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Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

November 17, 2015 5 comments

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy or sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments. Plus…sign up to receive notice when my book is published! The title of the book is What’s Wrong with Money?: The Biggest Bubble of All, and if you would like to be on the notification list to receive an email when the book is published, simply send an email to You can also pre-order online.

  • +0.2% on core CPI…as expected…waiting for breakdown
  • With Median CPI running 2.5% as of last month, we should be expecting 0.2% as the “normal” core going fwd.
  • 20% was core to 2 decimal places. 1.91% y/y. [ed note: mistweeted as 0.19% first]
  • Note that the next two months, we roll off +0.08% and +0.06% from last year. This means core will be about 2.2% by dec CPI.
  • (Though there’s some evidence of missed seasonality in core CPI these days, through airfares e.g.)
  • Primary Rents 3.74% vs 3.71%. OER unch at 3.09%. So Housing roughly unch at 2.12% y/y
  • Medicinal drugs 2.95%, up a bit, but Hospital Services 4.87% vs 3.28% and Health Insurance 2.99% vs 1.74%.
  • No big surprise that there’s a jump in medical care services if you’ve looked at your bills recently! Probably not temporary.
  • core services at +2.8% mainly due to medical; core goods -0.7%, weakest since Jan.
  • Apparel -1.91% vs -1.37%, a non-negligible part of core goods.
  • New vehicles also soft: +0.14% from +0.47%. Some will say this is a VW effect, but also a general dollar effect.
  • The dollar effect, overall, is very small but in a few categories like Apparel it is large and in cars it is measurable.
  • First cut at Median, looks to me like ~0.21%, unchanged at 2.5% y/y. That’s the number that matters but not due out for hours.
  • I think I mistweeted the core to 2 decimal places…was 0.20%, not 0.19%. still 1.91% y/y, I just typoed. Why? It’s a mistwee. [ed note: har har!]
  • Summary is there’s still no sign of deflation! The pop in medical services inflation joins housing as concerns to the upside.
  • The rise in Medical care will also tend to make PCE catch back up with core, since it has 3x the weight in PCE as in CPI.
  • I don’t care about PCE, but the Fed does.

There is not a lot here to be very happy about if you want the Fed to stay on hold. The best argument for the Fed to not tighten, at this point, is that it doesn’t wanna. Growth isn’t great, and is weakening, and we may well enter a recession in a few months (we won’t know that for a year, of course, when the NABE announces it). But that won’t stop inflation from rising. Money supply growth is still rolling along at 6.7% (the highest in 15 months), but the Fed doesn’t really care about that as far as anyone can tell. At this point, the argument for the Fed to move is strong, but it has been almost this strong for a couple of years (and arguably stronger, when growth was less tenuous a year or two ago). The only argument that is stronger now is that they are even further behind the curve.

However, I am still skeptical that the Fed will tighten in December. They need to walk back their rhetoric, and I expect they will do so over the next few weeks (if they do not, then I am wrong and they will tighten in December). Even if they tighten, though, I do not expect them to tighten more than a couple of token times, before slowing growth makes them ‘pause’ – and that will be an interminable pause.

One chart here that is the most disturbing of the report: medical care services.


If you have been shopping for healthcare recently, you know that there are steep increases in insurance (which doesn’t show up very much in CPI but is more meaningful in PCE) and direct services that you pay prior to using up your deductible are also rising significantly. Medical care is a mess. For a while, the reorganization of payment streams hid the actual increased costs of Obamacare, but the real costs are starting to be felt. It may be that the cost curve eventually turns down because consumers have to pay for more of the care themselves. But this hasn’t happened yet, and it will take time. In the meantime, medical care services will add to housing services as the main pressures for higher prices.

It’s only softness in goods prices that is holding down overall core CPI now, and that won’t last forever!

Categories: CPI, Tweet Summary

Median Inflation vs Mediocre Growth

November 5, 2015 3 comments

A reader pointed out to me today a piece by Amy Higgins and Randal Verbrugge on the Cleveland Fed’s website entitled “Is a Nonseasonally Adjusted Median CPI a Useful Signal of Trend Inflation?” I will let readers draw their own conclusions about the new measure that Higgins and Verbrugge are proposing, but I wanted to point out the research because I often cite Median CPI as the best way to look at the central tendency of inflation (what the researchers call “trend inflation”) and this article confirms and reinforces that point of view.

