James Alexander, head of Equity Research at UK-based M&G Equities, sums up the evolution of central bank thinking. He describes the traditional problem of inadequate response by central banks to market shocks like the collapse of Lehman Brothers:
Although wages hold steady when nominal income falls, unemployment tends to rise as companies scramble to cut costs. In the wake of the crash, rising joblessness created a vicious circle of declining consumption and investment that proved very difficult to reverse, particularly as central banks remained preoccupied with inflation.
Failure of both austerity and quantitative easing has left central bankers looking for new alternatives:
…..Economist Michael Woodford presented a paper [at Jackson Hole last August] suggesting that the US Federal Reserve (Fed) should give markets and businesses a bigger steer about where the economy was headed by adopting a nominal economic growth target. In September, the Fed announced its third round of QE, which it has indicated will continue until unemployment falls below 6.5% – the first time US monetary policy has been explicitly tied to an unemployment rate. US stocks have since soared, shrugging off continued inaction surrounding the country’s ongoing debt crisis.
While targeting unemployment is preferable to targeting inflation, it is still a subjective measure that can be influenced by rises or falls in labor participation rates and exclusion of casual workers seeking full-time employment. Market Monetarists such as Scott Sumner and Lars Christensen advocate targeting nominal GDP growth instead — a hard, objective number that can be forecast with greater accuracy. Mark Carney, due to take over as governor of the BOE in July, seems to be on a similar path:
Echoing Michael Woodford’s comments at Jackson Hole, he advocated dropping inflation targets if economies were struggling to grow. He has since proposed easing UK monetary policy, adopting a nominal growth target and boosting recovery by convincing households and businesses that rates will remain low until growth resumes.
While NGDP targeting has been criticized as a “recipe for runaway inflation”, experiences so far have not borne this out. In fact NGDP targeting would have the opposite effect when growth has resumed, curbing inflation and credit growth and preventing a repeat of recent housing and stock bubbles.
Read more at Outlook-for-UK-equities-2013-05_tcm1434-73579.pdf.