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Good Inflation News from the Bond Market

With commentators offering increasingly dismal warnings about the inflation situation in the United States, one might think that the US Federal Reserve has failed completely at its primary task. But the bond market is telling a different story, and there is no reason to think that it is driven by doves.

BERKELEY – As of Friday, May 6, the bond market expected US consumer price inflation to average 2.5% between five and ten years from now. That is the rate of inflation needed to equalize returns on inflation-indexed and non-indexed US Treasury securities. And given that CPI inflation has been running higher than the rate associated with the implicit price deflator for personal consumption expenditures, I count that 2.5% five-year, five-year-forward rate as hitting the US Federal Reserve’s 2% price-deflator inflation target.

What, then, would it take to get the economy back to the Fed’s targeted inflation rate? Since the five-year breakeven rate at the close of May 6 was 3.22%, the implicit expectation is that inflation will run a cumulative total of 3.6 percentage points above the Fed’s target over the next five years. If it does not cause the economy’s inflation anchor to vanish, a deviation of that size would be an exceedingly small price to pay for the rapid recovery from the pandemic-induced recession. If the recovery delivers the structural economic transformation that we need, the higher inflation that we have experienced will have been well worth it.

Accordingly, it seems to me that the Fed should be taking a victory lap. It has done precisely what it is supposed to do, by enabling America’s sticky-price, sticky-wage, sticky-debt economy to return rapidly not just to full employment but to the right version of full employment – the one that has workers working in sectors making products for which there is real, fundamental demand – after a shock. And it has done so without disrupting confidence in the monetary system and its stability.

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