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How useful are estimated DSGE model forecasts for central bankers?

ABSTRACT Dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) models are a prominent tool for forecasting at central banks, and the competitive forecasting performance of these models relative to alternatives, including official forecasts, has been documented. When evaluating DSGE models on an absolute basis, however, we find that the benchmark estimated mediumscale DSGE model forecasts inflation and GDP growth very poorly, although statistical and judgmental forecasts do equally poorly. Our finding is the DSGE model analogue of the literature documenting the recent poor performance of macroeconomic forecasts relative to simple naive forecasts since the onset of the Great Moderation. Although this finding is broadly consistent with the DSGE model we employ--the model itself implies that especially under strong monetary policy, inflation deviations should be unpredictable--a "wrong" model may also have the same implication. We therefore argue that forecasting ability during the Great Moderation is not a good metric by which to judge models.


Dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models were descriptive tools at their inception. They were useful because they allowed economists to think about business cycles and carry out hypothetical policy experiments in Lucas critique-proof frameworks. In their early form, however, they were viewed as too minimalist to be appropriate for use in any practical application, such as macroeconomic forecasting, for which a strong connection to the data was needed.

The seminal work of Frank Smets and Raf Wouters (2003, 2007) changed this perception. In particular, their demonstration of the possibility of estimating a much larger and more richly specified DSGE model (similar to that developed by Christiano, Eichenbaum, and Evans 2005), as well as their finding of a good forecast performance of their DSGE model relative to competing vector autoregressive (VAR) and Bayesian VAR (BVAR) models, led DSGE models to be taken more seriously by central bankers around the world. Indeed, estimated DSGE models are now quite prominent tools for macroeconomic analysis at many policy institutions, with forecasting being one of the key areas where these models are used, in conjunction with other forecasting methods.

Reflecting this wider use, in recent research several central bank modeling teams have evaluated the relative forecasting performance of their institutions' estimated DSGE models. Notably, in addition to considering their DSGE models' forecasts relative to time-series models such as BVARs, as Smets and Wouters did, these papers consider official central bank forecasts. For the United States, Edge, Michael Kiley, and Jean-Philippe Laforte (2010) compare the Federal Reserve Board's DSGE model's forecasts with alternative forecasts such as those generated in pseudo-real time by time-series models, as well as with official Greenbook forecasts, and find that the DSGE model forecasts are competitive with, and indeed often better than, others. (1) This is an especially notable finding given that previous analyses have documented the high quality of the Federal Reserve's Greenbook forecasts (Romer and Romer 2000, Sims 2002).

We began writing this paper with the aim of establishing the marginal contributions of statistical, judgmental, and DSGE model forecasts to efficient forecasts of key macroeconomic variables such as GDP growth and inflation. The question we wanted to answer was how much importance central bankers should attribute to model forecasts on top of judgmental or statistical forecasts. To do this, we first evaluated the forecasting performance of the Smets and Wouters (2007) model, a popular benchmark, for U.S. GDP growth, inflation, and interest rates and compared these forecasts with those of a BVAR and the Federal Reserve staff's Greenbook. Importantly, to ensure that the same information is used to generate our DSGE model and BVAR model forecasts as was used to formulate the Greenbook forecasts, we used only data available at the time of the corresponding Greenbook forecast (referred to hereafter as "real-time data") and reestimated the model at each Greenbook forecast date.

In line with the results in the DSGE model forecasting literature, we found that the root mean squared errors (RMSEs) of the DSGE model forecasts were similar to, and often better than, those of the BVAR and Greenbook forecasts. Our surprising finding was that, unlike what one would expect when told that the model forecast is better than that of the Greenbook, the DSGE model in an absolute sense did a very poor job of forecasting. The Greenbook and the time-series model forecasts similarly did not capture much of the realized changes in GDP growth and inflation in our sample period, 1992 to 2006. These models showed a moderate amount of nowcasting ability, but almost no forecasting ability beginning with 1-quarter-ahead forecasts. Thus, our comparison is not between one good forecast and another; rather, all three methods of forecasting are poor, and combining them does not lead to much improvement.

