Part 3: Summary of Economic Projections

Monetary Policy Report submitted to the Congress on February 19, 2021, pursuant to section 2B of the Federal Reserve Act

The following material was released after the conclusion of the December 15–16, 2020, meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.

In conjunction with the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting held on December 15–16, 2020, meeting participants submitted their projections of the most likely outcomes for real gross domestic product (GDP) growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation for each year from 2020 to 2023 and over the longer run. Each participant's projections were based on information available at the time of the meeting, together with her or his assessment of appropriate monetary policy—including a path for the federal funds rate and its longer-run value—and assumptions about other factors likely to affect economic outcomes. The longer-run projections represent each participant's assessment of the value to which each variable would be expected to converge, over time, under appropriate monetary policy and in the absence of further shocks to the economy. "Appropriate monetary policy" is defined as the future path of policy that each participant deems most likely to foster outcomes for economic activity and inflation that best satisfy his or her individual interpretation of the statutory mandate to promote maximum employment and price stability.

Table 1. Economic projections of Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents, under their individual assumptions of projected appropriate monetary policy, December 2020

Percent

Variable Median1 Central tendency 2 Range3
2020 2021 2022 2023 Longer
run
2020 2021 2022 2023 Longer
run
2020 2021 2022 2023 Longer
run
Change in real GDP -2.4 4.2 3.2 2.4 1.8 -2.5–-2.2 3.7–5.0 3.0–3.5 2.2–2.7 1.7–2.0 -3.3–-1.0 0.5–5.5 2.5–4.0 2.0–3.5 1.6–2.2
September projection -3.7 4.0 3.0 2.5 1.9 -4.0–-3.0 3.6–4.7 2.5–3.3 2.4–3.0 1.7–2.0 -5.5–1.0 0.0–5.5 2.0–4.5 2.0–4.0 1.6–2.2
Unemployment rate 6.7 5.0 4.2 3.7 4.1 6.7–6.8 4.7–5.4 3.8–4.6 3.5–4.3 3.9–4.3 6.6–6.9 4.0–6.8 3.5–5.8 3.3–5.0 3.5–4.5
September projection 7.6 5.5 4.6 4.0 4.1 7.0–8.0 5.0–6.2 4.0–5.0 3.5–4.4 3.9–4.3 6.5–8.0 4.0–8.0 3.5–7.5 3.5–6.0 3.5–4.7
PCE inflation 1.2 1.8 1.9 2.0 2.0 1.2 1.7–1.9 1.8–2.0 1.9–2.1 2.0 1.1–1.4 1.2–2.3 1.5–2.2 1.7–2.2 2.0
September projection 1.2 1.7 1.8 2.0 2.0 1.1–1.3 1.6–1.9 1.7–1.9 1.9–2.0 2.0 1.0–1.5 1.3–2.4 1.5–2.2 1.7–2.1 2.0
Core PCE inflation 4 1.4 1.8 1.9 2.0   1.4 1.7–1.8 1.8–2.0 1.9–2.1   1.3–1.5 1.5–2.3 1.6–2.2 1.7–2.2  
September projection 1.5 1.7 1.8 2.0   1.3–1.5 1.6–1.8 1.7–1.9 1.9–2.0   1.2–1.6 1.5–2.4 1.6–2.2 1.7–2.1  
Memo: Projected appropriate policy path
Federal funds rate 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 2.5 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1–0.4 2.3–2.5 0.1 0.1 0.1–0.4 0.1–1.1 2.0–3.0
September projection 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 2.5 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1–0.4 2.3–2.5 0.1 0.1 0.1–0.6 0.1–1.4 2.0–3.0

