Uncertainty and voting in monetary policy committees

Alastair Firrell and Kate Reinold

The right stance for monetary policy is highly uncertain, and so it is no surprise that members of monetary policy committees – like the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) – regularly disagree about the best course of action. Asking a committee to decide allows different opinions to be aired and challenged, with a majority vote needed to determine policy. But how should we expect those disagreements and votes to change in periods of higher uncertainty? Should we expect more 9–0 unanimous votes? Or more 5–4 close contests? We address these questions in this post and find that the degree of disagreement is little changed in periods of high uncertainty, and nor are dissenting votes. There is, however, some difference in how voting decisions are formed when uncertain, with both individual and committee-wide views having less explanatory power for votes.

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Bitesize: What can the MPC minutes tell us about the policymaker’s uncertainty?

Michal Stelmach

Policymaking is invariably uncertain. I created a new index of ‘policymaker’s uncertainty’ based on a textual search of the minutes of the MPC meetings since 1997. The index is constructed by simply calculating the number of references to the word ‘uncertainty’ (and its derivatives, including ‘not certain’ and ‘far from certain’) as a share of the total word count. To avoid double-counting, it also excludes the Monetary Policy Summary that was introduced in 2015. One caveat of this approach is that it doesn’t distinguish instances of low or falling uncertainty from those where uncertainty was high. That aside, this measure can offer a new insight into uncertainty compared to indicators based on media references or business surveys.

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The U Word: What can text analytics tell us about how far uncertainty has risen during 2016?

Alastair Cunningham, David Bradnum and Alastair Firrell.

Uncertainty is a hot topic for economists at the moment.  Have business leaders become more uncertain as a result of the EU referendum?  If so, has that uncertainty had any effect on their plans?   The Bank’s analysts look at lots of measures of economic uncertainty, from complex financial market metrics to how often newspaper articles mention it.  But few of those measures are sourced directly from the trading businesses up and down the country whose investment and employment plans affect the UK economy.  This blog reports on recent efforts to draw out what the Bank’s wide network of business contacts are telling us about uncertainty – comparing what we’re hearing now to trends seen in recent years.

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Tweets, Runs and the Minnesota Vikings

David Bradnum, Christopher Lovell, Pedro Santos and Nick Vaughan.

Could Twitter help predict a bank run? That was the question a group of us were tasked with answering in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum. To investigate, we built an experimental system in just a few days, to collect and analyse tweets in real time. In the end, fears of a bank run were not realised, so the jury is still out on Twitter. But even so we learnt a lot about social media analysis (and a little about American Football) and argue that text analytics more generally has much potential for central banks.

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