Monday, September 14, 2009

Paul McCulley Strikes Again

Paul McCulley is the managing director of Pimco (Pacific Investment Management Co., one of the largest bond investors in the world) and each month he writes a piece called Global Central Bank Focus. This month, in an essay called, “Because I Said So...,” McCulley discusses the “old” rules for Central Bank policy for fighting inflation and relates the “new rules” for inflation fighting to parents who sometimes tell their children, “Because I said so.” I can’t do full justice to the piece on the blog so please read it for yourself at:

For those of you who are not economic wonks, McCulley reminds us that for many decades our central bank has targeted inflation without regard to the prices of assets or the impact of potential future asset bubbles. The rule for inflation targeting is called The Taylor Rule after economist John Taylor. The rule suggests the elements for the inflation targeting equation are: 1) The neutral rate of inflation that would theoretically exist if inflation and employment were both at “target,” 2) The inflation rate itself, 3) The gap between actual inflation and target inflation, and 4) the gap between the actual unemployment rate and the theoretical “full” unemployment rate. McCulley points out that asset prices are nowhere to be found in this equation for targeting inflation, and that U.S. central bank policy has been to suggest that asset prices are implied by the other inputs to the Taylor Rule, so the Federal Reserve doesn’t need to forecast asset bubbles as they appear in the economy. The stated policy is to wait for the bubbles to burst and then use a “mop up” strategy when the bubbles actually do burst.

Well….its clear that something has to change in our approach to asset bubbles, and McCulley opines that in the future the Fed will have to take a countercyclical approach to policy that “leans against” boom bust cycles by changing capital/margin requirements for banks and by reforming the bankruptcy laws. But what really caught my eye were McCulley’s final thoughts about forecasting asset bubbles and creating new paths for central bank policy, since forecasting is a subject we spend a great deal of time studying here at Pinnacle. He says, “Yes, that will sometimes mean taking action that is not fully anticipated, based on old rules of the game. But just like parents, central banks (read money managers) must exercise judgment, and sometimes, good judgment does involve making decisions on the basis of where the gut says the brain is going.” Thanks, Paul. I couldn’t have said it better myself!