Note: Projections of change in real gross domestic product (GDP) and projections for both measures of inflation are percent changes from the fourth quarter of the previous year to the fourth quarter of the year indicated. PCE inflation and core PCE inflation are the percentage rates of change in, respectively, the price index for personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and the price index for PCE excluding food and energy. Projections for the unemployment rate are for the average civilian unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of the year indicated. Each participant's projections are based on his or her assessment of appropriate monetary policy. Longer-run projections represent each participant's assessment of the rate to which each variable would be expected to converge under appropriate monetary policy and in the absence of further shocks to the economy. The projections for the federal funds rate are the value of the midpoint of the projected appropriate target range for the federal funds rate or the projected appropriate target level for the federal funds rate at the end of the specified calendar year or over the longer run. The September projections were made in conjunction with the meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee on September 15–16, 2020. One participant did not submit longer-run projections for the change in real GDP, the unemployment rate, or the federal funds rate in conjunction with the September 15–16, 2020, meeting, and one participant did not submit such projections in conjunction with the December 15–16, 2020, meeting.

 1. For each period, the median is the middle projection when the projections are arranged from lowest to highest. When the number of projections is even, the median is the average of the two middle projections. Return to table

 2. The central tendency excludes the three highest and three lowest projections for each variable in each year. Return to table

 3. The range for a variable in a given year includes all participants' projections, from lowest to highest, for that variable in that year. Return to table

 4. Longer-run projections for core PCE inflation are not collected. Return to table

Table 2. Average historical projection error ranges

Percentage points

Variable 2020 2021 2022 2023
Change in real GDP1 ±0.8 ±1.5 ±1.9 ±2.0
Unemployment rate 1 ±0.1 ±0.8 ±1.4 ±1.9
Total consumer prices2 ±0.2 ±0.9 ±1.0 ±0.9
Short-term interest rates 3 ±0.1 ±1.4 ±2.0 ±2.4

Note: Error ranges shown are measured as plus or minus the root mean squared error of projections for 2000 through 2019 that were released in the winter by various private and government forecasters. As described in the box "Forecast Uncertainty," under certain assumptions, there is about a 70 percent probability that actual outcomes for real GDP, unemployment, consumer prices, and the federal funds rate will be in ranges implied by the average size of projection errors made in the past. For more information, see David Reifschneider and Peter Tulip (2017), "Gauging the Uncertainty of the Economic Outlook Using Historical Forecasting Errors: The Federal Reserve's Approach," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2017-020 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, February), https://dx.doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2017.020.

 1. Definitions of variables are in the general note to table 1Return to table

 2. Measure is the overall consumer price index, the price measure that has been most widely used in government and private economic forecasts. Projections are percent changes on a fourth quarter to fourth quarter basis. Return to table

 3. For Federal Reserve staff forecasts, measure is the federal funds rate. For other forecasts, measure is the rate on 3-month Treasury bills. Projection errors are calculated using average levels, in percent, in the fourth quarter. Return to table

Beginning with the December 2020 FOMC meeting, all Summary of Economic Projections charts and tables previously released with the minutes of a meeting will be released following the conclusion of an FOMC meeting. That is, the release of the distribution of participants' projections (Figure 3.A.through 3.E.), participants' assessments of uncertainty and risks associated with the projections (Figures 4.A. through 4.C. and Figure 5), and Table 2 and associated box, which describe projection error ranges, have been accelerated by three weeks. Two new exhibits, Figures 4.D. and 4.E., have been added to further enhance the information provided on uncertainty and risks by showing how FOMC participants' assessments of uncertainties and risks have evolved over time.

Forecast Uncertainty

The economic projections provided by the members of the Board of Governors and the presidents of the Federal Reserve Banks inform discussions of monetary policy among policymakers and can aid public understanding of the basis for policy actions. Considerable uncertainty attends these projections, however. The economic and statistical models and relationships used to help produce economic forecasts are necessarily imperfect descriptions of the real world, and the future path of the economy can be affected by myriad unforeseen developments and events. Thus, in setting the stance of monetary policy, participants consider not only what appears to be the most likely economic outcome as embodied in their projections, but also the range of alternative possibilities, the likelihood of their occurring, and the potential costs to the economy should they occur.

