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

Listed author(s):
  • 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
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:1999-39
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  2. Coenen, Günter & Orphanides, Athanasios & Wieland, Volker, 2003. "Price Stability and Monetary Policy Effectiveness when Nominal Interest Rates are Bounded at Zero," CEPR Discussion Papers 3892, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Svensson, Lars E.O., 1998. "Open-Economy Inflation Targeting," Seminar Papers 638, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  4. 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.
  5. Woodford, Michael, 1999. "Optimal monetary policy inertia," CFS Working Paper Series 1999/09, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
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  8. Laurence Ball, 1998. "Policy Rules for Open Economies," NBER Working Papers 6760, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Volker W. Wieland, 1999. "Monetary policy, parameter uncertainty and optimal learning," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-48, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  10. Frank Smets, 1998. "Output gap uncertainty: does it matter for the Taylor rule?," BIS Working Papers 60, Bank for International Settlements.
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  12. 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.
  13. Athanasios Orphanides, 2001. "Monetary Policy Rules Based on Real-Time Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 964-985, September.
  14. Clarida, Richard & Galí, Jordi & Gertler, Mark, 1999. "The Science of Monetary Policy: A New Keynesian Perspective," CEPR Discussion Papers 2139, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  18. 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.
  19. Goodfriend, Marvin, 1991. "Interest rates and the conduct of monetary policy," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 7-30, January.
  20. Volker W. Wieland, 1998. "Monetary policy and uncertainty about the natural unemployment rate," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1998-22, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  21. John C. Williams, 1999. "Simple rules for monetary policy," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-12, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  22. 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.
  23. Charles Goodhart, 1998. "Central Bankers and Uncertainty," FMG Special Papers sp106, Financial Markets Group.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. 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 214-234, May.
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