Today we can continue our journey into the world of central bankers which is a cosy international club. It was hard as the New York Federal Reserve Bank reported in glowing terms the visit of its President John Williams to the Bronx not to recall a previous effort from his predecessor William Dudley. From Reuters in 2011.

He then stretched for a real world example. The only problem was he chose the Apple’s latest tablet computer that hit stores on Friday, which may be more popular at the New York Fed’s headquarters near Wall Street than it is on the gritty streets of Queens.

“Today you can buy an iPad 2 that costs the same as an iPad 1 that is twice as powerful,” he said.”You have to look at the prices of all things.”

This prompted guffaws and widespread murmuring from the audience, with one audience member calling the comment “tone deaf.”

“I can’t eat an iPad,” another said.

That of course echoed around the world. This event by the Tweet storm looks more controlled in terms of audience so he may have avoided questions like this.

“When was the last time, sir, that you went grocery shopping?” one audience member asked.

Equilibrium Unemployment

Last night Michael Saunders of the Bank of England gave a speech to the CBI and as early as the fourth sentence he was pontificating about the theory that just will not die and about a number he cannot possibly know.

In the last 10-15 years, these effects from population ageing have been fairly benign, reducing the equilibrium jobless rate and neutral interest rate.

Let me now take you back just over five years when David “I can see for” Miles was giving us forward guidance on the equilibrium unemployment rate.

we will not tighten monetary policy until a recovery is strong enough and sustained enough that it has made a meaningful dent in unemployment so that it at least falls to 7 per cent…….. that linking the horizon over which an exceptionally expansionary monetary policy continues to support demand to the rate of unemployment has merit.

It is easy to forget now that we were being steered away from using GDP for monetary policy and towards the unemployment rate along these lines. Poor old David must wish he had never uttered the words below.

I suspect this is largely because the weight of money is behind a view that the significant positive news on the economic outlook means that the 7% unemployment level might be reached within around eighteen months………

Actually the unemployment rate plunged such that by the New Year these words were even more embarrassing.

If that is so unemployment is likely to fall rather more
slowly than would be usual.

Putting it another way the equilibrium unemployment rate is now 4.25% according to the Bank of England via 4.5%,5%, 5.5% and 6,5%. They may have guided to 6% as well but I do not recall it and these things tend to get redacted. Imagine you went to an engineer who guided you towards 7000 revs in your car then a few years later decided it was 4250! This sort of thing can only happen because central banking is a closed shop where the establishment appoint the same old “independent” crew.

Returning to Michael Saunders and yesterday he loses the plot more here.

Over the last 25 years, the share of the 25-64 age population with tertiary level (ie university or
similar) education has risen from 19% to 43%, a bigger rise than in most advanced economies (see figure
4).ix The tertiary education share among people aged 25-40 years is now around 50%, and the rise in this
measure has slowed in recent years.

A triumph according to Michael except he ignores the fact that this accompanies a really poor period for real wages. Indeed if the workforce is indeed more qualified, then real wages are even lower on a like for like basis. Are qualifications now required for lower skilled jobs and frankly what value are they? These are the real questions central bankers ignore as they pose the question how did we get here? That of course has been driven by their policies.

The attempt to use demographics as a smokescreen clears quickly as we compare the number below with the 2.75% error.

 This shift in workforce composition away from age groups that tend to have high jobless rates has cut the equilibrium jobless rate by about 0.3 percentage point since 2007.

 

Neutral Interest-Rate

We now move on to one of the central banking obsessions of our times. The so-called neutral interest-rate is examined below.

However, the MPC judges that, in practice, population ageing currently is lifting the stock of household assets, both in the UK and globally – and hence is pushing the equilibrium level of global real interest rates lower, and will continue to do so for some time.

Interesting ( sorry). If we look at the UK real interest-rate are low because the Bank of England put them there! It then thought bond yields were too high so QE was used to help lower them. Even this was not enough so it used credit easing to reduce mortgage rates. On the other side of the coin it has had two main phases of what it calls “looking through” rises in inflation. The first in 2010/11 when both main consumer inflation measures peaked above 5% per annum and then more recently after the EU leave vote.

The fundamental issue here is something that I learnt during my days as an option trader. On the quiet days we spent many hours discussing how to measure low probability events or what we would call  far out of the money options. One company called CRT built quite a empire based on the view that low probability events were undervalued and therefore bought them and counted the profits. Those of you who have followed the collapse of the company called OptionsSellers last weekend might note that it appears ( it has been vague on the details) to have done the reverse and accordingly according to the CRT theory has lost money. In this instance all of it.

Bringing this back to central bankers lets us note that Bank Rate is presently 0.75% and the estimate of the neutral rate is say in the range 2.5% to 3%. Because that is far away and also because interest-rate changes have been so rare that is an extraordinarily low probability event. An intelligent man or woman would therefore conclude that they are likely to know little or nothing about it until there is more evidence ( like some actual interest-rate rises). By contrast central bankers regularly opine about it and attempt to present it as a fact when in fact the rest of us are singing along to Ivan Van Dahl.

Oh tell me why
Do we build castles in the sky?
Oh tell me why
Are the castles way up high?

Comment

I would like to look at something I think we can all agree with.

For most of the last 10 years, the economy has generally had significant amounts of spare capacity.

But look where it then goes.

Now, with the economy having grown above its modest potential pace for six or seven years that spare
capacity has been used up, with supply and demand in the economy broadly in balance.

Really? A more intelligent statement would be to say that the quantity measure (employment) has been strong but wage growth has been disappointingly weak. The failures around the “output gap” have led to claims wage growth is on the turn for many years from this crew. The reality is that the two main real wage falls have come when they have “looked through” inflation.

Anyway he saved the best to nearly last. If so how come we are where we are then?

BoE research suggests that this is not the case for the UK so far, and that the total impact of interest rate changes on growth and inflation is similar to the pre-crisis period.xlv The easing in mid-2016 seemed to provide the expected boost to the economy.

There are a couple of escape clauses in the second sentence such as “seemed to” and “expected” ( by who?) but we seem to be in “the operation was a success but the patient died” territory to me.