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March 31, 2006
More On Labor Force Participation Rates
In today's Wall Street Journal (page A2 in the print edition), Greg Ip reports on a study by the Federal Reserve Board's Stephanie Aaronson, Bruce Fallick, Andrew Figura, Jonathan Pingle and William Wascher, wherein the authors join the growing consensus that low labor force participation rates may not be a sign of labor market weakness after all. The basic conclusion, from the Aaronson et al paper:
A key question is whether the decline in the participation rate since 2000 primarily reflects cyclical forces—the tendency for individuals to withdraw from the labor force during periods of reduced job opportunities—or longer-lasting structural influences...
On balance, the results suggest that most of the decline in the participation rate during and immediately following the 2001 recession was a response to business cycle developments. However, the continued decline in participation in subsequent years and the absence of a significant rebound in 2005 appears to reflect other more structural factors. Indeed, the current level of the participation rate is close to our model-based estimate of its longer-run trend level, suggesting that the current state of the labor market is roughly neutral for the participation rate.
This is exactly the point I was trying to make awhile back. If you want characterize the performance of US labor markets in 2001 and 2002 in terms that connote anything better than lousy, you have a tough sale to make. But the perception that the labor market substantially underperformed relative to its potential over the past three years looks increasingly like a mistaken impression. It may be about time to start rewriting that little bit of recent economic history.
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The final (for now) report on GDP growth in fourth quarter 2005 hit the streets yesterday, and from a distance it wouldn't seem like there was much news in the news. The Skeptical Speculator has the summary, and Angry Bear focuses on the corporate profits side of the story (they were big). But the markets were decidedly focused on the price elements in the spreadsheet. From Reuters:
Inflation fears open floodgates in US rate futures
U.S. short-term interest rate futures fell on Thursday as dealers priced in fears of higher inflation and prospects for the Federal Reserve to keep its program of rate increases going.
Chances that the central bank will raise its fed funds rate another 50 basis points by the end of June, to 5.25 percent, rose as high as 32 percent from 22 percent late on Wednesday.
Triggering the decline was an upward revision to the Fed's preferred inflation measure for the fourth quarter of 2005, part of the final report on gross domestic product.
A fresh jump in crude oil prices and in the overall commodities sector added to the weak tone. Crude oil futures traded above $67 per barrel for the first time since early February.
The fourth-quarter core PCE deflator was revised up to 2.4 percent from 2.1 percent, near the top of the Federal Open Market Committee's presumed comfort zone on inflation.
I really would not have thought that the bygones of 2005 would be that big a deal. So I wonder: Does data dependent mean that markets have become especially sensitive to any signs that might be interpreted as support for higher policy rates?
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March 30, 2006
Taming The Inflation Monster
The European Central Bank explains it all (hat tip, Anil Kashyap):
The ECB link, complete with other video formats, is here.
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Protectionism Watch, Air Travel Edition
The rising tide of protectionism that killed the Dubai ports deal threatens to swamp another major transportation proposal: removal of 62-year-old limits on air service between Europe and the USA.
If European Union transport ministers approve the move at a meeting scheduled for June, any U.S. airline could fly to any of the European Union's 25 nations. Likewise, any European airline could fly from anywhere in Europe to anywhere in the USA.
Supporters of so-called Open Skies say it would allow airlines to step up competition for an estimated 17 million new passengers annually, making a trans-Atlantic market already valued at $22 billion a year even more lucrative. For travelers, Open Skies could mean more flights, more convenient routes and cheaper fares across the Atlantic...
In the USA, the Bush administration backs Open Skies because officials believe it would lower fares and benefit U.S. carriers. No. 2 United Airlines and No. 3 Delta Air Lines support it as a welcome step toward globalization of the industry.
Well, that certainly sounds like a good thing. But wait...
Just as adamantly, Houston-based Continental Airlines argues that the promised benefits are illusory. Open Skies has also drawn vehement opposition from labor groups that fear American jobs might be lost.
"Giving away another vital U.S. industry to foreign interests is one more example of globalization run amok," says the AFL-CIO's Edward Wytkind.