And it is worth looking, therefore, at the recent movements in Median CPI. Yes, I know you’ve seen this over and over from me, but take a look anyway (chart is sourced from Bloomberg).


I don’t believe for a second that the FOMC is unaware of this picture; nor, however, do I believe they really care equally about inflation and growth. The talk right now is moderately hawkish, and with growth fair and inflation heading higher it is time to withdraw reserves. Indeed, it is long past time. As I have said for a while, the time to withdraw reserves was roughly when the Fed was busy implementing their last QE. Also note that I am not saying “raise rates,” since raising rates is an effect of withdrawing reserves and it is the withdrawal of reserves, not the raising of rates, that matters.

Practically speaking, since growth is slowing, the Fed is now back in a pickle of its own making. Inflation is clearly heading higher; growth is probably heading lower. If the FOMC had a balanced mandate (inflation and employment equal) then they would probably be at a neutral rate right now, so that would argue for tightening. But the FOMC has nothing remotely close to a balanced mandate. Against all evidence that monetary policy can affect inflation but not growth, the Fed is totally biased to act to support growth. The bankers believe that slow growth solves the inflation problem, so they should fight recession and just worry about inflation when growth gets “too hot.” Therefore, I currently do not expect the Fed to tighten in December.

Moreover, this increase in core or median inflation is happening in most major economies (with the notable exception of the UK, where it was nearing 4% in 2011 but has gradually come back to around 1%). This is in contrast to the conventional wisdom being propagated that inflation is falling everywhere. Consider the chart below, which is of core Japanese CPI (with the effect of the one-off tax increase in 2014 smoothed out).


Core inflation in Japan is the highest it has been in more than 17 years. Seventeen years. Tell me again how the BOJ’s money printing is having no effect? It is having no effect on growth, but it is doing what we would expect it to do on inflation.

Eurozone inflation is rising less impressively (see chart), but still rising. But then, the ECB has been less aggressive on monetary policy than either the US or Japan. Still, Europe is not, as the popular press would have you believe, flirting with deflation.


All of these economies are only flirting with deflation if you include energy quotes (these pictures may be worse if we had median CPI rather than core CPI for these economies). Now, energy quotes matter, just as much when they are going down as when they are going up, but it is a separate question whether including energy is at all helpful for predicting future inflation. And the answer is, as the Higgins and Verbrugge point out: no, it really isn’t. We are entering a period with weakening growth and strengthening inflation.

This should be “fun.”

Looks Like a Hag to Me

November 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Suddenly, things are just swell!

Over the last month, stocks have absolutely blasted off with one of the most powerful moves in years. More precisely, in this century the only months with bigger gains in the S&P than last month’s 8.3% were March 2000, October 2002, March 2009, April 2009, September 2010 and October 2011.

There is no ‘because’ – as far as I can tell, there is little coherent reasoning behind the rally. Economic data has been generally weak; there have been positive signs too but the bad signs have been getting worse faster than economists have been expecting. Nothing is collapsing, but we are talking about a market that is overvalued on most major metrics. “The economy is not collapsing” is not a strong argument for why we’ve added 10% since the beginning of October.

One fascinating argument I have heard advanced concerns the Fed’s recent hawkish rhetoric (for the record, I do not expect this to result in an increase in interest rates in December, but consider it so much wind). Stock market bulls for years have used the liquidity argument for a reason to buy stocks. But now that the Fed is preparing (or trying to make us think it is preparing) to hike rates, I read about how that’s bullish for stocks because it signals a return to normalcy. Really? So by similar reasoning, if the Fed enacted QE4 instead it would be bearish. How convenient that the logic of how liquidity helps stocks got turned around 180 degrees right about the time the Fed has few options before it other than the question of when to turn 180 degrees.

Investing, of course, is famously not about selecting the prettiest girl in the room but about selecting the girl that everyone else thinks is the prettiest. If you can get ahead of the screwy logic correctly, you can do quite well. I am awful at doing this. I simply can’t make myself think in this kind of twisted way, which is why I am a systematic value-tilted investor.

