The Transparent Effect of Foreign Interest Rates on Central Bank Decisions

Last June the central bank of Norway hosted a fascinating conference in Oslo on the use of monetary policy rules in small open economies. The Norges Bank is a remarkably transparent central bank. As with the Swedish Riksbank, it announces not only its most recent interest rate decision, but also the likely path for its interest rate decisions in the future. While some have criticized publishing future interest rate forecasts, the experiences in Norway and Sweden show that there are advantages of such increased transparency. For example, consider the debate at the Risksbank earlier this month about the path of interest rates in the next two years. The Riksbank minutes (which provide much more detail than FOMC minutes) reveal a substantive debate between some, such as Deputy Governor Lars Svensson, who preferred an interest rate path in which rates were held low for a long time and others who wanted to increase rates more rapidly.

As explained in the minutes, the debate was in part over forecasts of monetary policy rate decisions abroad: “Given statements made by the Federal Reserve and the ECB, …low policy-rate expectations must be regarded as very realistic. The differential between Swedish and foreign interest rates is currently moderate. If the repo-rate was to become credible and policy-rate expectations for Sweden were to shift up to the repo-rate path, the expected differential in relation to other countries would be considerable. This would trigger substantial capital flows and lead to a dramatic appreciation of the krona. Both higher market rates and a stronger krona would entail a drastic tightening of actual monetary policy.”

More light is shed on the effect of lower interest rates abroad on policy by the experience of the Norges Bank; the effects can be illustrated using charts from their Monetary Policy Reports. Consider the decision to lower the path of interest rates in Norway earlier this year. The lower path is shown by the red line in this picture:

The Norges Bank explained this change with their useful (and very transparent) “interest rate accounting” bar chart. Observe that a big reason for the rate cut was that foreign interest rates were expected to be lower.

Further evidence is shown in the Norges Bank efforts to use monetary policy rules in their decision-making. As shown in the third graph, their interest rate path is lower than a Taylor Rule without the foreign interest rate and about the same as a policy rule in which the foreign interest rate is added to a Taylor Rule. Whether such adjustments are good or bad was the subject of my keynote address at the conference, but whatever the answer, we should be grateful for their high level of transparency which helps us research the question.

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