Open Skies was no sure thing even before the political flare-up that killed the plan to turn over management of five major U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World, a company based in the United Arab Emirates. Now some of the same arguments used to thwart that deal are being used to attack Open Skies.
Great. From my perspective, those arguments look just as weak as they seemed in the case of the port deal:
Opponents are aiming criticism not at Open Skies directly, but at a proposed change in rules that govern ownership of U.S. airlines. EU transport ministers aren't inclined to approve Open Skies unless the U.S. first relaxes restrictions on foreign control of U.S. airlines to better reflect foreign ownership rules for European airlines...
Tight restrictions on foreign control of U.S. airlines date back to the 1920s, when memories of World War I were still fresh. Even today, no U.S. airline is permitted to have foreign interests control more than 25% of its voting stock or more than one-third of its board of directors...
U.S. citizens must control an airline's safety, security, routes, fares — everything. To invite foreign investment and to pave the way for Open Skies, the DOT now proposes changing this rule so foreign investors could exert control over purely "commercial" decisions, such as fares and routes.
Only U.S. citizens would make decisions on safety and security, the proposal says. Limits on stock ownership and board control wouldn't change. Loosening foreign-control restrictions is not formally linked to Open Skies, but EU officials say one follows the other.
In other words, the increasingly abused safety and security shield is, once again, a red herring. No matter:
Reps. James Oberstar, D-Minn., and Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., sponsors of the House bill to block the easing of ownership restrictions, are sounding alarms about homeland security and national defense. During war, the Pentagon pays U.S. airlines to transport troops in the airlines' jets. Critics of the rule change say foreign investors might resist allowing aircraft use in a war they oppose.
"Allowing the daily operations of our airlines to be controlled by competing — and potentially unfriendly — foreign interests could significantly undermine homeland security," LoBiondo says.
Look, I'm no expert on the airline industry and maybe there is something I am missing here. If there is, I welcome the opportunity to be educated. But I'm waiting for someone to give me an example where cutting out competition ultimately served the public good (as opposed to narrow or parochial interests). And putting up walls to foreign direct investment at a time when the U.S. economy has a large exposure to rapid reverses in capital inflows does not strike me as wise. For sure, none of this serves to enhance our claim to global economic leadership:
... criticism in the USA shows no sign of relenting. "Some of the rhetoric has been embarrassing, even xenophobic," [Michael Whitaker, vice president of United Airlines] says.
Unfortunately, merely looking foolish looks to me to be the best possible outcome.
UPDATE: On the general topic, today brings this from the Adam Smith Institute Blog:
Tony Blair is telling them Down Under that the biggest threat to world stability is not terrorism, not even climate change, but American isolationism after Iraq. On trade, the WTO implies he may be right.
There is more, and you should read it. And while I am at it, let me belatedly commend to you the Becker-Posner discussion of a few weeks back on the "Dubai Ports World Fiasco" -- here, here, here, and here.
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March 29, 2006
FOMC Round Up: What The Market Thinks
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FOMC Round Up: What The Experts Think
Some selective reactions, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
Bernanke chose to emphasize continuity over making his own mark today... I suspect that our forecast that the FOMC will ultimately move beyond 5% is going to get a lot more crowded after today. In essence, as has occurred after practically every FOMC meeting since late 2004, the market will have to push the goalposts back by some portion of 25 BP.
-- Stephen Stanley, RBS Greenwich Capital
The threat of more hikes is given emphasis by the opening paragraph, which baldly states that the Q4 slowdown was "temporary" and that growth has "rebounded strongly", though it "appears likely to moderate". We fully expect a May hike.
-- Ian Shepherdson, High Frequency Economics
That a core PCE inflation rate of 1.8% year-over-year (and 1.9% over the past three months) is not described as low is instructive...
- Bruce Kasman, J.P. Morgan
... we continue to expect the Fed will keep raising rates, reaching 5.50% in the third quarter. The Kansas City Fed did not request a 25 basis point hike in the discount rate. We believe that this is meaningless.
