3 Things: The Fed Is Screwed

The LMCI Index Says The Fed Is Late Again

In May of 2014, the Federal Reserve began discussing a newly designed labor market index to help support their claim that employment conditions in the U.S were improving. This was an important facility for the Fed which needed support to raise interest rates. My good friend Doug Short has a complete discussion on the LMCI, which is worth reading for context. As he defines:

“The Labor Market Conditions Index (LMCI) is a relatively recent indicator developed by Federal Reserve economists to assess changes in the labor market conditions. It is a dynamic factor model of labor market indicators, essentially a diffusion index subject to extensive revisions based on nineteen underlying indicators in nine broad categories

The indicator, designed to illustrate expansion and contraction of labor market conditions, was initially announced in May 2014, but the data series was constructed back to August 1976.”

Unfortunately for the Federal Reserve, the index has not supported the Fed’s claims that employment is growing at a rate strong enough to withstand a tightening of monetary policy. In fact, as shown in the chart below, the LMCI index (smoothed with a 12-month average) has been a leading indicator of future weakness in employment. The recent downturn in the LMCI suggests that employment gains may more muted in the months ahead.

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Therein lies the problem for the Fed. If the LMCI is indeed forecasting weaker employment, then the Fed’s ability to raise interest rates is negated. However, as shown in the chart below, the Fed has ALWAYS been late to the game when hiking interest rates. Each time the Fed began hiking interest rates was at the point the LMCI had effectively peaked. 

Click on image to enlarge


The Fed is once again very late to the game in hiking rates. The problem is that with the economy growing at less than 2% annualized, there is very little wiggle room for a policy mistake.

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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