This finding reflects the changed nature of macroeconomic fluctuations in the Great Moderation, the period of lower macroeconomic volatility that began in the mid-1980s. For example, James Stock and Mark Watson (2007) have shown that since the beginning of the Great Moderation, the permanent (forecastable) component of inflation, which had earlier dominated, has diminished to the point where the inflation process has been largely influenced by the transitory (unforecastable) component. (Peter Tulip 2009 makes an analogous point for GDP.) Lack of data prevents us from determining whether the forecasting ability of estimated DSGE models has worsened with the Great Moderation. We do, however, examine whether these models' forecasting performance is in an absolute sense poor. We find that it is.

A key point, however, is that forecasting ability is not always a good criterion for judging a model's success. As we discuss in more detail below, DSGE models of the class we consider often imply that under a strong monetary policy rule, macroeconomic forecastability should be low. In other words, when there is not much to be forecasted in the observed outof-sample data, as is the case in the Great Moderation, a "wrong" model will fail to forecast, but so will a "correct" model. Consequently, it is entirely possible that a model that is unable to forecast, say, inflation will nonetheless provide reasonable counterfactual scenarios, which is ultimately the main purpose of the DSGE models.

The paper is organized as follows. Section I describes the methodology behind each of the different forecasts that we will consider, including those generated by the Smets and Wouters (2007) DSGE model, the BVAR model, the Greenbook, and the consensus forecast published by Blue Chip Economic Indicators. We include the Blue Chip forecast primarily because there is a 5-year delay in the public release of Greenbook forecasts, and we want to consider the most recent recession. Section II then describes the data that we use, which, as noted, are those that were available to forecasters in real time, to ensure that the same information is used to generate our DSGE model and BVAR model forecasts as was used to formulate the Greenbook and Blue Chip forecasts. Section III describes and presents the results for our forecast comparison exercises, and section IV discusses these results. Section V considers robustness analysis and extensions, showing in particular that judgmental forecasts have adjusted faster than the others to capture developments during the Great Recession. Section VI concludes.

A contribution of this paper is the construction of real-time datasets using data vintages that match the Greenbook and Blue Chip forecast dates. The appendix describes the construction of these data in detail.2

I. Forecast Methods

In this section we briefly review the four different forecasts that we will later consider. These are a DSGE model forecast, a Bayesian VAR model forecast, the Federal Reserve Board's Greenbook forecast, and the Blue Chip consensus forecast.

I.A. The DSGE Model

The DSGE model that we use in this paper is identical to that of Smets and Wouters (2007), and the description given here follows quite closely that presented in section 1 of Smets and Wouters (2007) and section II of Smets and Wouters (2003). The Smets and Wouters model is an application of a real business cycle model (in the spirit of King, Plosser, and Rebelo 1988) to an economy with sticky prices and sticky wages. In addition to these nominal rigidities, the model contains a large number of real rigidities--specifically, habit formation in consumption, costs of adjustment in capital accumulation, and variable capacity utilization--that ultimately appear to be necessary to capture the empirical persistence of U.S. macroeconomic phenomena.

The model consists of households, firms, and a monetary authority. Households maximize a nonseparable utility function, with goods and labor effort as its arguments, over an infinite life horizon. Consumption enters the utility function relative to a time-varying external habit variable, and labor is differentiated by a union. This assumed structure of the labor market enables the household sector to have some monopoly power over wages. This implies a specific wage-setting equation that, in turn, allows for the inclusion of sticky nominal wages, modeled following Guillermo Calvo (1983). Capital accumulation is undertaken by households, who then rent that capital to the economy's firms. In accumulating capital, households face adjustment costs--specifically, investment adjustment costs. As the rental price of capital changes, the utilization of capital can be adjusted, albeit at an increasing cost.

