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Feb. 21, 2020, 10:17 a.m. EST

All-star economists urge Fed to use QE and ‘new tools’ to fight next recession — just move sooner and go bigger than crisis

Central banks should be humble about likely effectiveness of these tools

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By Greg Robb, MarketWatch

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The analysis will be discussed at an all-day conference of top global central bank officials and economists, sponsored by the Chicago Booth School in New York later Friday.

The irony in the paper’s conclusion is reminiscent of a remark from former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who once quipped that quantitative easing worked in practice but not in theory.

The economists noted that it was hard to measure the efficacy of the recession-fighting strategies. The tools were only used sparingly and during period of significant financial stress that economic models have a tough time capturing.

The paper recommended that the Fed clearly communicate its plan of action ahead of when the next recession hits because interest-rate policies work best when markets understand what the central bank is doing.

The most successful policy tool was when the central bank’s promise not to raise interest rates until a certain economic threshold was hit, the economists argued. In December 2012, the Fed announced it would not raise interest rates until the unemployment rate fell below 6.5%, a policy that had been advocated by Chicago Fed President Charles Evans.

Ultimately, the Fed didn’t raise rates until December 2016, eight months after the jobless rate fell below the 6.5% threshold.

The economists said it is unclear which tool should go first. And they were also uncertain whether using multiple tools at once was a better strategy than one-offs.

In many ways, the recommendations are not contrary to what the Fed has been saying.

Only last week, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress he would act aggressively to fight the next recession.

Read: Powell says Fed will aggressively use QE to fight next recession

Bank of England officials have also talked recently about the need to act swiftly in the face of downside risks.

The Fed has been reviewing its recession-fighting plans as part of a broad review of its policy framework that was launched last year. Fed officials have said they intend to discuss the results of their review by the middle of the year.

Powell and other Fed officials have said they don’t support any plan to push the central bank’s benchmark interest rate into negative territory as European central banks and the Bank of Japan have done.

Some Fed officials have talked favorably about yield-curve control.

On a hopeful note, the paper said that the next recession might not be as severe as the financial crisis. But there is a strong chance that the next U.S. recession will coincide with a downturn in the rest of the world.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield /zigman2/quotes/211347051/realtime BX:TMUBMUSD10Y 0.00%  is in a range around 1.5%, well below a 3% level last seen in the fall of 2018.

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Jan. 22, 2021 5:03p

Greg Robb is a senior reporter for MarketWatch in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @grobb2000.

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