Dollars and Jens
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
 
units

I started my adult life in physics, and have now come to economics by way of finance; one of the differences between how economics is practiced and how physics is practiced is that economics frequently suppresses "units"; especially in introductory economics, supply and demand curves are frequently specified with quantity and price in some implicit units and coefficients of e.g. "5" where a physicist would say "5 $/widget2". In practical contexts, this is most pervasive in economic and financial contexts when the implicit unit is time; "year" frequently is 1. Otherwise smart people seem occasionally to forget that interest rates have an implicit time unit in them; bonds are yielding 3%per year.

This brings me to the term "basis point". You can go to websites (or at least comments sections of blogs) about linguistics and watch people fight about what words really mean, or which uses are inappropriate; finance specialists will have that argument about the term "basis point" perhaps more than any other term, but the permitted uses seem to be "nested", in that you won't usually encounter two people where one says A is acceptable and B isn't while the other allows for B but not A; when two people disagree about the proper use, usually one has a strictly narrower use than the other. The basic definition, though, is that a basis point is the reciprocal of 10,000 years, i.e. .01% per year.

The term "basis" is frequently used in finance to refer to a difference between two things, especially two things that are similar or related; the "basis" is then the extent to which they are different. If you buy oil futures because you need to buy jet fuel in the future and you want to hedge your risk, "basis risk" is the risk that the price of oil and the price of jet fuel don't actually move in lockstep. The term "basis point" was originally used in the context of different interest rates; an interest rate of 3.43% per year is 1bp less than an interest rate of 3.44% per year. There are some people who insist that any use of "basis point" other than in referring to differences or change in interest rates is wrong. Some people are willing to use it for anything related to interest rates, convenience yields, or other interest-rate-like objects. Any use of "basis point" that satisfies the definition I gave seems fine to me; if you want to talk about the growth rate of GDP in terms of basis points, that seems entirely cromulent to me.

The point at which I start to object is where the units are changed, which is mostly to say when people start multiplying it by "year" without telling you that. The employment-to-population ratio, for example, was .5923 in October and .5919 in November, according to the latest BLS report; there are people who would tell you that it dropped by 4 basis points. Note that, in this context, even if one were attempting to specify a rate, this is a change from one month to the next; to say that it dropped at a "rate of 50bp" is more in tune with the initial definition, and more likely to confuse people.

This morning I see in Matt Levine's linkwrap that Vanguard is looking to launch an advisory service

for a fee of 30 basis points per year instead of "an industry average of more than 1 per cent"

where I would contend "per year" should be moved from its current location to the end of the blockquote; they seek a fee of 30bp, as compared to 1 per cent per year.

I should perhaps note here that, as far as I know, I am the only person who has a problem with "basis point" meaning 1/100 of one percentage point but is fine with using it to express growth rates. If there are others, I wouldn't be surprised if they got into finance through physics, or some other field that uses a lot of dimensional analysis; it is, from my background, simply "obvious" that one system of usage is self-consistent and the other is not.

Allow me to move on from "basis point" but not from picking on Matt Levine who, as far as I've been able to tell, has adopted from FDIC regulators the practice of referring to a regulatory rule about "leveraged loans" as applying to loans to companies with debt that is "at least six times EBITDA". (I suspect Levine has no problem with this, but he doesn't seem to have originated it.) EBITDA is a flow, and debt is a stock; the ratio of debt to EBITDA again has units of time. What they all mean is "six years' worth of EBITDA"; if you have quarterly* EBITDA, multiply by 24 to get the debt limit. The national debt/GDP ratio is almost always given in years, but with the "years" unspoken; one often sees an outsized importance given to "100%", i.e. debt equal to one year's GDP, and while some of the people who see that as an important milestone may simply see that as a psychologically significant number in a broad plausibly economically relevant range, I read some commentary that seems to think it's important because, come on, all of your GDP is debt, or something — which loses even its superficial coherence if you change units.

This, ultimately, is where it matters — when it screws up people's conceptual understanding of what's going on. If you're attentive to which numbers are stock and which are flows, and you make sure to annualize anything that needs annualizing and develop an intuition around annualized numbers, various semantic conventions that seem unnecessarily confusing to me are just language, and probably is a perfectly good choice among ultimately arbitrary coding rules.

* "Quarter", of course, is a unit of time equal to a quarter of a year, in the same pattern of "year=1".

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
 
FOMC
Note that the FOMC has been meeting, and will be releasing a statement around 2PM EDT (I think); my fed statement comparison page should be updated shortly after that — within 40 seconds or so, if my script works properly; let's say the odds of that happening are 1 in 3. At 2:30 EDT Fed chairman Yellen will speak, and you can watch live as she then proceeds to field asinine questions from the financial press.

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Saturday, August 02, 2014
 
FOMC
I did update my webpage comparing the new FOMC statement to the old one on Wednesday; in response to a comment from my brother a long time ago that he sometimes looked at it but mostly skipped the old text, just reading the current statement, I have just now added buttons to the top of the page to allow you to remove the old text. (At some point perhaps I'll write my own javascript to make it a little bit more right for what I would want it to do, but using someone else's code is faster and easier.)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014
 
FOMC
The Fed statement was basically unchanged. The tools I use to generate the comparison have changed.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014
 
FOMC statement

The FOMC statement, as revised:

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January March indicates that growth in economic activity slowed has picked up recently, after having slowed sharply during the winter months, in part reflecting in part because of adverse weather conditions. Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement. The unemployment rate, however, remains elevated. Household spending and business appears to be rising more quickly. Business fixed investment continued to advance edged down, while the recovery in the housing sector remained slow. Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint is diminishing. Inflation has been running below the Committee's longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and labor market conditions will continue to improve gradually, moving toward those the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as nearly balanced. The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, and it is monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.