-- Drew Matus, Lehman Brothers
Investors were hoping there would be some indication that the tightening cycle would be coming to an end. Their hopes were dashed.
-- Joel L. Naroff, Naroff Economic Advisors
Greg Robb and Rex Nutting at Market Watch are apparently talking to folks who are more convinced that data dependence rules:
Economists say this language gives the FOMC all the maneuvering room it needs to either hold rates at current levels or trigger another increase in May at its next scheduled meeting.
A similar view was found at the FT...
“The market now has greater conviction in its view that US interest rates will rise to 5 per cent by the summer; but the custom designed flexibility of the FOMC statement, tempered as it now is with conditionality and subjectivity, precludes any clear market insight beyond the next economic data release,” said Neil Mellor, currency strategist Bank of New York.
"The statement is a little bit different, but the gist of it is pretty much the same: they'll hike rates if they need to, they'll watch the data; inflation remains contained," said Mary Ann Hurley, vice president of fixed income trading at D.A. Davidson in Seattle.
The WSJ feature includes comments from several of our favorite bloggers -- Barry, Mark, and William, specifically -- but why not go to the sources:
Mr. Naybob says "No surprises from Benny and friends." Mark (Thoma) parses the statement. Stock Trading Update concludes that the statement "implied a continued hawkish position." The Skeptical Speculator suggests that the FOMC, like the US consumer, "remains confident," and reminds us that the Bank of England was talking yesterday as well. David K. Smith further notes that short rates in the U.S. have now risen above those in the U.K. (and asks "can the sterling survive?). Barry (Ritholtz) concludes:
In raising rates the expected 1/4 point, the Fed announced that they are likely to keep increasing short term rates for the next few meetings.
UPDATE: Barry Ritholtz examines the historical record on the real (inflation-adjusted) federal funds rate -- an eminently sensible thing to do -- and concludes "three more 1/4 point hikes." James Hamilton has reflections on the new (and I believe Jim thinks improved) fedspeak. The Capital Spectator shares some thoughts on the new chairman's trials. Tim Iacono urges you to monitor the web activities of your children.
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» Learning the new Fedspeak from Econbrowser
Curious reaction from both markets and pundits to yesterday's statement from the FOMC accompanying the decision to boost the fed funds rate another 25 basis points.... [Read More]
Tracked on Mar 29, 2006 4:10:52 PM
March 28, 2006
On Teen Labor Force Particpation, From The Chicago Fed
I and others have for some time now been taking notice the dramatic decline in labor force participation among the country's youngest workers, or more correctly, potential workers. (My most recent remarks can be found here and here.) Chicago Fed economists Daniel Aaronson, Kyung-Hong Park, and Daniel Sullivan take a closer look at the very youngest members of this group ---16 to 19 year olds -- in the most recent edition of the Bank's Economic perspectives:
... teens’ participation rates had been trending down since the late 1970s. However, from 2000 to 2003, teen LFP fell a stunning 7.5 percentage points, compared with a decline in the overall rate of only 0.6 percentage points. Currently, the LFP for teenage boys is the lowest since at least 1948 and for teenage girls is the lowest since the early 1970s...
Although it is clearly not uniform, the rate for every [racial, sex, and regional] subgroup reported in the table has fallen since the early 1980s, typically 2 percentage points to 20 percentage points for 16 year olds to 17 year olds and 1 percentage point to 17 percentage points for 18 year olds to 19 year olds. For nearly all groups, the majority of the cyclically adjusted decline in LFP has occurred just in the past five years...
The emphasis on trend might be the tip-off that the authors are not wholly convinced these low participation rates are a sign of an under-performing labor market:
... a drop in LFP could, under some circumstances, be a sign of some additional labor market slack. At least in the case of teenagers, we think that such an interpretation of current developments is hard to square with several facts.
First, the CPS asks whether those out of the labor force want a job, and in recent years there has not been a notable increase in the number of such teens...
