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 timely characterization of risks to the economic outlook plays an important role in both economic policy and private sector decisions. In a February 2023 Liberty Street Economics post, we introduced the concept of “Outlook-at-Risk”—that is, the downside risk to real activity and two-sided risks to inflation. Today we are launching Outlook-at-Risk as a regularly updated data product, with new readings for the conditional distributions of real GDP growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation to be published each month. In this post, we use the data on conditional distributions to investigate how two-sided risks to inflation and downside risks to real activity have evolved over the current and previous five monetary policy tightening cycles.
Editor’s note: Since this post was first published, the y-axis label in the last chart has been corrected. February 15, 9:30 a.m.
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has increased the target range for the federal funds rate by 4.50 percentage points since March 16, 2022. In tightening the stance of monetary policy, the FOMC balances the risk of inflation remaining persistently high if the economy continues to run “hot” against the risk of unemployment rising as the economy cools. In this post, we review a quantitative approach to measuring the evolution of risks to real GDP growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation that is inspired by our previous work on “Vulnerable Growth.” We find that, in February, downside risks to real GDP growth and upside risks to unemployment moderated slightly, and upside risks to inflation continued to decline.
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has increased the target interest rate by 3.75 percentage points since March 17, 2022. In this post we examine how corporate bond market functioning has evolved along with the changes in monetary policy through the lens of the U.S. Corporate Bond Market Distress Index (CMDI). We compare this evolution to the 2015 tightening cycle for context on how bond market conditions have evolved as rates increase. The overall CMDI has deteriorated but remains close to historical medians. The investment-grade CMDI index has deteriorated more than the high-yield, driven by low levels of primary market issuance.
Since the advent of derivatives trading on short-term interest rates in the 1980s, financial commentators have often interpreted market prices as directly reflecting the expected path of future interest rates. However, market prices generally embed risk premia (or “term premia” in reference to measures of risk premia over different horizons) reflecting the compensation required to bear the risk of the asset. When term premia are large in magnitude, derivatives prices may differ substantially from investor expectations of future rates. In this post, we assess whether term premia have increased with the recent rise in inflation, given the historically positive relationship between the two series, and what this means for the interpretation of derivatives prices.
Corporate bonds are a key source of funding for U.S. non-financial corporations and a key investment security for insurance companies, pension funds, and mutual funds. Distress in the corporate bond market can thus both impair access to credit for corporate borrowers and reduce investment opportunities for key financial sub-sectors. In a February 2021 Liberty Street Economics post, we introduced a unified measure of corporate bond market distress, the Corporate Bond Market Distress Index (CMDI), then followed up in early June 2022 with a look at how corporate bond market functioning evolved over 2022 in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the tightening of U.S. monetary policy. Today we are launching the CMDI as a regularly produced data series, with new readings to be published each month. In this post, we describe what constitutes corporate bond market distress, motivate the construction of the CMDI, and argue that secondary market measures alone are insufficient to capture market functioning.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine increased uncertainty around the world. Although most U.S. companies have limited direct exposure to Ukrainian and Russian trading partners, increased global uncertainty may still have an indirect effect on funding conditions through tightening financial conditions. In this post, we examine how conditions in the U.S. corporate bond market have evolved since the start of the year through the lens of the U.S. Corporate Bond Market Distress Index (CMDI). As described in a previous Liberty Street Economics post, the index quantifies joint dislocations in the primary and secondary corporate bond markets and can thus serve as an early warning signal to detect financial market dysfunction. The index has risen sharply from historically low levels before the invasion of Ukraine, peaking on March 19, but appears to have stabilized around the median historical level.
Breakeven inflation, defined as the difference in the yield of a nominal Treasury security and a Treasury inflation protected security (TIPS) of the same maturity, is closely watched by market participants and policymakers alike. Breakeven inflation rates provide a signal about the expected path of inflation as perceived by market participants although they are also affected by risk and liquidity premia. In this post, we scrutinize the dynamics of breakeven inflation, highlighting some intriguing behavior which has persisted for a number of years and even through the pandemic. In particular, we document a substantial downward shift in the level of breakeven inflation as well as a marked flattening of the breakeven inflation curve.
On April 9, the Federal Reserve announced that it would take additional actions to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Among the initiatives are the Primary Market and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities (PMCCF and SMCCF), whose intent is to provide support for large U.S. businesses that typically finance themselves by issuing debt in capital markets. Corporate bonds support the operations of companies with more than 17 million employees based in the United States and these bonds are key assets for retirees and pension funds. If companies are unable to issue corporate bonds, they may be unable to invest in inventory and equipment, meet current liabilities, or pay employees. Maintaining access to credit is thus crucially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, both for issuing companies and for their employees. This post documents the dislocations in the corporate bond market that have motivated the creation of these facilities and explains how we expect these facilities to support U.S. businesses and their employees both through the COVID-related disruptions and beyond, when the economy recovers.
This post documents dislocations in the commercial paper market following the COVID-19 outbreak that motivated the Fed to create the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, and tracks the subsequent improvement in market conditions.