The Committee currently judges that there is sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing improvement in labor market conditions. In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions since the inception of the current asset purchase program, the Committee decided to make a further measured reduction in the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in April May, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $ 25 20 billion per month rather than $ 30 25 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $ 30 25 billion per month rather than $ 35 30 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. The Committee's sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee's dual mandate.

The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability. If incoming information broadly supports the Committee's expectation of ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and inflation moving back toward its longer-run objective, the Committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings. However, asset purchases are not on a preset course, and the Committee's decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee's outlook for the labor market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases.

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess progress--both realized and expected--toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. The Committee continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and provided that longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored.

When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent. The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.

With the unemployment rate nearing 6-1/2 percent, the Committee has updated its forward guidance. The change in the Committee's guidance does not indicate any change in the Committee's policy intentions as set forth in its recent statements.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Richard W. Fisher; Narayana Kocherlakota; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Jerome H. Powell; Jeremy C. Stein; and Daniel K. Tarullo.

Voting against the action was Narayana Kocherlakota, who supported the sixth paragraph, but believed the fifth paragraph weakens the credibility of the Committee's commitment to return inflation to the 2 percent target from below and fosters policy uncertainty that hinders economic activity.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014
 
FOMC

The FOMC statement, as revised:

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in December January indicates that growth in economic activity picked up in recent quarters slowed during the winter months, in part reflecting adverse weather conditions. Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement. The unemployment rate declined but , however, remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment advanced more quickly in recent months continued to advance, while the recovery in the housing sector slowed somewhat remained slow. Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint is diminishing. Inflation has been running below the Committee's longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and the unemployment rate will gradually decline toward levels labor market conditions will continue to improve gradually, moving toward those the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as having become more nearly balanced. The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, and it is monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.

Taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment since the inception of its current asset purchase program, the Committee continues to see the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions over that period as consistent with growing The Committee currently judges that there is sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing improvement in labor market conditions. In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions since the inception of the current asset purchase program, the Committee decided to make a further measured reduction in the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in February April, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $ 30 25 billion per month rather than $ 35 30 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $ 35 30 billion per month rather than $ 40 35 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. The Committee's sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee's dual mandate.

The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other  policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability. If incoming information broadly supports the Committee's expectation of ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and inflation moving back toward its longer-run objective, the Committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings. However, asset purchases are not on a preset course, and the Committee's decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee's outlook for the labor market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases.

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. The Committee also reaffirmed its expectation that the current exceptionally low target range for the federal funds rate of 0 to 1/4 percent will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will also consider other assess progress--both realized and expected--toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including additional measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. The Committee continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate well past the time that the unemployment rate declines below 6-1/2 percent for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and provided that longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored.

When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent. The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.

With the unemployment rate nearing 6-1/2 percent, the Committee has updated its forward guidance. The change in the Committee's guidance does not indicate any change in the Committee's policy intentions as set forth in its recent statements.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Richard W. Fisher; Narayana Kocherlakota; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Jerome H. Powell; Jeremy C. Stein; and Daniel K. Tarullo; and Janet L. Yellen.

Voting against the action was Narayana Kocherlakota, who supported the sixth paragraph, but believed the fifth paragraph weakens the credibility of the Committee's commitment to return inflation to the 2 percent target from below and fosters policy uncertainty that hinders economic activity.

Possibly moved phrases:
for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends
target range for the federal funds rate

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
 
FOMC

The FOMC statement, as revised:
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in October December indicates that economic activity is expanding at a moderate pace growth in economic activity picked up in recent quarters. Labor market conditions have shown indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement ; the . The unemployment rate has declined but remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment advanced more quickly in recent months, while the recovery in the housing sector slowed somewhat in recent months. Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint may be is diminishing. Inflation has been running below the Committee's longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic growth will pick up from its recent activity will expand at a moderate pace and the unemployment rate will gradually decline toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as having become more nearly balanced. The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, and it is monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.
Taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment since the inception of its current asset purchase program, the Committee sees continues to see the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions over that period as consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy. In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions, the Committee decided to modestly reduce make a further measured reduction in the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in January February, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $ 35 30 billion per month rather than $ 40 35 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $ 40 35 billion per month rather than $ 45 40 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. The Committee's sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee's dual mandate.
The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other  policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability. If incoming information broadly supports the Committee's expectation of ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and inflation moving back toward its longer-run objective, the Committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings. However, asset purchases are not on a preset course, and the Committee's decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee's outlook for the labor market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases.
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. The Committee also reaffirmed its expectation that the current exceptionally low target range for the federal funds rate of 0 to 1/4 percent will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored. In determining how long to maintain a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy, the Committee will also consider other information, including additional measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. The Committee now anticipates continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate well past the time that the unemployment rate declines below 6-1/2 percent, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal. When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; James Bullard; Charles L. Evans; Esther L. George Richard W. Fisher; Narayana Kocherlakota; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Jerome H. Powell; Jeremy C. Stein; Daniel K. Tarullo; and Janet L. Yellen. Voting against the action was Eric S. Rosengren, who believes that, with the unemployment rate still elevated and the inflation rate well below the federal funds rate target, changes in the purchase program are premature until incoming data more clearly indicate that economic growth is likely to be sustained above its potential rate.




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