A second difficulty with the weak demand explanation is apparent in the relative employment growth of the industries most likely to hire teens. If the sharp absolute and relative decline in their participation was primarily due to weak demand, we would expect to see that the industries that have traditionally hired teenagers had fallen on hard times, disproportionately impacting teenage work activity. However, we know of no evidence that traditional employers of young people have performed poorly recently. If anything, the top five industry employers of teenagers (in order: eating and drinking places, grocery stores, miscellaneous entertainment and services, construction, and department stores), accounting for almost half of all 16 year olds to 19 year olds employed in 1999, have together experienced employment growth well above the national average...
If the decline in teen LFP was primarily due to weak demand, one would expect their relative wages to have fallen. Over the ten-year period prior to 2002, that was clearly not the case...
However, since 2002, the real wage rates of teen workers, though still well above their levels in the late 1980s and 1990s, have fallen modestly... Declining real wages could also be consistent with some softening in the demand for teen labor in the last few years. However, given the lack of an increase in the rates at which teens report they want a job, it is unlikely to be the major factor in the decline in teen LFP.
So, what's the answer?
We suspect that teen LFP declines, particularly over the long run, are driven primarily by labor supply choices...
A massive literature has documented that the financial return to obtaining more education has increased significantly in recent decades... the return to having a college education began to rise substantially in the late 1970s, shortly before teen LFP began to decline...
To a significant extent, [teens] have also been increasing the time they devote to human capital investment. The increased value of education for their future earnings as apparently caused teens to increase their school enrollments and likely also the intensity with which they pursue their studies when enrolled. We know less about any possible changes in their leisure time. However, we have found some preliminary evidence that wealth effects from increased financial aid may have reduced their work effort as well.
In total, the Aaronson, Park, and Sullivan study reinforces my suspicions that there is much more to the "weak" labor market post-2001 than meets the Keynesian demand-is-in-the-tank-because-the-economy-is-crippled-by-bad-policy eye. Just as they reinforce my inclination to believe that those "weak" labor markets just might be a sign of better things to come:
The increases that we have noted in teen’s human capital investments... do suggest some reason for optimism for future levels of productivity.
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March 27, 2006
The Funds Rate Path: Bloggers And The Market Align
Last week Tim Duy revealed...
At a minimum, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech reinforces my view that a move beyond 5% is not in the mindset of the FOMC at this point. At a maximum, it leads me to shave down my expectations for a move to 5%.
My bets lie with a pause at 5% but I still see Fed funds between 5.25% and 5.75% later this year.
... and Nathan Kaufman added:
Something in the text [of the Beige Book] may signal that the U.S. economy is not overheating, that inflation is less of a threat, or that interest rate hikes may be less likely in the future.
Good call, lads. That, at least, is the impression one gets from the current vintage of Carlson-Craig-Melick estimates of funds rate probabilities, wherein the expectations for another increase in May backed off a tad...
... and the probability that the funds rate will not move any higher than 5 percent made a run for the money:
I've officially retired the picture showing the market's (completely uninteresting) guesses about where the dust will have settled once the FOMC adjourns tomorrow, but it is in the attached PowerPoint and flash files, if you want a gander just for old-time's sake.
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March 26, 2006
Odds And Ends
Another quarter begins at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and I have once again cleverly fallen behind on my reading, giving me the excuse to introduce some of my favorite weblogs to new students, via this review of things I should have talked about last week.
First things first, the week ended with economic news that was mixed, at best. Kash at Angry Bear reads the durable goods reports and concludes (fairly, I think) that business investment spending is still short of spectacular. On the other hand, at The Nattering Naybob Chronicles, Mr. Naybob is able to look on the bright side: "Both [the durable goods and house sales] reports eased inflation fears and bond yield dropped."
With respect to the real estate news, Calculated Risk, a consistently fine go-to source on the housing market, has the latest on home mortgage applications (down slightly), existing home sales (up, but perhaps not the best indicator), and new home sales (a better indicator, and coming in "very weak".) CR also has a handy chart, mapping the pattern of home sales in recessions. At the Big Picture, Barry Ritholtz opines: "The [Real Estate] market has dropped from white hot to red hot to mid-plateau." Calculated Risk says "The sky may not be falling, but... housing sales are clearly trending down." Captain Capitalism, however, is not cheered by that prognosis, and Michael Shedlock pores over the Calculated Risk pictures, to find that his disposition is soured as well. ElectEcon finds a prediction that things are going to get ugly fast.
