sheet normalization and the effective lower bound

Monetary Policy: Normalization and the Road Ahead
Chair Jerome H. Powell
At the 2019 SIEPR Economic Summit, Stanford Institute of Economic Policy Research, Stanford, California
March 08, 2019

The Committee has long said that the size of the balance sheet will be considered normalized when the balance sheet is once again at the smallest level consistent with conducting monetary policy efficiently and effectively. Just how large that will be is uncertain, because we do not yet have a clear sense of the normal level of demand for our liabilities. Current estimates suggest, however, that something in the ballpark of the 2019:Q4 projected values may be the new normal. The normalized balance sheet may be smaller or larger than that estimate and will grow gradually over time as demand for currency rises with the economy. In all plausible cases, the balance sheet will be considerably larger than before the crisis.

Experience in the United States and around the world suggests that more frequent ELB episodes could prove quite costly in the future. My FOMC colleagues and I believe that we have a responsibility to the American people to consider policies that might promote significantly better economic outcomes. Makeup strategies are probably the most prominent idea and deserve serious attention. They are largely untried, however, and we have reason to question how they would perform in practice. Before they could be successfully implemented, there would have to be widespread societal understanding and acceptance–as I suggested, a high bar for any fundamental change. In this review, we seek to start a discussion about makeup strategies and other policies that might broadly benefit the American people.

Makeup strategies: The simplest version goes like this: If a spell with interest rates near the ELB leads to a persistent shortfall of inflation relative to the central bank’s goal, once the ELB spell ends, the central bank would deliberately make up for the lost inflation by stimulating the economy and temporarily pushing inflation modestly above the target. In standard macroeconomic models, if households and businesses are confident that this future inflationary stimulus will be coming, that prospect will promote anticipatory consumption and investment.

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