Unemployment, Gold, Money and Forecasts of Inflation

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1 Carnegie Melln University Research CMU Tepper Schl f Business Unemplyment, Gld, Mney and Frecasts f Inflatin Allan H. Meltzer Carnegie Melln University, Fllw this and additinal wrks at: Part f the Ecnmic Plicy Cmmns, and the Industrial rganizatin Cmmns This Wrking Paper is brught t yu fr free and pen access by Research CMU. It has been accepted fr inclusin in Tepper Schl f Business by an authrized administratr f Research CMU. Fr mre infrmatin, please cntact

2 Unemplyment, Gld, Mney and Frecasts f Inflatin by Allan H. Meltzer Cnventinal wisdm in the United States hlds that mney grwth is nw irrelevant fr judging Federal Reserve actin r inflatin. Varius reasns are ffered t explain this striking departure frm basic ecnmics. The mst cmmn explanatin is that financial innvatin has distrted the grwth rates f mnetary aggregates and the meaning f "mney." Several measures are nw widely used t predict inflatin. Chief amng them is the unemplyment rate. High unemplyment is said t lwer inflatin. Almst every time a new statistic appears, market watchers and the financial press reprt that strength (weakness) in the ecnmy will cause inflatin t rise (fall). Chart 1 cmpares the annual rate f inflatin (fur quarter average) t the lagged unemplyment rate quarterly fr the past ten years. At times the tw series mve in the same directin ( , 1990, ); at times they mve in ppsite directins as suggested by the belief that inflatin and unemplyment are negatively related ( , ). n average, the predicted negative relatin cmes thrugh and is statistically significant. But the frecasting pwer is weak, as the chart suggests. Quarterly inflatin rates are mre variable than average annual rates, s the relatin is weaker fr quarterly than fr average annual data. Chart 2 cmpares the lagged unemplyment rate t the quarterly rate f inflatin (annualized). Again, there is evidence f the predicted negative

3 relatin n average. same directin. There are als perids in which the tw mve in the The cnclusin t be drawn frm these data is that there is a weak assciatin between inflatin and the unemplyment rate. The unemplyment rate cntains sme infrmatin abut inflatin but, as discussed belw, the infrmatin is nt superir t the infrmatin in sme mnetary aggregates. The Wall Street Jurnal advcates use f the level f the gld price t predict the rate f inflatin. This is at best a mistake. Inflatin is calculated as the rate f change f sme brad index f prices. The level f the gld price cannt and shuld nt be expected t predict the rate f inflatin. Chart 3 cmpares the lagged rate f change f gld prices t the rate f inflatin using annual rates (fur quarter average). Chart 4 uses quarterly data (at annual rates). There is n evidence f any relatin at all. Inflatin rises with falling gld prices frm 1987 t 1990 and falls with rising gld prices frm 1992 t This is ppsite t the alleged relatin. Cmputatin shws that there is a negative relatinship n average, but it is weak and nt statistically significant. Changing the lag structure des nt imprve frecast accuracy. Cntrary t repeated assertins, mney grwth cntinues t play a useful rle in frecasting inflatin. Chart 5 shws that the frecast f inflatin imprves significantly using a frecasting equatin that assigns imprtance t Federal Reserve actins. This equatin includes the annual grwth rate f the mnetary base relative t the average grwth f the real base, lagged ne quarter, the lagged value f the unemplyment rate 2

4 and lagged rates f inflatin. The estimated equatin implies that a 1% change in the grwth rate f the mnetary base -- say frm 3 t 4% -- changes inflatin by 0.4% within a quarter. The direct effect n the measured rate f inflatin is abut the same as a 3/4 percentage pint change in the inflatin rate (frm 5-1/2 t 6-1/4%). If the tw variables changed in the same directin in the prprtin 1 t 3/4, the cmbined effect wuld apprximately cancel fr the inflatin rate. This cmparisn appears t make the unemplyment rate and the grwth f the mnetary base abut equally imprtant. Hwever, the base is mre variable than the unemplyment rate, s a 1% change in its grwth is a smaller relative change than a 3/4 percentage pint change in the unemplyment rate. A 1% change in the base is abut 1/2 the standard deviatin f the grwth f the base (56%), but a 3/4 percentage pint change in the unemplyment rate is mre than a full standard deviatin f the unemplyment rate (118%). Table 1 cmpares frecasting accuracy f the three frecasting methds. The average rate f inflatin fr the perid is 3.2%. Tw times the standard errr frm the equatins tells the range within which the frecast errr wuld lie 95% f the time using the particular methd f frecasting. Fr the unemplyment rate and the rate f change f gld prices, the range is 100% r mre f the average rate f inflatin. A central bank using either f these methds, t achieve say 2% inflatin during , culd expect n better than that the inflatin rate wuld remain between -1 and +5% using nly the unemplyment rate t frecast inflatin. (Using the rate f change f gld prices gives an even larger range.) Neither variable has been useful fr frecasting inflatin during 3

5 this perid. Table 1 Measures f Frecast Accuracy Standard errr Unemplyment rate ±1.5 Percentage change in gld price ±1.7 Base mney grwth plus ±0.7 (see text) A mre precise versin f the relatin between unemplyment and inflatin wuld intrduce the "natural rate" f unemplyment r NAIRU as an additinal variable. Deviatins f unemplyment frm NAIRU, nt the unemplyment rate itself, are said t be negatively related t the rate f inflatin. A prblem with this explanatin is that NAIRU is nt cnstant, and it cannt be expected t remain cnstant. Changes in regulatin, tax rates, the terms f trade, and the demgraphic cmpsitin f the labr frce affect the value f NAIRU. In recent years, the assumed value f NAIRU has drifted frm 6.5% t 6% t 5.8% t 5.6%. NAIRU appears t be near the prevailing level f unemplyment, wherever that is, as lng as inflatin is nt rising. Inability t find the 4

6 value f NAIRU remves mst f the cntent frm this explanatin f inflatin. The pint f this exercise is nt t suggest that we at the Shadw Cmmittee can frecast inflatin with sufficient accuracy t ffer a shrt-term frecasting prcedure. We cannt, and neither can the Federal Reserve. Table 6 shws their frecast errrs fr the perid based n the mid-pint f the prjectins they release at the Humphrey-Hawkins hearings. ur pint is a different ne. Federal Reserve fficials and market watchers, wh prfess r act as if inflatin depends clsely n the unemplyment rate, have t recgnize that such dependence as there is in the data gives n basis fr the belief that the Federal Reserve can cntrl the inflatin rate by respnding t the unemplyment rate. As we nted at ur September 1995 meeting: (1) there is substantial uncertainty abut the value f the "natural" rate f unemplyment and hw it changes in respnse t changes in tax rates, regulatin, the real exchange rate and ther frces; (2) there is substantial uncertainty als abut hw much inflatin respnds in the shrt-run t changes in unemplyment. Mney grwth remains the principal determinant f lng-run inflatin and changes in the grwth rate f the base have an imprtant influence n shrt-run changes in the rate f inflatin. As shwn in Chart 5, based n ur rule, inflatin will cntinue t fall tward zer even if the Federal Reserve wuld increase the grwth rate f the mnetary base t a 4% annual rate frm the current rate f 2% r less. The prjected path fr 1996, shwn in Chart 5, is based n an annual 4% grwth rate in the 5

7 mnetary base beginning in furth quarter 1995 and a 5.8% unemplyment rate. 6

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