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What is the Fed Taper?

What is the Fed Taper? An economist explains how the Federal Reserve withdraws stimulus from the economy

Tapering refers to the Federal Reserve policy of unwinding the massive purchases of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities it’s been making to shore up the economy during the pandemic. 

The unconventional monetary policy of buying assets is commonly known as quantitative easing. The Fed first adopted this policy during the 2008 financial crisis. 

Normally, when a central bank wants to reduce the cost of borrowing for companies and consumers, it lowers its target short-term interest rate. But with its target rate at zero during the 2008 crisis – at the same time that there was no inflation and the economy was still hurting – the Fed was no longer able to cut rates further. And so the Fed turned to quantitative easing as a way to continue to reduce borrowing costs. When the government buys assets, their prices go up, which lowers their yield or interest rate. 

 The Fed again adopted this policy in March 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a national lockdown. By November 2021, the Fed had bought over US$4 trillion worth of Treasurys and other securities. 

The U.S. central bank began tapering in November 2021, scaling back total purchases by $15 billion a month, from $120 billion to $105 billion. 

The Fed decided to double the pace at which it tapers on Dec. 15. Rather than $15 billion, the Fed will reduce purchases by $30 billion every month. At that pace it will no longer be purchasing new assets by early 2022. 

What is Fed taper chart

Why it matters 

Growing concerns among economists that rising inflation could harm the economy are likely a big part of what led the Fed to begin tapering. 

Inflation is the rate of change in the price of goods and services. The Consumer Price Index, which includes several categories of everyday items that a typical American might buy, is the measure of inflation most often reported in the media. In November 2021, it was up 6.8% from a year earlier. 

By any measure, inflation is above the Fed’s target of 2%. By tapering asset purchases, the Fed may help reduce inflation – or at least slow its rise – because it is withdrawing some of the monetary stimulus that is fueling economic growth. 

The reason the Fed has decided to accelerate the process is likely because it now believes inflation may be less transitory than it had hoped, at the same time that the labor market appears strong. 

What this means for you 

Americans have enjoyed rock-bottom interest rates for the better part of the past 13 years, helping to make it cheaper to borrow money to buy cars and homes and start businesses. 

Consumers and companies are already beginning to see slightly higher rates on mortgages, business loans and other types of borrowing. 

In other words, the era of cheap money may finally be coming to an end. Enjoy it while it lasts. 

Ballast Advisors is a fee-based financial planning firm.  Our financial advisors serving the Twin Cities and Southwestern Florida can help you reach your retirement and financial goals.  Our offices are located in Woodbury, MN, Arden Hills, MN and Punta Gorda, FL.


This is an updated version of an article originally published on Nov. 3, 2021. Copyright © 2022 RSW Publishing. All rights reserved. Distributed by Financial Media Exchange. RSW Publishing has an agreement to republish this author’s content. This article was originally published on The Conversation 

Author:

Edouard Wemy Assistant Professor of Economics, Clark University

Paul Slovic Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon

Disclosure statement Edouard Wemy does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Clark University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under our Creative Commons license.

 

 

The third-party material presented is derived from sources Ballast Advisors consider to be reliable, but the accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Nothing contained herein is an offer to purchase or sell any product. This material is for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice. Ballast Advisors reserve the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs.

Ballast Advisors, LLC is a registered investment advisor under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about the firm, including its services, strategies, and fees can be found in our ADV Part 2, which is available without charge upon request. BAL-22-02.

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Rising Inflation: Where Will It Go from Here?

Though all economists expect inflation numbers to rise in the near term, there are different views on the potential long-term effects.

Rising Inflation

In March 2021, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.6%, the largest one-month increase since August 2012. Over the previous 12 months, the increase was 2.6%, the highest year-over-year inflation rate since August 2018. (By contrast, inflation in 2020 was just 1.4%.)1

The annual increase in CPI-U — often called headline inflation — was due in part to the fact that the index dropped in March 2020, the beginning of the U.S. economic shutdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the current 12-month comparison is to an unusual low point in prices. The index dropped even further in April 2020, and this “base effect” will continue to skew annual data through June.2

The monthly March increase, which followed a substantial 0.4% increase in February, is more indicative of the current situation. Economists expect inflation numbers to rise for some time. The question is whether they represent a temporary anomaly or the beginning of a more worrisome inflationary trend.3

Measuring Prices

In considering the prospects for inflation, it’s important to understand some of the measures that economists use.

