Yellen Served a Heaping Plate of Waffles and Syrup at the FED's Annual Jackson Hole Junket

If Janet Yellen had not earned her Ph.D. in economics, she could have been a great short-order cook at Waffle House.

Yellen is as long-winded as Bernanke. She lards her speeches with footnotes, just as he did. She is as evasive as Greenspan, but she uses academic jargon and peripheral statistics to do her work.

Her first Jackson Hole speech shows how adept she is.

First, some background. The FED said in December 2012 that an unemployment rate of 6.5% was one of the two benchmarks to use as a way to evaluate when to raise interest rates. The other was CPI growth at 2%.

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects 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. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate 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. The Committee views these thresholds as consistent with its earlier date-based guidance. 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. 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 CPI increase, July 2013 to July 2014, was 2%.

In short, both of the targets have been reached.

So, will the FED raise rates? Which rates? How? The European Central Bank has contracted the monetary base for over a year, and long-term bond rates have fallen. Meanwhile, the short-term ECB rate has dropped like a stone since October 2013.

To avoid dealing with this problem — the #1 policy problem facing the FED — Yellen is waffling. Her speech was pure waffles and syrup.


She began with good news on the job front. This was syrup.

Job gains in 2014 have averaged 230,000 a month, up from the 190,000 a month pace during the preceding two years. The unemployment rate, at 6.2 percent in July, has declined nearly 4 percentage points from its late 2009 peak. Over the past year, the unemployment rate has fallen considerably, and at a surprisingly rapid pace. These developments are encouraging, but it speaks to the depth of the damage that, five years after the end of the recession, the labor market has yet to fully recover.

Then came a general statement — no specifics.

The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy objective is to foster maximum employment and price stability. In this regard, a key challenge is to assess just how far the economy now stands from the attainment of its maximum employment goal. Judgments concerning the size of that gap are complicated by ongoing shifts in the structure of the labor market and the possibility that the severe recession caused persistent changes in the labor market’s functioning.

This was a waffle. What could cause “persistent changes in the labor market”? There were more waffles to come.

These and other questions about the labor market are central to the conduct of monetary policy, so I am pleased that the organizers of this year’s symposium chose labor market dynamics as its theme. My colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and I look to the presentations and discussions over the next two days for insights into possible changes that are affecting the labor market. I expect, however, that our understanding of labor market developments and their potential implications for inflation will remain far from perfect. As a consequence, monetary policy ultimately must be conducted in a pragmatic manner that relies not on any particular indicator or model, but instead reflects an ongoing assessment of a wide range of information in the context of our ever-evolving understanding of the economy.

Her waffle recipe is simple: “We make it up as we go along.” This was Bernanke’s recipe, too.

In my remarks this morning, I will review a number of developments related to the functioning of the labor market that have made it more difficult to judge the remaining degree of slack. Differing interpretations of these developments affect judgments concerning the appropriate path of monetary policy.

Translation: “We don’t know what is happening in the economy.”

Before turning to the specifics, however, I would like to provide some context concerning the role of the labor market in shaping monetary policy over the past several years. During that time, the FOMC has maintained a highly accommodative monetary policy in pursuit of its congressionally mandated goals of maximum employment and stable prices. The Committee judged such a stance appropriate because inflation has fallen short of our 2 percent objective while the labor market, until recently, operated very far from any reasonable definition of maximum employment.

Translation: “Bernanke always larded his speeches with long, uninformative histories of what everyone in the room already knew all about. His view: ‘Old news is good news.’ I shall continue this tradition.”

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