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Discussion Paper

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We apply a discrete choice approach to model the empirical behavior of the Federal Reserve in changing the federal funds target rate, the benchmark of short term market interest rates in the US. Our methods allow the explanatory variables to be nonstationary as well as stationary. This feature is particularly useful in the present application as many economic fundamentals that are monitored by the Fed and are believed to affect decisions to adjust interest rate targets display some nonstationarity over time. The empirical model is determined using the PIC criterion (Phillips and Ploberger, 1996; Phillips, 1996) as a model selection device. The chosen model successfully predicts the majority of the target rate changes during the time period considered (1985-2001) and helps to explain strings of similar intervention decisions by the Fed. Based on the model-implied optimal interest rate, our findings suggest that there a lag in the Fed’s reaction to economic shocks and that the Fed is more conservative in raising interest rates than in lowering rates.

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