CPI-U measures the price of a fixed market basket of goods and services. As such, it is a good measure of prices consumers pay if they buy the same items over time, but it does not reflect changes in consumer behavior and can be unduly influenced by extreme increases in specific categories. Nearly half of the March increase was due to gasoline prices, which rose 9.1% during the month, in part because of production interruptions caused by severe winter storms in Texas.4 Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.3% in March and just 1.6% year over year.5

In setting economic policy, the Federal Reserve prefers a different inflation measure called the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index, which is even broader than the CPI and adjusts for changes in consumer behavior — i.e., when consumers shift to purchase a different item because the preferred item is too expensive. More specifically, the Fed looks at core PCE, which rose 0.4% in March and 1.8% for the previous 12 months, slightly higher than core CPI but still lower than the Fed’s target of 2% for healthy economic growth.6

A Hot Economy

Based on the core numbers, inflation is not yet running high, but there are clear inflationary pressures on the U.S. economy. Loose monetary policies by the central bank and trillions of dollars in government stimulus could create excess money supply as the economy reopens. Pent-up consumer demand for goods and services is likely to rise quickly, fueled by stimulus payments and healthy savings accounts built by those who worked through the pandemic with little opportunity to spend their earnings. Businesses that shut down or cut back when the economy was closed may not be able to ramp up quickly enough to meet demand. Supply-chain disruptions and higher costs for raw materials, transportation, and labor have already led some businesses to raise prices.7

According to the April Wall Street Journal Economic Forecasting Survey, gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to increase at an annualized rate of 8.4% in the second quarter of 2021 and by 6.4% for the year — a torrid annual growth rate that would be the highest since 1984. As with the base effect for inflation, it’s important to keep in mind that this follows a 3.5% GDP decline in 2020. Even so, the expectation is for a hot economy through the end of the year, followed by solid 3.2% growth in 2022 before slowing down to 2.4% in 2023.8-9

Three Scenarios

Will the economy get too hot to handle? Though all economists expect inflation numbers to rise in the near term, there are three different views on the potential long-term effects.

The most sanguine perspective, held by many economic policymakers including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, is that the impact will be short-lived and due primarily to the base effect with little or no long-term consequences.10 Inflation has been abnormally low since the Great Recession, consistently lagging the Fed’s 2% target. In August 2020, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced that it would allow inflation to run moderately above 2% for some time in order to create a 2% average over the longer term. Given this policy, the FOMC is unlikely to raise interest rates unless core PCE inflation runs well above 2% for an extended period.11 The mid-March FOMC projection sees core PCE inflation at just 2.2% by the end of 2021, and the benchmark federal funds rate remaining at 0.0% to 0.25% through the end of 2023.12

The second view believes that inflation may last longer, with potentially wider consequences, but that any effects will be temporary and reversible. The third perspective is that inflation could become a more extended problem that may be difficult to control. Both camps project that the base effects will be amplified by “demand-pull” inflation, where demand exceeds supply and pushes prices upward. The more extreme view believes this might lead to a “cost-push” effect and inflationary feedback loop where businesses, faced with less competition and higher costs, would raise prices preemptively, and workers would demand higher wages in response.13

Maintaining Perspective

Although it’s too early to tell whether current inflation numbers will lead to a longer-term shift, you can expect higher prices for some items as the economy reopens. Consumers don’t like higher prices, but it’s important to keep these increases in perspective. Gasoline, jet fuel, and other petroleum prices are rising after being deeply depressed during the pandemic. Airline ticket prices are increasing but remain below their pre-pandemic level. Used cars and trucks are more expensive than before the pandemic, but clothing is still cheaper.14 Food is up 3.5% over the last 12 months, a significant increase but not extreme for prices that tend to be volatile.15

For now, it may be helpful to remember that “headline inflation” does not always represent the larger economy. And with interest rates near zero, the Federal Reserve has plenty of room to make any necessary adjustments to monetary policy.

Projections are based on current conditions, are subject to change, and may not come to pass.

1, 5, 15) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021
2-4, 7) The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2021
6, 9) U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2021
8) The Wall Street Journal Economic Forecasting Survey, April 2021
10, 13) Bloomberg, March 29, 2021
11) The Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2021
12) Federal Reserve, 2021
14) The New York Times, April 13, 2021
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2021

 

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES The opinions expressed herein are those of Ballast Advisors, LLC and are subject to change without notice. The third-party material presented is derived from sources Ballast Advisors consider to be reliable, but the accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Nothing contained herein is an offer to purchase or sell any product. This material is for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice. Ballast Advisors reserve the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Ballast Advisors, LLC is a registered investment advisor under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about the firm, including its services, strategies, and fees can be found in our ADV Part 2, which is available without charge upon request.