Financial stress: what is it, how can it be measured, and why does it matter?
Craig S. Hakkio
William R. Keeton
The U.S. economy is currently experiencing a period of significant financial stress. This stress has contributed to the downturn in the economy by boosting the cost of credit and making businesses, households, and financial institutions highly cautious. To alleviate the financial stress and counteract its effects on the economy, the Federal Reserve has reduced the federal funds rate target substantially and undertaken unprecedented actions to support the functioning of financial markets. There will come a point, however, when the Federal Reserve needs to remove liquidity from the economy and unwind special lending programs to ensure a return to sustainable growth with low inflation. ; In past recoveries, the decision when to tighten policy was based mainly on the strength of business and consumer spending and the degree of upward pressure on prices and wages. An additional element in the current exit strategy will be determining if financial stress is no longer high enough to endanger economic recovery. As financial conditions begin to improve, the various measures of financial stress that the Federal Reserve monitors may give mixed signals. In this situation, policymakers would greatly benefit from having a single, comprehensive index of financial stress. Such an index could also prove valuable further down the road, when the Federal Reserve might again need to decide whether financial stress was serious enough to warrant special attention. ; Hakkio and Keeton present a new index of financial stress--the Kansas City Financial Stress Index (KCFSI). They explain how the components of the KCFSI capture key aspects of financial stress and show that high values of the KCFSI have tended to coincide with known periods of financial stress. They also show that the KCFSI provides valuable information about future economic growth.
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