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Measuring the effect of the zero lower bound on medium- and longer-term interest rates

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  • Eric T. Swanson
  • John C. Williams

Abstract

The zero lower bound on nominal interest rates has constrained the Federal Reserve’s setting of the overnight federal funds rate for over three years running. According to many macroeconomic models, such an extended period of being stuck at the zero bound has important implications for the effectiveness of monetary and fiscal policies. However, economic theory also implies that households’ and firms’ decisions depend on the entire path of expected future short-term interest rates, not just the current level of the overnight rate. Thus, interest rates with a year or more to maturity are arguably the most relevant for the private sector, and it is unclear to what extent the zero lower bound has affected those rates. In this paper, we propose a novel approach to measure when and to what extent the zero lower bound affects interest rates of any maturity. We compare the sensitivity of interest rates of various maturities to macroeconomic news during periods when short-term interest rates are very low to that during normal times. We find that yields on Treasury securities with six months or less to maturity have been strongly affected by the zero bound during most or all of the period when the federal funds rate was near zero. In stark contrast to this finding, yields with more than two years to maturity have responded to economic news during the past three years in their usual way. One- and two-year Treasury yields represent an intermediate case, being partially constrained by the zero bound over part of the period when the funds rate was near zero. We provide two explanations for these results. First, market participants have consistently expected the zero bound to constrain policy for only about a year into the future, minimizing its effect on longer-term yields. Second, the Federal Reserve’s unconventional policy actions may be offsetting the effects of the zero bound on longer-term yields.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in its series Working Paper Series with number 2012-02.

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Date of creation: 2012
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2012-02

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Keywords: Interest rates ; Monetary policy ; Fiscal policy;

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References

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  1. Refet Gürkaynak & Brian Sack, 2005. "Do Actions Speak Louder Than Words?The Response of Asset Prices to Monetary Policy Actions and Statements," Computing in Economics and Finance 2005 323, Society for Computational Economics.
  2. Davide Debortoli & Ricardo Nunes, 2007. "Loose commitment," International Finance Discussion Papers 916, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  3. Dimitri Vayanos & Jean-Luc Vila, 2009. "A preferred-habitat model of the term structure of interest rates," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 29308, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  4. James D. Hamilton & Jing Cynthia Wu, 2012. "The Effectiveness of Alternative Monetary Policy Tools in a Zero Lower Bound Environment," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 44, pages 3-46, 02.
  5. Arvind Krishnamurthy & Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, 2007. "The Demand for Treasury Debt," NBER Working Papers 12881, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Refet S. Gürkaynak & Brian Sack & Eric Swanson, 2006. "Market-based measures of monetary policy expectations," Working Paper Series 2006-04, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  7. Refet S. Gürkaynak & Brian Sack & Eric Swanson, 2005. "The Sensitivity of Long-Term Interest Rates to Economic News: Evidence and Implications for Macroeconomic Models," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 425-436, March.
  8. Refet S Gürkaynak & Andrew Levin & Eric Swanson, 2010. "Does Inflation Targeting Anchor Long-Run Inflation Expectations? Evidence from the U.S., UK, and Sweden," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(6), pages 1208-1242, December.
  9. Eric T. Swanson, 2011. "Let's Twist Again: A High-Frequency Event-Study Analysis of Operation Twist and Its Implications for QE2," 2011 Meeting Papers 982, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Daniel L. Thornton, 2012. "The Federal Reserve’s response to the financial crisis: what it did and what it should have done," Working Papers 2012-050, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  2. Moessner, Richhild, 2013. "Effects of explicit FOMC policy rate guidance on interest rate expectations," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 121(2), pages 170-173.
  3. Daniel L. Thornton, 2012. "Greenspan’s conundrum and the Fed’s ability to affect long-term yields," Working Papers 2012-036, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  4. Galvao, Ana Beatriz & Costa, Sonia, 2013. "Does the euro area forward rate provide accurate forecasts of the short rate?," International Journal of Forecasting, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 131-141.
  5. Eric T. Swanson & John C. Williams, 2013. "Measuring the effect of the zero lower bound on yields and exchange rates," Working Paper Series 2013-21, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  6. Christiane Baumeister & Luca Benati, 2013. "Unconventional Monetary Policy and the Great Recession: Estimating the Macroeconomic Effects of a Spread Compression at the Zero Lower Bound," International Journal of Central Banking, International Journal of Central Banking, vol. 9(2), pages 165-212, June.
  7. Jens H. E. Christensen & Glenn D. Rudebusch, 2012. "The Response of Interest Rates to US and UK Quantitative Easing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 122(564), pages F385-F414, November.
  8. Jeffrey R. Campbell & Charles L. Evans & Jonas D.M. Fisher & Alejandro Justiniano, 2012. "Macroeconomic Effects of Federal Reserve Forward Guidance," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 44(1 (Spring), pages 1-80.
  9. López-Villavicencio, Antonia, 2013. "Interest rates, government purchases and the Taylor rule in recessions and expansions," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 38(PB), pages 382-392.
  10. Thornton, Daniel L., 2014. "Monetary policy: Why money matters (and interest rates don’t)," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 202-213.

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