Table 2 summarizes the average historical accuracy of a range of forecasts, including those reported in past Monetary Policy Reports and those prepared by the Federal Reserve Board's staff in advance of meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The projection error ranges shown in the table illustrate the considerable uncertainty associated with economic forecasts. For example, suppose a participant projects that real gross domestic product (GDP) and total consumer prices will rise steadily at annual rates of, respectively, 3 percent and 2 percent. If the uncertainty attending those projections is similar to that experienced in the past and the risks around the projections are broadly balanced, the numbers reported in table 2 would imply a probability of about 70 percent that actual GDP would expand within a range of 2.2 to 3.8 percent in the current year, 1.5 to 4.5 percent in the second year, 1.1 to 4.9 percent in the third year, and 1.0 to 5.0 percent in the fourth year. The corresponding 70 percent confidence intervals for overall inflation would be 1.8 to 2.2 percent in the current year, 1.1 to 2.9 percent in the second year, 1.0 to 3.0 percent in the third year, and 1.1 to 2.9 percent in the fourth year. Figures 4.A through figure 4.C illustrate these confidence bounds in "fan charts" that are symmetric and centered on the medians of FOMC participants' projections for GDP growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation. However, in some instances, the risks around the projections may not be symmetric. In particular, the unemployment rate cannot be negative; furthermore, the risks around a particular projection might be tilted to either the upside or the downside, in which case the corresponding fan chart would be asymmetrically positioned around the median projection.

Because current conditions may differ from those that prevailed, on average, over history, participants provide judgments as to whether the uncertainty attached to their projections of each economic variable is greater than, smaller than, or broadly similar to typical levels of forecast uncertainty seen in the past 20 years, as presented in table 2 and reflected in the widths of the confidence intervals shown in the top panels of figures 4.A through 4.C. Participants' current assessments of the uncertainty surrounding their projections are summarized in the bottom-left panels of those figures. Participants also provide judgments as to whether the risks to their projections are weighted to the upside, are weighted to the downside, or are broadly balanced. That is, while the symmetric historical fan charts shown in the top panels of figures 4.A through 4.C imply that the risks to participants' projections are balanced, participants may judge that there is a greater risk that a given variable will be above rather than below their projections. These judgments are summarized in the lower-right panels of figures 4.A through 4.C.

As with real activity and inflation, the outlook for the future path of the federal funds rate is subject to considerable uncertainty. This uncertainty arises primarily because each participant's assessment of the appropriate stance of monetary policy depends importantly on the evolution of real activity and inflation over time. If economic conditions evolve in an unexpected manner, then assessments of the appropriate setting of the federal funds rate would change from that point forward. The final line in table 2 shows the error ranges for forecasts of short-term interest rates. They suggest that the historical confidence intervals associated with projections of the federal funds rate are quite wide. It should be noted, however, that these confidence intervals are not strictly consistent with the projections for the federal funds rate, as these projections are not forecasts of the most likely quarterly outcomes but rather are projections of participants' individual assessments of appropriate monetary policy and are on an end-of-year basis. However, the forecast errors should provide a sense of the uncertainty around the future path of the federal funds rate generated by the uncertainty about the macroeconomic variables as well as additional adjustments to monetary policy that would be appropriate to offset the effects of shocks to the economy.

If at some point in the future the confidence interval around the federal funds rate were to extend below zero, it would be truncated at zero for purposes of the fan chart shown in figure 5; zero is the bottom of the lowest target range for the federal funds rate that has been adopted by the Committee in the past. This approach to the construction of the federal funds rate fan chart would be merely a convention; it would not have any implications for possible future policy decisions regarding the use of negative interest rates to provide additional monetary policy accommodation if doing so were appropriate. In such situations, the Committee could also employ other tools, including forward guidance and asset purchases, to provide additional accommodation.

While figures 4.A through 4.C provide information on the uncertainty around the economic projections, figure 1 provides information on the range of views across FOMC participants. A comparison of figure 1 with figures 4.A through 4.C shows that the dispersion of the projections across participants is much smaller than the average forecast errors over the past 20 years.

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Last Update: March 08, 2021