I’ve also, although only over the last week or so, heard Amazon cited as one reason the market is doing well. Specifically, Amazon reported strong Q3 growth and expects a record holiday season. But…Amazon isn’t forecasting a record Christmas for everyone; it continues to add market share in the movement from foot-traffic shopping to online shopping. It would be shocking if it were not a record Christmas season for Amazon, even if the economy contracted! In any event: show me. I suspect Christmas will be better than it has been for a few years, since Unemployment is lower than it has been for a while and gasoline prices are lower which should increase discretionary spending. (It should be noted, though, that economists have been looking for the increase in discretionary spending for a few quarters now and it hasn’t really shown up). But as an excuse for adding a couple trillion dollars in market value? Seems a bit of a stretch.

As usual, the signals are not the same away from the stock market as they are within the stock market. Commodities markets remain very weak, although energy showed some strength today. This isn’t a new divergence, though – since the commodity market diverged from the stock market in late 2011, the Bloomberg Commodity Index is down about 42% while the S&P 500 is up about 89% (see chart, source Bloomberg).


Looking at that chart, it is fair to point out that the recent dip in stocks is reminiscent of the dip in late 2011, which was also from overvalued conditions (although not nearly so overvalued as now) but which culminated in a blast-off in one of the most continuous rallies without a 10% correction the market had ever seen. It is worth pointing out, of course, that in 2011 the Unemployment Rate was at 9% and coming down, while it is now at 5.1% and likely heading up soon. We also had a further QE to look forward to (in 2013), while that looks unlikely now. And there are other differences that seem to me to carry more weight than a curious symmetry of chart patterns. But, as I said, I am awful at figuring out who everyone else thinks is the prettiest girl today. As for the stock market, it looks like a hag to me.

Categories: Uncategorized

Anchors Aweigh!

October 19, 2015 2 comments

I think it is time to talk a little bit about “anchored inflation expectations.”

Key to a lot of the inflation modeling at the Fed, and in some sterile economics classrooms around the country, is the notion that inflation is partially shaped by the expectations of inflation. Therefore, when people expect inflation to remain down, it tends to remain down. Thus, you often hear Fed officials talk about the importance of inflation expectations being anchored, and that phrase appears often in Federal Reserve statements and minutes.

I have long found it interesting that with as much as the Fed relies on the notion that inflation expectations are anchored, they have no way to accurately measure inflation expectations. Former Fed Chairman Bernanke said in a speech in 2007 that three important questions remain to be addressed about inflation expectations:

  1. How should the central bank best monitor the public’s inflation expectations?
  2. How do changes in various measures of inflation expectations feed through to actual pricing behavior?
  3. What factors affect the level of inflation expectations and the degree to which they are anchored?

According to Bernanke, the staff at the Federal Reserve struggle with even the first of these questions (“while inflation expectations doubtless are crucial determinants of observed inflation, measuring expectations and inferring just how they affect inflation are difficult tasks”), although this has not deterred them from tackling the second and third questions. Economists use the Hoey survey, the Survey of Professional Forecasters, the Livingston survey, the Michigan survey, and inflation breakevens derived from the TIPS or inflation swaps markets. But all of these suffer from the fundamental problem that what constitutes “inflation” is a difficult question in itself and answering a question about a phenomenon that is hard to quantify viscerally probably causes people to respond to surveys with an answer indicating what they expect the well-known CPI measure to show. I talked about many of these problems in my paper on measuring inflation expectations (“Real-Feel” Inflation: Quantitative Estimation of Inflation Perceptions), but the upshot is that we don’t have a good way to measure expectations.

So, with that as background, consider this fact: next year, some Medicare participants will face a 0% increase in premiums while some Medicare participants will face increases of more than 50%.

I am skeptical of the notion of inflation anchoring. But I am really skeptical if it is the case that different segments of the population see totally different inflation pictures. Which anchor counts, if one large group of people expects 7% inflation and another large group expects 1% inflation?

I would argue that none of those anchors matter, because the whole notion is silly. Let’s think through the mechanism of “inflation anchoring.” So the idea is that when people expect lower inflation, they make decisions that tend to produce lower inflation. What decisions are those? If you expect 1% inflation, but Medicare costs go up 50%, what decision are you going to make that will cause that increase to be closer to your expectations? If eggs go up 25 cents per carton and you were expecting 5 cents…is the idea that no one will buy eggs and so the vendor will have to lower the price? What about his costs? Pretty clearly, the mechanism will have to work on the seller’s side, but since every seller is a buyer except for the original seller of labor, the idea must be that if people expect high inflation they argue for higher wages, which causes prices to rise.


