Did Goldman Sachs Just Find The Smoking Gun In Today's FOMC Minutes?

The market's reaction to today's FOMC Minutes was, to some, a little odd given the "December is on" hawkish narrative being sold to the public. Stocks rallied, longer-dated bonds rallied, gold managed gains, and the US Dollar sold off... not exactly the reaction one would expect from a 'hawkish' Fed statement. But there is one thing that would explain those moves... and it appears Goldman Sachs found it buried deep inside the 12 pages of Minutes...

 

First, we know that macro and micro data had deteriorated notably from the September meeting to the October meeting...

 

 

Second, the reaction across asset classes was 'odd' - Bonds and Stocks bid, Dollar down and gold up (and crude up)...

 

 

So, what would create that kind of market response? We'll let Goldman Sachs explain...

Minutes from the October 27-28 FOMC meeting indicated that most FOMC participants thought that the conditions for liftoff “could well be met by the time of the next meeting.” The minutes also noted staff estimates that the short-run equilibrium real interest rate is currently around zero and the long-run equilibrium rate would likely remain lower than was the case in previous decades.

 

1. Minutes from the October 27-28 FOMC meeting indicated that most Fed officials thought that the conditions for liftoff “could well be met by the time of the next meeting.” However, in part due to worries about “weaker-than-expected readings on measures of labor market conditions,” FOMC members agreed to wait for further information before raising policy rates. We expect that the stronger-than-expected October employment report will have assuaged many of these concerns, and that the committee now has a strong baseline to raise rates next month.

 

2. The minutes noted that “a number of participants” pointed to various other reasons for avoiding a further delay in raising the funds rate. The reasons included signaling confidence in the economic outlook, reducing uncertainty in financial markets, reducing the risk of a buildup of financial imbalances caused by low interest rates, and avoiding a loss of credibility.

 

3. The minutes included a discussion of staff presentations on the concept of “equilibrium” real interest rates (also known as the neutral/natural rate or r*). Consistent with earlier public comments from Fed officials, including Chair Yellen, the staff presentations estimated that the short-run equilibrium real rate was currently around zero. FOMC participants expected the short-run equilibrium real rate to rise over time, “but probably only gradually.” The minutes also suggested that participants’ views on longer-run equilibrium rates may be evolving: “it was noted that the longer-run downward trend in real interest rates suggested that short-run r* would likely remain below levels that were normal during previous business cycle expansions, and that the longer-run normal level to which the nominal federal funds rate might be expected to converge in the absence of further shocks to the economy … would likely be lower than was the case in previous decades.” The staff attributed the lower long-run equilibrium rate to a slower rate of potential growth, a consequence of slower population growth and weak productivity growth. These comments might foreshadow another reduction in the median “longer-run” funds rate projection in the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) in December.

 

4. Participants also noted that the lower long-run equilibrium rate implies that the near-zero effective lower bound could become binding more frequently. As a result, “several” participants indicated that it would be “prudent” to consider “options for providing additional monetary policy accommodation” should the economic recovery falter.

In other words - as the bolded sections highlight -

The Fed is admitting that the neutral rate (to which they will theoretically raise rates before re-easing) will remain lower for longer...

...and therefore will reach ZIRP more frequently going forward...

...which means, as they state, using "additional monetary policy accomodation."

Which means, unless The Fed wants to implement NIRP (which it appears it does not), they will have to do more QE, more frequently going forward...

...basically admitting that the rate manipulation transmission channel is defunct for all intent and purpose.

*  *  *

So what Goldman discovered was the 'smoking gun' admission that this is no normal recovery and what was once entirely extreme and experimental monetary policy will be the new normal... and that may be why stocks and bonds rallied and why the dollar dropped and gold and crude gained.

Incidentally, all of this talk about the long-run equilibrium rate reminds us quite a bit of something Narayana Kocherlakota said back in July (that is, before he was replaced by Goldman alum and bailout architect Neel Kashkari). Recall this from Bloomberg:

Increasing the supply of assets available to investors “would push downward on debt prices, and so upward on the long-run neutral real interest rate,” Kocherlakota said Thursday in Frankfurt in remarks prepared for delivery at a conference hosted by Germany’s Bundesbank.

Lifting the so-called neutral rate, which prevails when Fed policy is neither stimulating nor restraining growth, would in turn benefit Fed policy makers by creating more space between the benchmark federal funds rate and zero, he said.

 

"I want to be clear at the outset that I am not saying that it is appropriate for fiscal policymakers to increase the long-run level of public debt. I am simply pointing to one benefit associated with such an increase: It allows the central bank to be more effective in mitigating the impact of adverse shocks to aggregate demand."

So when the Fed talks about considering "options" in light of a lower long-term neutral rate, will one of those "options" be to encourage the Treasury to issue more debt? If so, we know a new regional Fed President that's in good with the folks at Treasury...