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Finance and Economics Discussion Series
The Finance and Economics Discussion Series logo links to FEDS home page Monetary Policy When the Nominal Short-Term Interest Rate is Zero
James Clouse, Dale Henderson, Athanasios Orphanides, David Small, and Peter Tinsley

Abstract: In an environment of low inflation, the Federal Reserve faces the risk that it has not provided enough monetary stimulus even when it has pushed the short-term nominal interest rate to its lower bound of zero. Assuming the nominal Treasury-bill rate has been lowered to zero, this paper considers whether further open market purchases of Treasury bills could spur aggregate demand through increases in the monetary base that may stimulate aggregate demand by increasing liquidity for financial intermediaries and households; by affecting expectations of the future paths of short-term interest rates, inflation, and asset prices; or by stimulating bank lending through the credit channel. This paper also examines the alternative policy tools that are available to the Federal Reserve in theory, and notes the practical limitations imposed by the Federal Reserve Act, The tools the Federal Reserve has at its disposal include open market purchases of Treasury bonds and private-sector credit instruments (at least those that may be purchased by the Federal Reserve); unsterilized and sterilized intervention in foreign exchange; lending through the discount window; and, perhaps in some circumstances, the use of options.

Keywords: Monetary policy, liquidity trap, Federal Reserve Act, open market operations, discount window lending

Full paper (379 KB PDF)

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Last update: November 30, 2000