The firms in the model rent labor (through a union) and capital from households to produce differentiated goods, for which they set prices, which are subject to Calvo (1983) price stickiness. These differentiated goods are aggregated into a final good by different, perfectly competitive firms in the model, and it is this good that is used for consumption and accumulating capital.

The Calvo model in both wage and price setting is augmented by the assumption that prices that are not reoptimized are partially indexed to past inflation rates. Prices are therefore set in reference to current and expected marginal costs but are also determined, through indexation, by the past inflation rate. Marginal costs depend on the wage and the rental rate of capital. Wages are set analogously as a function of current and expected marginal rates of substitution between leisure and consumption and are partially determined by the past wage inflation rate because of indexation. The model assumes, following Miles Kimball (1995), a variant of Dixit-Stiglitz aggregation in the goods and labor markets. This aggregation allows for time-varying demand elasticities, which allows more realistic estimates of price and wage stickiness.

Finally, the model contains seven structural shock variables, equal to the number of observables used in estimation. The model's observable variables are the log difference of real GDP per capita, real consumption, real investment, the real wage, log hours worked, the log difference of the GDP deflator, and the federal funds rate. These series, and in particular their real-time sources, are discussed in detail below.

In estimation, the seven observed variables are mapped into 14 model variables by the Kalman filter. Then, 36 parameters (17 of which belong to the seven autoregressive moving average shock processes in the model) are estimated by Bayesian methods (5 parameters are calibrated). It is the combination of the Kalman filter and Bayesian estimation that allows this large (although technically called a medium-scale) model to be estimated rather than calibrated. In our estimations we use exactly the same priors as Smets and Wouters (2007) as well as the same data series. Once the model is estimated for a given data vintage, forecasting is done by employing the posterior modes for each parameter. The model can produce forecasts for all model variables, but we use only the GDP growth, inflation, and interest rate forecasts.

I.B. The Bayesian VAR Model

The Bayesian VAR is, in its essence, a simple four-lag vector autoregression forecasting model, or VAR(4). The same seven observable series that are used in the DSGE model estimation are used. Having seven variables in a four-lag VAR leads to a large number of parameters to be estimated, which leads to overfitting and poor out-of-sample forecast performance. The solution is the same as for the DSGE model. Priors are assigned to each parameter (we again use those of Smets and Wouters 2007), and the data are used to update these in the VAR framework. Like the DSGE model, the BVAR is estimated at every forecast date using realtime data, and forecasts are obtained by utilizing the modes of the posterior densities for each parameter.

Both the judgmental forecast and the DSGE model have an advantage over the purely statistical model, the BVAR, in that the people who produce the Greenbook and Blue Chip forecasts obviously know a lot more than seven time series, and the DSGE model was built to match the data that are being forecast. That is, judgment also enters the DSGE model in the form of modeling choices. To help the BVAR overcome this handicap, it is customary to have a training sample, that is, to estimate the model with some data and use the posteriors as priors in the actual estimation. Following Smets and Wouters (2007), we also "trained" the BVAR with data from 1955 to 1965, but, in a sign of how different the early and the late parts of the sample are, we found that the trained and the untrained BVARs perform comparably. We therefore report results from the untrained BVAR only.

I.C The Greenbook

The Greenbook forecast is a detailed judgmental forecast that until March 2010 (after which it became known as the Tealbook) was produced eight times a year by staff at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. (3) The schedule on which Greenbook forecasts are produced--and hence the data availability for each round--are somewhat irregular, since the Greenbook is made specifically for each Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, and the timings of FOMC meetings are themselves somewhat irregular. Broadly speaking, FOMC meetings take place at approximately 6-week intervals, although they tend to be further apart at the beginning of the year and closer together at the end of the year. The Greenbook is generally closed about 1 week before the FOMC meeting, to allow FOMC members and participants enough time to review the document. Importantly--and unlike at several other central banks--the Greenbook forecast reflects the view of the staff and not the views of the FOMC members.

