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Interest-rate smoothing and optimal monetary policy: a review of recent empirical evidence

  • Brian P. Sack
  • Volker W. Wieland

The Federal Reserve and other central banks tend to change short-term interest rates in sequences of small steps in the same direction and reverse the direction of interest rate movements only infrequently. These characteristics, often referred to as interest-rate smoothing, have led to criticism that policy responds too little and too late to macroeconomic developments, suggesting to some observers that the Federal Reserve has an objective of minimizing interest-rate volatility. This paper, however, argues that the observed degree of interest-rate smoothing may well represent optimal behavior on the part of central banks whose only objectives are to stabilize output and inflation. We summarize recent research on three different explanations of interest-rate smoothing: forward-looking behavior by market participants, measurement error associated with key macroeconomic variables, and uncertainty regarding relevant structural parameters.

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Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 1999-39.

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Date of creation: 1999
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:1999-39
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  1. Svensson, Lars E. O., 2000. "Open-economy inflation targeting," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 155-183, February.
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  4. Athanasios Orphanides & Volker W. Wieland, 1998. "Price stability and monetary policy effectiveness when nominal interest rates are bounded at zero," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1998-35, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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  8. Taylor, John B., 1993. "Discretion versus policy rules in practice," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 195-214, December.
  9. Glenn D. Rudebusch & Lars E. O. Svensson, 1998. "Policy rules for inflation targeting," Working Papers in Applied Economic Theory 98-03, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  10. Orphanides, Athanasios, 2003. "Monetary policy evaluation with noisy information," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 605-631, April.
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  14. Alexei Onatski & James H. Stock, 1999. "Robust monetary policy under model uncertainty in a small model of the U.S. economy," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
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  19. John C. Williams, 2003. "Simple rules for monetary policy," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, pages 1-12.
  20. Glenn D. Rudebusch, 2001. "Is The Fed Too Timid? Monetary Policy In An Uncertain World," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(2), pages 203-217, May.
  21. Julio J. Rotemberg & Michael Woodford, 1998. "Interest-Rate Rules in an Estimated Sticky Price Model," NBER Working Papers 6618, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  25. Fuhrer, Jeffrey C, 1997. "Inflation/Output Variance Trade-Offs and Optimal Monetary Policy," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 29(2), pages 214-34, May.
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