In the years ahead we’ll probably hear a lot more about the Federal Reserve’s new “flexible inflation targeting” approach as it relates to their deliberations on monetary policy and this Bloomberg story by Fed watcher Craig Torres gives us a preview of what we’re likely to hear this spring, that is, if gasoline prices wind up where nearly every analyst thinks they’ll be.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke spent six years pushing for an inflation goal. Now that he has it, some investors are betting he’ll breach the 2 percent target in the short run to lower unemployment.
The Fed chairman told lawmakers last week that an increase in energy costs will boost inflation “temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He also said the central bank will adopt a “balanced approach” as it pursues its twin goals of price stability and full employment, which it defines as a jobless rate of between 5.2 percent and 6 percent.
“The chairman seemed to suggest they will tolerate a misdemeanor on inflation as unemployment continues to fall toward their goal” over several years, said Mark Spindel, chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital, a hedge fund that manages $250 million in Washington.
Policy makers at a March 13 meeting probably won’t deviate from their commitment to hold interest rates close to zero at least through late 2014, even if their forecast shows a burst of energy-driven inflation, said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP LLC in Jersey City, New Jersey. They’ll probably be more concerned that rising prices will hold back real spending, impeding growth and improvement in the job market, he said.
“The chairman said, ‘We think it is transitory, we are sticking to our guns, we are going to focus on the drag on income,’” Crandall said. Bernanke explained how under a strategy of flexible inflation targeting, “a temporary spike in the price indexes can be a reason for the central bank to be more generous rather than less,” Crandall said.
What’s funny – well, that is, unless you happen to be a senior living on a fixed income – is that the Fed’s own projections for unemployment paint a pretty grim picture of what the U.S. labor market will look like going forward, meaning that, this “flexible approach” to balancing their stable prices/low unemployment mandate is likely to result in higher inflation, perhaps much higher inflation.