Greenbook forecasts are formulated subject to a set of assumed paths for financial variables, such as the policy interest rate, key market interest rates, and stock market wealth. Over time there has been some variation in the way these assumptions are set. For example, as can be seen from the Greenbook federal funds rate assumptions reported in the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's Real-Time Data Set for Macroeconomists, from about the middle of 1990 to the middle of 1992, the forecast assumed an essentially constant path of the federal funds rate. (4) In other periods, however, the path of the federal funds rate has varied, reflecting a conditioning assumption about the path of monetary policy consistent with the forecast.

As with most judgmental forecasts, the maximum projection horizon for the Greenbook forecast is not constant across vintages but varies from 6 to 10 quarters, depending on the forecast round. The July-August round of each year has the shortest projection horizon of any, extending 6 quarters: from the current (third) quarter through the fourth quarter of the following year. In the September round, the staff extend the forecast to include the year following the next in the projection period. Since the third quarter is not yet ended at the time of the September forecast, that quarter is still included in the projection horizon. Thus, the horizon for that round is 10 quarters--the longest for any forecast round. The endpoint of the projection horizon remains fixed for subsequent forecasts until the next JulyAugust round, as the starting point moves forward. In our analysis we consider a maximum forecast horizon of 8 quarters, because the number of observations of forecasts covering 9 and 10 quarters is very small. Of course, the number of observations for forecast horizons of 7 and 8 quarters (which we do consider) will be smaller than the number of observations for horizons of 6 quarters and shorter.

We use the forecasts produced for the FOMC meetings over the period from January 1992 to December 2004. Our start date represents the quarter when GDP, rather than GNP, became the key indicator of economic activity. This is not a critical limitation, since GNP forecasts could be used for earlier vintages. The end date was chosen by necessity: as already noted, Greenbook forecasts are made public only with a 5-year lag. Tables 1 to 13 in the online appendix provide detailed information on the dates of Greenbook forecasts we use and the horizons covered in each forecast. (5) (Appendix table A 1 of this paper provides an example of how these tables look.) Note that the first four Greenbook forecasts that we consider fall during a period when the policy rate was assumed to remain flat throughout the projection period.

I.D. The Blue Chip Consensus Forecast

The Blue Chip consensus forecast is based on a monthly poll of forecasters at approximately 50 banks, corporations, and consulting firms and reports their forecasts of U.S. economic growth, inflation, interest rates, and a range of other key variables. The Blue Chip poll is taken on about the 4th or 5th of the month, and the forecasts are published on the 10th of that month. The consensus forecast, equal to the mean of the individual reported forecasts, is then reported along with averages of the top 10 and the bottom 10 forecasts for each variable. In our analysis we use only the consensus forecast.

As with the Greenbook, the Blue Chip forecast horizons are not constant across forecast rounds; in the case of the Blue Chip, the forecast horizons are uniformly shorter. The longest forecast horizon in the Blue Chip is 9 quarters. This is for the January round, for which a forecast is made for the year just beginning and the next, but since data for the fourth quarter of the previous year are not yet available, that quarter is also "forecast." The shortest forecast horizon in the Blue Chip is 5 quarters. This is for the November and December rounds, for which a forecast is made for the current (fourth) quarter and the following year.

We use the Blue Chip consensus forecasts over the period January 1992 to September 2009. The start date is chosen because it is the same as the start date for the Greenbook, and the end date is 1 year before the conference draft of this paper was written, so that the realized values of forecasted variables are also known.

II. Data and Sample

In this section we provide a brief overview of the data involved in the forecasting process and of our sample period. The appendix provides detail on our sources and information on how the raw data were converted to the form used in estimation.

