What Is Forward Guidance?

Forward guidance refers to the communication from a central bank about the state of the economy and likely future course of monetary policy. It is the verbal assurance from a country’s central bank to the public about its intended monetary policy.

Key Takeaways

  • Forward guidance refers to the communication from a central bank about the state of the economy and likely future course of monetary policy.
  • Forward guidance attempts to influence the financial decisions of households, businesses and investors by providing a guidepost for the expected path of interest rates.
  • Forward guidance attempts to prevent surprises that might disrupt the markets and cause significant fluctuations in asset prices.

Understanding Forward Guidance

Forward guidance attempts to influence the financial decisions of households, businesses and investors by providing a guidepost for the expected path of interest rates (to the extent that the central bank can influence those rates). The central bank’s clear messages to the public are one tool for preventing surprises that might disrupt the markets and cause significant fluctuations in asset prices. Forward guidance is a key tool of the Federal Reserve in the United States. Other central banks, such as the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan, use it as well.

In the United States, the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has used forward guidance as one of its major tools since the Great Recession. Through the use of forward guidance, the FOMC communicated it's intent to keep interest rates low for as long as needed in order to improve credit availability and stimulate the economy.

Forward guidance consists of telling the public not only what the central bank intends to do, but what conditions will cause it to stay the course and what conditions will cause it to change its approach. For example, the FOMC in late 2013 and early 2014 said that it would continue to keep the federal funds rate at the lower bound at least until the unemployment rate fell to 6.5% and inflation increased to 2% annually. It also said that reaching these conditions would not automatically lead to an adjustment in Federal Reserve policy. Almost all recent FED chairs, from Bernanke to Yellen to, currently, Powell, have been, or are, strong proponents of forward guidance.

With some sense of where the economy might be headed, individuals, businesses and investors can have greater confidence in their spending and investing decisions, and financial markets may be more likely to function smoothly. For example, if the FOMC indicates that it expects to raise the federal funds rate in six months, potential home buyers might want to get mortgages ahead of a potential increase in mortgage rates.