The Fed Gets Schooled Again: Swiss Central Bank Edition

I once argued that all incoming Fed officials should spend six months interning at the Swedish central bank given their relative success in stabilizing nominal GDP. I was wrong. What I should have said is that all incoming Fed officials should spend six months interning at the Swiss central bank. Lars Christensen explains why:

Here is from The Street Light:

“You may recall that in September the Swiss National Bank (SNB) announced that it was going to intervene as necessary in the currency markets to ensure that the Swiss Franc (CHF) stayed above a minimum exchange rate with the euro of 1.20 CHF/EUR. How has that been working out for them?

It turns out that it has been working extremely well. Today the SNB released data on its balance sheet for the end of September. During the month of August the SNB had to spend almost CHF 100 billion to buy foreign currency assets to keep the exchange rate at a reasonable level. But in September — most of which was after the announcement of the exchange rate minimum — the SNB’s foreign currency assets only grew by about CHF 25 billion. Furthermore, this increase in the CHF value of the SNB’s foreign currency assets likely includes substantial capital gains that the SNB reaped on its euro portfolio (which was valued at about €130 bn at the end of September), as the CHF was almost 10% weaker against the euro in September than in August. Given that, it seems likely that the SNB’s purchases of new euro assets in September after the announcement of the exchange rate floor almost completely stopped.”

This is a very strong demonstration of the power of monetary policy when the central bank is credible. This is the Chuck Norris effect of monetary policy: You don’t have to print more money to ease monetary policy if you are a credible central bank with a credible target. (Nick Rowe and I like this sort of thing…) And now to the (not so) crazy idea – if the SNB can ease monetary policy by announcing a devaluation why can’t the Federal Reserve and the ECB do it?

Exactly. Instead of having a central bank that sets an explicit target and commits to doing whatever is necessary to hit it, we have a central bank that at best has a fuzzy inflation target and operates in a manner that does little to create certainty about the future path of monetary policy. This lack of clarity was on display yesterday at the post-FOMC news conference when journalist pointed out to Bernanke that the Fed’s forecast is worsening yet the Fed wants to wait for further information before acting. These journalists wanted to know what would trigger the Fed to act and Bernanke could not give a clear answer. This is because he is simply unable to make a conditional forecast of future monetary policy with no explicit target. This is crazy. Here we have the most powerful central bank in the world stumbling, tripping, and occasionally getting lost as it moves forward because it chooses not to set a clear, explicit path of where it wants to go. If only we could learn from the Swiss…

This post originally appeared at Macro and Other Market Musings and is reproduced with permission.