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

  • Brian Sack
  • Volker 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
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:1999-39
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  1. Arturo Estrella & Frederic S. Mishkin, 1999. "Rethinking the Role of NAIRU in Monetary Policy: Implications of Model Formulation and Uncertainty," NBER Chapters, in: Monetary Policy Rules, pages 405-436 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Glenn D. Rudebusch & Lars E. O. Svensson, 1998. "Policy Rules for Inflation Targeting," NBER Working Papers 6512, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. Alan S. Blinder, 1999. "Central Banking in Theory and Practice," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262522608, June.
  5. Onatski, Alexei & Stock, James H., 2002. "Robust Monetary Policy Under Model Uncertainty In A Small Model Of The U.S. Economy," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(01), pages 85-110, February.
  6. John C. Williams, 2003. "Simple rules for monetary policy," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, pages 1-12.
  7. Athanasios Orphanides & Volker 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.).
  8. Marvin Goodfriend, 1990. "Interest rates and the conduct of monetary policy," Working Paper 90-06, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
  9. Laurence Ball, 1998. "Policy Rules for Open Economies," NBER Working Papers 6760, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Richard Clarida & Jordi Galí & Mark Gertler, 2000. "Monetary Policy Rules And Macroeconomic Stability: Evidence And Some Theory," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(1), pages 147-180, February.
  11. Glenn D. Rudebusch, 1995. "Federal Reserve interest rate targeting, rational expectations, and the term structure," Working Papers in Applied Economic Theory 95-02, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  12. Michael Woodford, 1999. "Optimal monetary policy inertia," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  13. Lars E. O. Svensson, 2000. "Open-Economy Inflation Targeting," NBER Working Papers 6545, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Julio J. Rotemberg & Michael Woodford, 1999. "Interest Rate Rules in an Estimated Sticky Price Model," NBER Chapters, in: Monetary Policy Rules, pages 57-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Frank Smets, 1998. "Output gap uncertainty: does it matter for the Taylor rule?," BIS Working Papers 60, Bank for International Settlements.
  16. Philip Lowe & Luci Ellis, 1997. "The Smoothing of Official Interest Rates," RBA Annual Conference Volume, in: Philip Lowe (ed.), Monetary Policy and Inflation Targeting Reserve Bank of Australia.
  17. 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.
  18. Laurence Ball, 1997. "Efficient rules for monetary policy," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Discussion Paper Series G97/3, Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
  19. Athanasios Orphanides, 2001. "Monetary Policy Rules Based on Real-Time Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 964-985, September.
  20. Mark Gertler & Jordi Gali & Richard Clarida, 1999. "The Science of Monetary Policy: A New Keynesian Perspective," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(4), pages 1661-1707, December.
  21. Wieland, Volker, 2003. "Monetary Policy and Uncertainty about the Natural Unemployment Rate," CEPR Discussion Papers 3811, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  22. Andrew T.. Levin & Volker Wieland & John Williams, 1999. "Robustness of Simple Monetary Policy Rules under Model Uncertainty," NBER Chapters, in: Monetary Policy Rules, pages 263-318 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. David E Lindsey, 1997. "Discussion of 'The Smoothing of Official Interest Rates'," RBA Annual Conference Volume, in: Philip Lowe (ed.), Monetary Policy and Inflation Targeting Reserve Bank of Australia.
  24. Athanasios Orphanides, 1998. "Monetary policy evaluation with noisy information," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1998-50, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  25. Wieland, Volker, 2000. "Monetary policy, parameter uncertainty and optimal learning," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 199-228, August.
  26. Charles Goodhart, 1998. "Central Bankers and Uncertainty," FMG Special Papers sp106, Financial Markets Group.
  27. 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.
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