I have put paid to that notion in this space before. It doesn’t make any sense to think that wages lead inflation, for if they did then we would all love inflation because we would always be ahead of it. But we know that’s not how it works – prices rise, and then we get higher wages. And sometimes we don’t.

Let’s try another hypothetical. Suppose the Federal Reserve literally drops $50 trillion, unexpectedly, from helicopters. And suppose that consumers did not change their expectations for inflation because they believed, much like the Fed does, that money doesn’t play a role in causing inflation – in other words, their expectations were “extremely well-anchored.” Does anyone think that the price level wouldn’t change, a lot, in contrast to the expectations of the crowd? (I sometimes wonder if Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, who “sometimes…believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” was a Fed economist.)

The whole idea that inflation expectations matter is an effort to explain why parameterizations of inflation models have a regime break in the early 1990s. That is, you can fit a model to 1970-1992, or to 1994-present, but you need different parameters for almost anything you try in the Keynesian-modeling world. Econometricians know that outcome means that you are missing an explanatory variable somewhere; econometricians also know that a very convenient way to gloss over the problem is to introduce a “dummy” variable. In this case, the dummy variable is explained as “inflation expectations became anchored in the early 1990s.”

With all of the problems affecting the notion of expectations-anchoring, I find this solution to the modeling problem deeply unsatisfying. I do not believe that inflation expectations anchor for everybody collectively, but that different groups of people have different (and widely different) anchors. And I don’t think that these anchors themselves play much of a role at all in causing a certain level of inflation. There are better models, simpler models, which do not require you to believe six impossible things.

Unfortunately, they do require you to believe in monetarism. And to some people, that is a seventh impossible thing.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

October 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy or sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments. Plus…sign up to receive notice when my book is published! The title of the book is What’s Wrong with Money?: The Biggest Bubble of All, and if you would like to be on the notification list to receive an email when the book is published, simply send an email to You can also pre-order online.

  • core CPI +0.21%, higher than expected. y/y core to 1.89%.
  • core services up to 2.7%; core goods remains at -0.5%
  • The rise in core CPI #inflation is no surprise to anyone watching Median. But a surprise to many apparently.
  • Owners’ Equiv (3.09% from 3.02%), Primary Rent (3.71% v 3.62%), Lodging Away from Home (1.94% v 1.69%).
  • Overall housing 2.12% vs 2.02% last month. All in keeping with established trends and unsurprising; this has further to go.
  • Medical Care approx unch (2.45% y/y); Recreation unch (0.64%); Apparel down slightly.
  • within Medical, medical drugs decelerated to 2.9% from 3.5%, but professional services and health insurance counteracted that.
  • Core #inflation ex-housing up to 1% vs 0.9%. That’s low but highest it has been since last July.
  • Worth pointing out: derivatives markets are pricing core CPI to be below 1.5%, compounded, for 8yrs. It’s above that now.
  • …and implied core for the next year is below zero (even after today’s rally so far). Core deflation is not happening.
  • US (headline) #Inflation mkt pricing: 2015 0.5%;2016 1.3%;then 1.6%, 1.7%, 1.7%, 1.8%, 2.0%, 2.1%, 2.2%, 2.3%, & 2025:2.3%.
  • So Fed, what do you believe? the market or your own lying eyes? They’re focused on headline now so their deflation worries persist.
  • This is a fun chart. Note that about half of the weight of CPI is inflating >3%. But 12% is deflating.


  • That’s why median matters.
  • Warning: Back of the envelope on Median CPI suggests chance of +0.3%; would imply Median would go to post-crisis high near 2.5%.
  • My back-of-the-envelope lacks seasonal adjustment for regional housing indices but it has been pretty close recently.
  • Cleveland Median CPI +0.3%, +2.5% y/y. QED.
  • inflation is now officially higher than it has been since 2009, on the way down.
  • And Fed to continue to do nothing about it.
  • Median CPI thru this month. In line with what we have been forecasting. Any questions?