For those who simply must have more housing indicators to watch, Daniel Gross bears good news, from Standard & Poor's. For those who just can't get enough detail on economic data period, Mark Thoma has more at Economist's View.
Speaking of data, a nice summary of U.S. wealth as reported in the Federal Reserve's Flow of Funds can be found at Angry Bear. (Although I don't necessarily endorse the conclusions, you might also enjoy the pictures provided at Economic Dreams - Economic Nightmares.)
Last week I (sort of) came to the rescue of the Consumer Price Index. Barry Ritholtz (again) counter punches, with a Wall Street Journal survey of readers indicating the vast majority don't think very highly of the Consumer Price Index, but Russell Roberts effectively (in my view) defends the beleaguered index, at Cafe Hayek.
Mark also relays the crux of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech on the yield curve. Meanwhile, the inverted yield curve watch continues, at The Capital Spectator.
Shifting to the fiscal side of the government house, Kash breaks down the sources of federal spending growth in the United States over the past five years. The guys at Angry Bear have had several useful, even if a bit partisan, posts on the subject in the recent past -- here, here, here, here, and here. Gary Becker and Richard Posner provide some much needed perspective on how to think about the build-up in defense spending.
In other legislative news, Andrew Chamberlain at Tax Policy Blog indicates that tax reform may not be dead just yet (good), and at Vox Baby, Andrew Samwick reports on the progress of pension reform (decidedly not good).
David Weman at A Few Euros More gives us the heads up on an item (from the Guardian Unlimited (U.K.) blog) bemoaning the rising tide of protectionism (among countries, including the U.S., that really ought to know better). The Skeptical Speculator concurs that "protectionism looms." Asia Pundit reminds us that, in the United States, the impulse is bipartisan (and Sun Bin channels Stephen Roach's comments on the subject). William Polley deems it "Nothing if not predictable." Mark Thoma provides an extended commentary from the Financial Times on the dangers of "Dobbism" (as in Lou). Daniel Drezner, however, has better news. Brad DeLong takes notice of a Alan Blinder's sometimes less charitable view of trade and globalization, to which Arnold Kling replies -- here and here.
Steve Antler (of EconoPundit) makes the connection from trade protectionism to immigration reform. Russell Roberts is even less tolerant of the anti-immigration argument. So is Arnold Kling (at EconLog). EurActiv reports on how the EU is attempting to deal with its own immigration questions. The New Economist provides a glimpse of research suggesting that outsourcing explains about 28 percent of the growth in the wage gap between high- and low-skilled labor between 1980 and 1999.
Continuing with the international theme, Brad Setser thinks both sides are at fault in the ongoing tensions over Chinese exchange rate policies. He also has terrific coverage of Larry Summers' must-read views on the current state of global financial markets and capital flows. Mark Thoma notes an article on the relationship between exchange rate policies and trade gaps and a summary of research on foreign direct investment. Steve Antler suggests an explanation for "why the dollar still reigns". Barry Ritholtz is pretty sure the answer is not Dark Matter. Menzie Chinn, writing at Econbrowser, is even less convinced. (He follows up that post with a very nice discussion of "purchasing power parity." Don't worry if you don't know what that means -- Menzie will fill you in.)
Speaking of China, Daniel Gross carries a story from the New York Times on the development race between China and India, the latter a country that I think gets far less attention than it deserves. (Lest there is any confusion, I mean positive attention.) Interestingly, Toni Straka at The Prudent Investor -- who unfailingly does not ignore India -- reports that India is about to float its currency and remove foreign exchange controls.
