The Fed’s Communications: Suggestions for Improvement

The chief economist of Berenberg Capital Markets proposes three broad ways of improving the Fed’s communications: (1) establish a more systematic approach to achieving its dual mandate; (2) clarify the proper role of monetary policy in achieving those objectives by distinguishing what is within the scope of monetary policy from what is clearly beyond it; and (3) articulate the Fed’s goals and role in achieving macro-prudential risk management and financial stability.

With these three ends in view, the author begins by urging FOMC members to refrain from making public comments immediately following government data releases and, when making public speeches and statements, to relate their comments on the economy to the Fed’s dual mandate. The author also suggests three modifications of the Fed’s official Policy Statement following FOMC meetings. First, each statement should start with an assessment of monetary policy and its consistency with achieving the Fed’s statutory mandate, rather than the Fed’s assessments of the economy and its subsectors with which such statements now begin. Second, the Fed should communicate separate explicit risk assessments of inflation and of the prospects for employment and the economy. (The Fed’s current practice of sometimes dropping the risk assessments from statements and replacing them with nuanced language—for example, on changes in inflation and inflationary expectations—can be a source of confusion.) Third, all statements should discuss as clearly as possible the Fed’s strategy for its balance sheet and unwind policy. 

The Fed’s quarterly Summary of Economic Projections (SEPs) should be redesigned to include FOMC estimates of forecast uncertainties and what they imply for monetary policy, and such alternative forecasts should be presented in place of the current central tendency and range of forecasts. The redesigned SEPs should be (1) based on a rigorous Fed assessment of expected monetary policy under different situations and contingency planning, and (2) as transparent as possible about the Fed’s economic and inflation outlooks, the uncertainties in forecasting, and the conditionality of monetary policy. An illustration is provided of the alternative SEPs that would replace the current “dot plots” and include the Fed’s forecasts of nominal GDP, calculated confidence intervals around the FOMC’s median forecasts, and three separate forecasts of the Fed’s perceived appropriate Fed funds rate.

Finally, the author views the “optimal solution” as a more systematic approach in which the Fed publishes a single forecast based on a model consistent with its dual mandate that shows how the appropriate Fed funds rate path would be expected to vary under different economic and inflation outcomes. Such an approach, by thus mapping likely monetary policy responses to alternative plausible economic and inflation outcomes, would increase the Fed’s accountability as well as its transparency.