FRBSF Economic Letters

Economic analysis for a general audience

Thomas Mertens, Patrick Shultz, and Michael Tubbs


Current valuation ratios for U.S. equities and household net worth are high relative to historical benchmarks. The cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio reached its third highest level on record recently, and the ratio of household net worth to disposable income, which includes a broad set of household assets, stands at a record high. Such extreme values of these ratios have historically been followed by reversions toward their long-run averages. However, other current factors, such as low interest rates, caution against bearish forecasts.

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Working Papers

The latest in economic research

Thomas M. Mertens and John C. Williams

This paper analyzes the effects of the lower bound for interest rates on the distributions of expectations for future inflation and interest rates. We use a stylized model economy where the policy instrument is subject to a lower bound to motivate the empirical analysis. Two equilibria emerge: In the “target equilibrium,” policy is unconstrained most or all of the time, whereas in the “liquidity trap equilibrium,” policy is mostly or always constrained. We use options data on future interest rates and inflation to study whether the decrease in the natural rate of interest leads to forecast densities consistent with the theoretical model. We develop a lower bound indicator that captures the effects of the lower bound on the distribution of interest rates. Qualitatively, we find that evidence is largely consistent with the theoretical predictions in the target equilibrium and find no evidence in favor of the liquidity trap equilibrium. Quantitatively, while the lower bound has a sizable effect on the distribution of future interest rates, its impact on forecast densities for inflation is relatively modest.

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