About Economics has a macro-relevant post on the, increasingly quaint, problem of the so-called zero nominal interest rate bound. Digging even further into the history of monetary theory, Jane Galt ruminates on "free money." In the some-think-it-matters-I-don't category, The Capital Spectator comments on the retirement of M3. So does Tim Iacono. That makes the graphs at Economist's View on M3 velocity -- explained here -- somewhat obsolete, but don't worry -- there is still M1 and M2 to absorb your attention.
UPDATE: Oh yeah -- Tyler Cowen has a new gig at the New York Times.
SPECIAL BRAIN-LOCK UPDATE: Above I hat-tipped A Fistful of Euro's David Weman for a Guardian article "bemoaning the rising tide of protectionism" (my words). Unfortunately, the Guardian article that does the bemoaning is not the one David cites. I had in mind an earlier article by James Surowiecki. David was pointing to another article, by Daniel Davies, arguing that capital controls do not count as protectionism. Double hat-tip to David for keeping me on the straight and narrow. (Oh, and by the way -- I'm with Surowiecki.)
March 26, 2006 in Asia, Data Releases, Deficits, Europe, Exchange Rates and the Dollar, Federal Debt and Deficits, Housing, Inflation, Interest Rates, Labor Markets, Saving, Capital, and Investment, Taxes, This, That, and the Other, Trade , Trade Deficit | Permalink
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» Round-up of Recent Economics Blog Postings from EclectEcon
Dave Altig at Macroblog has a very comprehensive round-up of recent blog postings from all over creation, all grouped by various economics topics. It is very thorough and ... [Read More]
Tracked on Mar 26, 2006 9:04:00 PM
» Carnival of the Economists from The Big Picture
Over at Macroblog, Dave Altig collects lots of Odds And Ends from the week's economic writings. He's a one man Carnival of the Economists. Looks like it took hours to put together. If you are looking for additional sources of economic writing and discu... [Read More]
Tracked on Mar 27, 2006 9:46:30 AM
Tracked on Mar 28, 2006 1:06:21 PM
March 23, 2006
The BoJ Rate Hike Watch
Japan's imports rose the most in almost a decade in February and land prices increased in the three biggest cities for the first time since 1990, as the economy headed for its longest post-World War II expansion...
Japan's economy grew at an annualized 5.4 percent in the fourth quarter, faster than both the U.S. and Europe, supporting earnings at global companies including Hermes International SCA. An end to seven years of deflation in the world's second-largest economy may prompt the central bank to end its zero-interest- rate policy as soon as this year.
"Domestic demand is incredibly resilient now,'' said Azusa Kato, an economist at BNP Paribas Securities Ltd. in Tokyo. "With consumers set to increase spending now that deflation concerns are fading, the Bank of Japan may raise rates by 25 basis points as soon as October.''
The Bank of Japan is unlikely to need to tighten credit soon and should instead watch for renewed deflation, a member of its board said on Thursday in the most dovish call yet from within the central bank.
Shin Nakahara said the BOJ should have waited to confirm that years of falling prices had ended before it scrapped its ultra-easy monetary policy on March 9, distancing himself from the rest of the Bank of Japan's nine-person board.
"Consumer prices have turned positive on a year-on-year basis but the rises until December were extremely small, and rather than making a decision on the rise in January alone, we needed to take more time in evaluating whether prices were completely in an uptrend," Nakahara said.
As for what the inflation objective should be, Nakahara identified himself -- but not others -- as a proponent of the upper half the BoJ's recently announced reference zone:
He said a desirable rate of inflation was about 1-2 percent -- compared with an annual core consumer price inflation rate of 0.5 percent in January and 0.1 percent in the preceding two months, which followed seven years of near non-stop decline.
The BOJ board has defined stable prices as an inflation rate of 0 to 2 percent, but Nakahara said that did not necessarily mean the BOJ would not raise rates until annual CPI inflation rose to 1 or 2 percent.
Will Nakahara's views gain traction? Only, it seems, if he finds a disciple to carry on:
The remarks underscored the view that Nakahara was the sole dissenter in the BOJ's decision to end its five-year-old policy and that he would likely oppose rises in the near future in short-term interest rates from present levels near zero, although his term expires in June.
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