Long before the Fed was humiliated into reversing its hawkish rate hike policy in January and then again in March, we published – back in June 2015 – “The Blindingly Simple Reason Why The Fed Is About To Engage In Policy Error“, in which we predicted, correctly, that the neutral rate of interest is far too low to allow a lengthy tightening campaign by the Federal Reserve, as the real Fed Funds rate would promptly rise above the neutral rate, further depressing demand, resulting in a policy error.
More importantly, instead of some arcane calculation of the infamous, convoluted r-star (or neutral rate of interest) we said that one might argue for low “implied” equilibrium short rates via debt ratios. For example, if nominal growth is 3 percent and the debt GDP ratio is 300 percent, the implied equilibrium nominal rates is around 1 percent. This is because at 1% rates, 100% of GDP growth is necessary to service interest costs.
So to help the Fed and pundits calculate just where r star is in an economy where total debt/GDP is 350% and rising, and where GDP is 2% and falling, we presented – all the way back in 2015 – a sensitivity table which looks at just two simple variables: nominal growth, or GDP, and total debt/GDP. Assuming the current leverage of the US and assuming 2% in nominal growth, the short-run equilibrium real interest rate is just about 0.57%, something which the Fed now appears to have discovered on its own.
As an aside, we also said that such a policy error could reinforce itself by causing structural damage that puts additional downward pressure on the equilibrium real rate adding that “in this case the yield curve would flatten meaningfully, at least until the Fed actually reversed course by cutting rates.” This is precisely what happened.
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