Distinguished Speaker Series : James Bullard

James Bullard, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, spoke to a packed room at the Standard Club on Jan. 16 about Federal Open Market Committee macroeconomic forecasts. His presentation was also transmitted via a live webcast.

The first problem is that all forecasts are required to be based on “appropriate monetary policy assumptions.” But what assumptions are appropriate, asked President Bullard? One could assume that no policy changes occur. Another forecaster could instead include the monetary policy changes that she prefers—and maybe have overly rosy scenarios to show that those policies would work very well. To the contrary, another forecaster could try to incorporate his expectations of the FOMC decisions—and predicting a dire economic situation if he does not agree with the FOMC consensus.

Clearly, there is no perfect way. But this is not an academic endeavor, the speaker emphasized, because these forecasts are necessary to inform monetary policy decisions.

Bullard went over the FOMC forecasts on GDP, inflation, and unemployment for the last few years. There are 12 Fed Presidents and up to seven Governors, providing 19 forecasts. Looking at averages, the FOMC for the last two years got GDP about right, while its forecasts for unemployment were pessimistic and those for inflation too high. The speaker joked that erring on the same side for two years in a row is pretty bad.

The implications for monetary policy, given low inflation and shrinking unemployment, are that there is no change expected to the FOMC rate-raising path because inflation and unemployment balance each other.

Bullard allowed plenty of time for questions. Here is a summary:

  • The FOMC would prefer to arrive at the next recession with a non-zero Fed Funds rate, but if this does not happen they can do another QE. He would prefer to be able to cut rates so he’d rather increase rates in 2015 and if the economy slows down they can always cut.
  • Wages are a lagging indicator because unemployment must move a lot before wages move. Moreover, corporations do not cut wages in recession and therefore are slow in raising wages in expansions.
  • The fall in participation rate is largely explained by demographics. Participation peaked around 2000 and is expected to not increase by a lot.
  • Headline inflation is a better measure than core inflation because food and energy are what people buy every day. If we are concerned about volatility we should use trimmed measures such as the Dallas Fed’s and not exclude stuff that people buy regularly.

Chairman’s Message

I hope you enjoyed a great holiday season, and 2014 was a fulfilling year for your career.  It is the halfway point of CFA Chicago’s fiscal period, which makes a good time for us to review the strategic themes we established in July; and also to tell you about changes underway and upcoming events.

From the staff direction viewpoint, Shannon Curley, CFA, joined us in mid-December as Executive Director of CFA Chicago.  He brings a wealth of financial services knowledge to our organization.  In addition, he has had a distinguished career in the investment management profession.  I encourage you to introduce yourself to him at an upcoming event.

With respect to creating original content for our members, I want to highlight the Career Management Advisory Group’s work.  In particular, Co-Chairs Joan Rockey, CFA, and John Mirante, CFA, and their talented group, have undertaken a long-term project called “Career Map.”  This is an ambitious idea with multiple stages.  Importantly, it is designed to outline the industry jobs and career opportunities in our Chicago market.  Given the mature nature of domestic asset management, creating a taxonomy of companies, industries/asset classes and newly evolving job assignments will have multiple uses, including assisting you in navigating and maximizing your investment career.  More information will be shared as the project develops.  We welcome CFA Chicago members that are interested in participating in this project with the Career Management Group Advisory Group. Sign up today.

Another team pursuing a big agenda is our Education Advisory Group.  Under the direction of Marie Winters, CFA, and Larry Cook, CFA, we will host a Latin American Investment conference this May.  As you know the global nature of our profession warrants our continual search to learn, grow and seek evolving investment opportunities.  I hope you are able to attend this unique, mid-west opportunity to expand your acumen of countries, industries and companies in South America.  I view this single event in the context of a longer term portfolio of seminars which CFA Chicago will pursue over the next decade.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention CFA Institute’s upcoming first Annual Women in Investment Management Conference in San Antonio, June 2015.  Our society has been at the vanguard of advancing women in finance and has made demonstrable progress in this effort. CFA Chicago Vice Chair, Kerry Jordan, CFA, has been instrumental in this endeavor. Among those speaking at the conference will be CFA Chicago Past Chairman Heather Brilliant, CFA, and CFA Chicago Secretary/Treasurer Carmen Heredia-Lopez, CFA.

Lastly, let me acknowledge our Immediate past Chair Gautam Dhingra, CFA, and his wisdom in leading our Governance & Nominating committee.  The work of our Governance & Nominating group is vitally important, and in great hands as we build a future team of leaders.  If you know someone that would make a great leader – or if you’re interested in serving, please review the nomination process and selection criteria and complete the nomination form. To be considered for the 2014-2015 Board of Directors, complete the nomination form before 5:00 p.m. Wed., Jan. 14, 2014.