The natural rate of interest (r*) as a reference point for monetary policy - a practitioner's view

May 30, 2024
The natural rate of interest (r*) as a reference point for monetary policy - a practitioner's view, Seoul


Over the past years, the natural rate of interest (r*) - defined as the real interest rate consistent with stable inflation in an economy operating at full capacity in the medium term - has become an important reference point for monetary policy. The difference between the real interest rate and r* gives a measure of a central bank's monetary policy stance. Monetary policy is restrictive if the real interest rate is above r* and it is expansionary if it is below r*. Therefore, evaluating where the real interest rate is relative to r* helps to structure discussions about monetary policy options. 
However, r* is unobserved and has to be estimated from the data. These estimates are subject to considerable uncertainty, which complicates their use in the monetary policy process. Nevertheless, neglecting r* estimates in practical monetary policy considerations would be a mistake.
Given the uncertainty surrounding r* estimates, it is an important task of our economists to form a robust view on r*. They derive this view from a portfolio of different models and cross-check the results against a broader set of indicators to arrive at a measure of r* that is useful for monetary policymaking. This measure plays an important role in our monetary policy decisions. First, it is an important element in assessing monetary conditions. However, other factors - such as real exchange rates - also play an important part in this assessment at the SNB. Second, the deviation of the real interest rate from r* is essential for our inflation forecast and thus for gauging medium-term inflationary pressure. 
Uncertainty surrounding r* estimates can be narrowed down to some extent, but it cannot be eliminated. Our risk management approach to monetary policymaking acknowledges the uncertainty and prescribes that policy decisions be appropriate for a range of scenarios. Ultimately, our decisions are guided by our mandate of ensuring price stability.

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  • Thomas Jordan
    Chairman of the Governing Board

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