With prices quickly going up after the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation releases have rarely been as present in the public debate as in recent years. However, since inflation estimates are frequently revised, how precise are the real-time data releases? In this Liberty Street Economics post, we investigate the size and nature of revisions to inflation. We find that inflation estimates for a given month can change substantially as subsequent data vintages are released. As an example, consider March 2009. With the economy contracting amid the Global Financial Crisis, the twelve-month inflation rate for personal consumption expenditures (PCE) excluding food and energy dropped from an initial estimate of 1.8 percent to 0.8 percent in the current series. The difference is dramatic and points to the difficulty of monitoring inflation in real time. Our results suggest that there is significant uncertainty in measuring inflation, and the key features of the recent spike and subsequent moderation of inflation may look quite different in hindsight once further revisions have taken place.
The enormous increase in remote work that occurred during the pandemic was a response to a temporary public health crisis. Now that the pandemic has passed, just how much remote work will persist and how much are businesses comfortable with? Results from our August regional business surveys indicate that more than 20 percent of all service work and 4 percent of all manufacturing work is currently being done remotely, nearly identical to what was reported a year ago, and this amount of remote work is expected to persist in the year ahead. However, on average, service sector businesses would prefer that about 15 percent of work be done remotely. Indeed, nearly a quarter of service firms have increased requirements for employees to work on-site over the past year and about one in six plan to make further adjustments toward in-person work next year. Ultimately, the degree and persistence of remote work will largely depend on the tightness of the labor market, as businesses report that while remote work does have its downsides, it has been particularly helpful for attracting and retaining workers.
Editors Note: The title of this post has been changed from the original. August 17, 2023, 10:35 a.m.
Inflation in the U.S. has experienced unusually large movements in the last few years, starting with a steep rise between the spring of 2021 and June 2022, followed by a relatively rapid decline over the past twelve months. This marks a stark departure from an extended period of low and stable inflation. Economists and policymakers have expressed differing views about which factors contributed to these large movements (as reported in the media here, here, here, and here), leading to fierce debates in policy circles, academic journals, and the press. We know little, however, about the consumer’s perspective on what caused these sudden movements in inflation. In this post, we explore this question using a special module of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) in which consumers were asked what they think contributed to the recent movements in inflation. We find that consumers think supply-side issues were the most important factor behind the 2021-22 inflation surge, while they regard Federal Reserve policies as the most important factor behind the recent and expected future decline in inflation.
Permissionless blockchains, which support the most popular cryptocurrency networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum, have shown that it is possible to transfer value without relying on centralized trusted third parties, something that is new and remarkable (although perhaps most clearly useful for less developed financial markets). What makes permissionless blockchains able to transfer value without relying on a small number of trusted third parties is the combination of several components that all need to work together. The components themselves are not particularly new, but the combination of these components is more than the sum of its parts. In this post, we provide a high-level overview of these components and how they interact, taking Bitcoin as an example.
Since the global financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has relied on two main rates to implement monetary policy—the rate paid on reserve balances (IORB rate) and the rate offered at the overnight reverse repo facility (ON RRP rate). In this post, we explore how these tools steer the federal funds rate within the Federal Reserve’s target range and how effective they have been at supporting rate control.
This post discusses the evolution of the short-run natural rate of interest, or short-run r*, over the past year and a half according to the New York Fed DSGE model, and the implications of this evolution for inflation and output projections. We show that, from the model’s perspective, short-run r* has increased notably over the past year, to some extent outpacing the large increase in the policy rate. One implication of these findings is that the drag on the economy from recent monetary policy tightening may have been limited, rationalizing why economic conditions have remained relatively buoyant so far despite the elevated level of interest rates.
The debate about the natural rate of interest, or r*, sometimes overlooks the point that there is an entire term structure of r* measures, with short-run estimates capturing current economic conditions and long-run estimates capturing more secular factors. The whole term structure of r* matters for policy: shorter run measures are relevant for gauging how restrictive or expansionary current policy is, while longer run measures are relevant when assessing terminal rates. This two-post series covers the evolution of both in the aftermath of the pandemic, with today’s post focusing especially on long-run measures and tomorrow’s post on short-run r*.
Total household debt balances increased by $16 billion in the second quarter of 2023, according to the latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit from the New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data. This reflects a modest rise from the first quarter. Credit card balances saw the largest increase of all debt types—$45 billion—and now stand at $1.03 trillion, surpassing $1 trillion in nominal terms for the first time in the series history. After a sharp contraction in the first year of the pandemic, credit card balances have seen seven quarters of year-over-year growth. The second quarter of 2023 saw a brisk 16.2 percent increase from the previous year, continuing this strong trend. With credit card balances at historic highs, we consider how lending and repayment have evolved using the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel (CCP), which is based on anonymized Equifax credit report data.
While forecasters generally disagree about the expected path of monetary policy, the level of disagreement as measured in the New York Fed’s Survey of Primary Dealers (SPD) has increased substantially since 2022. For instance, the dispersion of expectations about the future path of the target federal funds rate (FFR) has widened significantly. What explains the current elevated disagreement in FFR forecasts?
The recent rise in price pressures around the world has reignited interest in understanding how inflation transmits to the real economy. Economists have long recognized that unexpected surges of inflation can redistribute wealth from creditors to debtors when debt contracts are written in nominal terms (see, for example, Fisher 1933). If debtors are financially constrained, this redistribution can affect real economic activity by relaxing financing constraints. This mechanism, which we call the debt-inflation channel, is well understood theoretically (for example, Gomes, Jermann, and Schmid 2016), but there is limited empirical evidence to substantiate it. In this post, we discuss new insights from one of the key events in monetary history: the Great German Inflation of 1919-23. Because this case of inflation was both surprising and extremely high, Germany’s experience helps shed light on how high inflation impacts firms’ economic activity through the erosion of their nominal debt burdens. These insights are based on a recently released research paper.