At 2.5%, median inflation is not only at or above the equivalent level on core PCE, given historical spreads, but also is clearly rising as the chart above shows. However, this Fed believes very strongly that inflation cannot go up if the economy is slowing, despite generations’ worth of counterevidence (the 1970s, anyone?). The economy does seem to be slowing, not just domestically but globally. Therefore, whether the Fed thinks Median CPI is relevant or not, they will continue to focus on headline inflation numbers that flirt with deflation because of the drastic decline in energy quotes. If they talk about the central tendency of inflation, they will talk about core PCE (and ignore the question of whether the slowdown in medical care which shows up there is illusory or transitory). If pressed, they may mention core CPI, which is still below target because of the “tail” categories.

You will not hear them talk about Median CPI at 2.5% and rising.

Inflation is headed higher. How much higher, and how quickly, depends on several factors such as how quickly the Fed raises rates (I have already said this is unlikely, but note that I think raising rates would initially accelerate inflation) and whether bank lending slows for reasons unrelated to monetary policy. But the sign is clear. Inflation is headed higher.

Walmart Traffic may be Down but Wall Street Traffic is Up

October 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Walmart (WMT) didn’t have its best day today. The bellwether retailer forecast a profit decline of 6-12% in its 2017 fiscal year, in some part because of a $1.5bln increase in wage expenses; the stock dropped 10% to its lowest level since 2012 and off about 33% from the highs (see chart, source Bloomberg).


I mention Walmart neither to recommend it nor to pan it, but only because in the absence of news from WMT I would have been inclined to ignore the modest downside surprise in Retail Sales today; September Retail Sales ex-auto-and-gasoline were unchanged versus expectations for a +0.3% rise. But Retail Sales, like Durable Goods, is a wildly volatile number (see chart, source Bloomberg).


This was a bad month, but it wasn’t the worst month in 2015. It wasn’t even the second or third-worst month in 2015. Looking at a monthly figure, it is difficult to reject any null hypothesis; put another way, you really cannot discern whether +0.5% is statistically different from +0.0%. [I didn’t actually do the test…I am just making the general statistical observation.] Today’s data will tweak the Q3 forecasts a bit lower, but isn’t anything to be upset about. Except, that is, for the fact that Walmart is bleeding.

There is something else that is different about this decline, and really about this whole year. I have documented in the past the steady decline in equity volumes that has been occurring for almost a decade now. The chart below shows the cumulative NYSE volume, by trading day of the year, for 2006 through present. Note the steady march lower in volumes year after year after year. 2014 and 2013 were almost mirror images, so you can’t see 2014. But notice the thicker black line: that is 2015.

volslongtermHere is another way to illustrate the same thing. By year, here is the number of days that less than 1 billion shares traded in NYSE Composite Volume.

Number of sub-billion share days
2005 4
2006 7
2007 7
2008 18
2009 35
2010 113
2011 166
2012 240
2013 246
2014 246

In 2015, we are on pace for a mere 228 sub-billion share days.

I guess by now my point is plain, but here is one more chart and that is the rolling 20-day composite volume for 2014 (lower line) and 2015 (upper line).


In general, volumes have been higher this year, but the real divergence began at the end of July, when the lines began to move away from each other more rapidly. The equity breakdown started on August 20th.

What does this all mean? Rising trading volumes while markets are declining suggests we should consider imputing more significance to what many are calling a correction but which may be the beginning of something deeper. There are re-allocations happening, and outright sales – not just fast money slinging positions around. Technically, this is supposed to put more weight on the “damage” done by this correction, and raise a bit of a warning flag about the medium-term set-up.

Incidentally, you can buy warning flags cheaply at Walmart.

The New Fed Operating Framework Explained with Cheese

October 8, 2015 2 comments

This will be a brief but hopefully helpful column. For some time, I have been explaining that the new Fed operating framework for monetary policy, in which the FOMC essentially steers interest rates higher by fiat rather than in the traditional method (by managing the supply of funds and therefore the resulting pressure on reserves), is a really bad idea. But in responding to a reader’s post I inadvertently hit on an explanation that may be clearer for some people than my analogy of a doctor manipulating his thermometer to give the right reading from the patient.

Right now, there is a tremendous surplus of reserves above what banks are required to hold or desire to hold. With free markets, this would result in a Fed funds interest rate of zero, or even lower under some circumstances, with a substantial remaining surplus.[1] In this case, the Fed funds effective rate has tended to be in the 10-20bps range since the Fed started paying interest on excess reserves (IOER).

