Mester floats changes to the way Fed makes forecasts

Loretta Mester, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, walks with James McAndrews (L), vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as they arrive for the opening reception of the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming August 21, 2014. REUTERS/David Stubbs (Reuters)

By Jonathan Spicer NEW YORK (Reuters) - A top Federal Reserve policymaker on Thursday painted perhaps the clearest picture yet of how the U.S. central bank should improve the way it forecasts policy changes and economic developments. Loretta Mester, president of the Cleveland Fed and a member of the central bank's communications committee, detailed three "suitable amendments" to widely cited charts that the Fed publishes quarterly showing the expectations of its individual policymakers. The so-called summary of economic projections (SEPs), informally known as the "dots" charts, are often criticized for confusing investors. They show anonymous predictions for economic growth, inflation and unemployment, as well as how high the key federal funds rate will be in coming years. Mester said the Fed should clarify, without naming names, that an individual policymaker made a specific array of predictions. It should also adjust the SEPs to show the degree of uncertainty officials attach to their predictions, she said. Finally, the Fed should somehow highlight the "consensus view" - or the stance of Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other core policymakers - separately from the outlying views. "Although there is a diversity of views on the committee, I believe there is enough common ground to encourage us to seek progress along the lines I am suggesting," Mester, who took the helm in Cleveland in June and is a voter on Fed policy this year, told a Money Marketeers audience of bond traders. "Our efforts will be rewarded because clear communications will lead to better economic outcomes and help make the trip back to normal a smoother ride," she said. The dots charts have been published since January 2012 as part of the Fed's post-crisis transparency push. But they have been criticized for sowing more confusion than clarity because they show a wide array of views that do not always align with the Fed's formal policy statement, or with Yellen's comments. The latest forecasts, published after a September Fed meeting, showed two policymakers recommended near-zero interest rates at the end of next year, one recommended 3 percent, and the rest of the dots were scattered in between. The range is from 0.25 to 4 percent by the end of 2015. That array can confuse investors, companies and individuals trying to predict when borrowing costs will rise. As it stands, financial markets generally expect the first rate rise to come midway through next year. Back in September, Yellen noted that the uncertainty grows as predictions run deeper into the future, and stressed that policy will hinge on how the economy evolves. On Thursday, Mester urged the Fed to clarify how it systematically assesses the economy's progress toward the central bank's dual goals of 2-percent inflation and maximum sustainable employment. Mester also repeated her preference for the Fed's policy statement to clarify that policy changes, including the rate rise, will hinge on the state of the economy and not a calendar date. The statement published last week, endorsed by Mester, said it will be a "considerable time" before a rate hike. (Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)

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