In recent months the Fed (and ECB for that matter) has taken up the mythical charm offensive of “forward guidance” as a way to assure markets that punchbowls will remain free and available for as long as it takes. At the same time, the Bank of England has been shown up (and lost credibility) over its threshold-ignorance, the Fed has also now started to hit the wall on any ‘quantitative’-based forward-guidance communications policy, proposed Fed vice-Chair Stan Fischer is skeptical: “you can’t expect the Fed to spell out what it’s going to do… because it doesn’t know;” and finally Bob Rubin slammed the Fed, saying “their forecast models don’t work.. and forward guidance [has no validity] as it is impossible to know what is going to happen in 6 months.” So today’s BIS report on the the fallacy of forward guidance and risks to central bank reputation (and the following 4 charts) suggest faith in central banker omnipotence may be fading.
Central bank reputation
Forward guidance exposes central banks to various reputation risks. If the public fails to fully understand the conditionality of the guidance and the uncertainty surrounding it, the reputation and credibility of the central bank may be at risk if the guidance is revised frequently and substantially. This is particularly relevant in the case of calendar-based forward guidance, in which deviations in the preannounced timetable may be perceived as reneging on a commitment even if conditions change unexpectedly.
And while state-contingent forward guidance helps to address the risk of an appearance of reneging, it raises others. For example, the announcement of unemployment-based thresholds could be seen as signalling a fundamental shift in monetary strategies and goals. And, as history has shown, the perception that central banks have elevated the role of real variables in monetary policy frameworks can adversely affect a central bank’s credibility for price stability. A widespread perception of this could also create policy uncertainty about what central banks are truly aiming at, which would be counterproductive in the current post-crisis environment. Further, central banks may ex post be seen as having seriously misjudged the outlook, especially if such misjudgments are not widely shared with other forecasters.
So here are 4 central banks that have long provided forward guidance and their actual results…
“Nailed it?” or not at all?
Stan Fischer sums it up:”we don’t know what we’ll be doing a year from now. It’s a mistake to try and get too precise,” and that “you can’t expect the Fed to spell out what it’s going to do… because it doesn’t know.”
So why do so many still “believe”? Take another look at those 4 charts above? Hardly inspires confidence in Central Bankers’ ability to know anything, let alone provide “forward guidance” as to their policy action path…