So what happens when there is a floor price established above the market-clearing price? Economics 101 tells us that this results in surplus, with less exchange and higher prices than at equilibrium. Consider a farm-price support program where the government establishes a minimum price for cheese (as it has, actually, in the past). If that price is below the natural market-clearing price, then the floor has no effect. But if the price is above the natural market-clearing price, as in the chart below where the minimum cheese price is set at a, then in the market we will see a quantity of cheese traded equal to b, at a price of a.


But what also happens is that producers respond to the higher price by producing more cheese, which is why the supply curve has the shape it does. In order to keep this excess cheese from pushing market prices lower, the government ends up buying c-b cheese at some expense that ends up being a transfer from government to farmers. It can amount to a lot of cheese.[2] This is the legacy of farm price supports: vast warehouses of products that the government owns but cannot distribute, because to distribute them would push prices lower. So the government ends up distributing them to people who wouldn’t otherwise buy cheese, at a zero price. And eventually, we get the Wikipedia entry “government cheese.”

Now, this is precisely what has happened with the artificial price support for overnight interest rates. Whatever the clearing interest rate is with the current level of reserves, it is lower than the 0.25% IOER (and we know this, among other ways, because there are excess reserves. If the price floating to the actual clearing price, then there would be no excess reserves, although the mechanism for this result is admittedly more confusing than it is for cheese). So the Federal Reserve is forced to “buy up the surplus reserves” by paying interest on these reserves; this amounts to a transfer from the government to banks, rather than to farmers in the cheese example.

You should realize too that setting the floor rate higher than the market-clearing rate artificially reduces the volume of trade in reserves. The chart below, which comes from this article on the New York Fed’s blog, illustrates this nicely.


Creating such a floor also causes the supply of excess reserves themselves to increase beyond what it would otherwise be. This confusing result derives because while the Fed supplies the total reserves number to the market, banks can choose to create more “excess” reserves by doing less lending, or can create fewer excess reserves by doing more lending. Of course, banks aren’t deciding to create excess reserves per se; they are deciding whether it is more advantageous to make a loan or to earn risk-free money on the excess reserves. A higher floor rate implies less lending, all else equal – and, as I have said in the past, this means the Fed could cause a huge increase in bank lending by setting IOER at a penalty rate. This would create the conditions necessary for these lines to cross in negative nominal interest rate territory, with much higher volumes of credit and much lower levels of excess reserves being the result.

In this environment, and as recognized by the Sack-Gagnon framework that is now the presumed operating framework for Fed policy, raising IOER is the only way to change the overnight interest rates unless the Desk undertakes to shift the entire supply curve heavily to the left, by draining trillions in reserves. But raising IOER, just like raising the floor price of cheese, will create more imbalances: bigger excess reserves, less lending, and a bigger transfer from government to banks.

(Note: this is subtly different from what I have said before, which is that raising IOER will have no effect on the growth rate of the transactional money supply. Depending on the shape of the supply curve, it will reduce lending which in turn may reduce the growth rate of the monetary aggregates that we care about, such as M2. My suspicion is that the supply curve is in fact pretty steep, meaning that banks are relatively insensitive to small changes in rates, and thus loans and hence the monetary aggregates won’t see much change in the rate of growth – or, more likely, any change will be the result of other effects beyond this one such as the effect of general economic prospects on the quality of credits and the demand for loans).

Price supports, as any economist can tell you, are an inefficient way to subsidize an industry. And in fact, I don’t think the Fed is really interested in subsidizing banks at this stage in the cycle: they seem to be doing just fine. But they are taking on all of these imbalances, creating all of this government cheese, because they believe the effects I talk about parenthetically above are quite large, rather than vanishingly small as I believe. And the ancillary effect, by raising interest rates, is to spur money velocity – an unmitigated negative in this environment, as it will push inflation higher.

Now, all of this discussion may be moot since the current betting is that the Fed won’t raise interest rates any time soon. But it is good to understand this mechanism as clearly as we can, so that we can prepare ourselves for those effects when they occur.

[1] It is really hard to say how low interest rates would go, and/or how much surplus would remain, because we have no idea at all what the supply and demand curves for funds look like at sub-zero rates. Most likely there is a discontinuity at a zero rate, but how much of one and the elasticities of supply and demand below zero are likely to be “weird.”

[2] In fact, in high school I won an economics prize for my paper “That’s a Lotta Cheese.” No joke.


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