The data we use for the estimation of the Smets and Wouters DSGE model and the BVAR model are the same seven series used by Smets and Wouters (2007), but only the real-time vintages of each series at each forecast date are used. Our forecast dates coincide with either the dates of Greenbook forecasts or those of the Blue Chip forecasts. That is, at each Greenbook or Blue Chip forecast date, we use only the data that were available as of that date to estimate the DSGE model and the BVAR. (6) We then generate forecasts out to 8 quarters. From the data perspective, the last known quarter is the previous one; therefore the 1-quarter-ahead forecast is the nowcast, and the n-quarter-ahead forecast corresponds to n - 1 quarters ahead, counting from the forecast date. This convention is also followed for the Greenbook and most Blue Chip forecasts. (7)

We evaluate the forecasts for growth in real GDP per capita, inflation as measured by the GDP deflator, and the short-term (policy) interest rate. GDP growth and inflation are expressed in terms of nonannualized, quarter-on-quarter rates, and interest rates are in levels. Our main focus will be on the inflation forecasts, because this is the forecast that is the most comparable across the different forecasting methods. The DSGE model and the BVAR produce continuous (and in very recent periods negative) interest rate forecasts, whereas the judgmental forecasts obviously factor in the discrete nature of interest rate setting and the zero nominal bound. The Blue Chip forecasts do not contain forecasts of the federal funds rate, and hence we cannot perform robustness checks for the interest rate forecast or use the longer sample for this variable.

A more subtle issue concerns GDP growth. The DSGE model is based on per capita values and produces a forecast of growth in GDP per capita, as does the BVAR. On the other hand, GDP growth itself is announced in aggregate, not per capita, terms, and the Greenbook and Blue Chip forecasts are expressed in terms of aggregate growth. Thus, one has to either convert the aggregate growth rates to per capita values by dividing them by realized population growth rates, or convert the per capita values to aggregate forecasts by multiplying them by realized population growth numbers.

The two methods should produce similar results, and the fact that the model uses per capita data should make little difference, as population growth is a smooth series with little variance. However, the population numbers reported by the Census Bureau and used by Smets and Wouters (and in subsequent work by others) have a number of extremely sharp spikes caused by the census picking up previously uncaptured population levels as well as by rebasings of the Current Population Survey. The spikes remain because the data are not revised backward; that is, population growth is assumed to have occurred in the quarter that the previously uncaptured population is first included, not estimated across the quarters over which it more likely occurred.

For this paper we used the population series used by Smets and Wouters in estimating the model, because we discovered the erratic behavior of the series only after our estimation and forecast exercise was complete. (We estimate the model more than 300 times, which took about 2 months, and did not have time to reestimate and reforecast using the better population series.) We note the violence that the unsmoothed series does to the model estimates and encourage future researchers to smooth the population series before using the data to obtain GDP per capita. Here we adjust the DSGE model and BVAR forecasts using the realized future population growth numbers to make them comparable to announced GDP growth rates and judgmental forecasts, but we again note that this is an imperfect adjustment, which likely reduces the forecasting ability of the DSGE model and the BVAR. (8)

We estimate the DSGE and BVAR models with data going back to 1965 and perform the first forecast as of January 1992. Because the Greenbook forecasts are embargoed for 5 years, our last forecast is as of 2004Q4, forecasting out to 2006Q3. There are two scheduled FOMC meetings per quarter, and thus all of our forecasts that are compared with the Greenbook are made twice a quarter. This has consequences for correlated forecast errors, as explained in the next section. For the Blue Chip forecasts, the forecasting period ends in 2010QI, the last quarter for which we knew the realized values of the variables of interest at the time the conference draft of this paper was written. The Blue Chip forecasts are published monthly, and we produce a separate set of real-time DSGE and BVAR model forecasts coinciding with the Blue Chip publication dates.

We should note that our sample period for Greenbook comparisons, 1992 to 2004, is similar but not identical to those used in previous studies of the forecasting ability of DSGE models, such as Smets and Wouters (2007), who use 1990 to 2004, and Edge and others (2010), who use 1996 to 2002. Again, the sample falls within the Great Moderation period, after the long disinflation was complete, and most of the period corresponds to a particularly transparent period of monetary policymaking, during which the FOMC signaled its likely near-term policy actions with statements accompanying releases of its interest rate decisions.

III. Forecast Comparisons

We distinguish between two types of forecast evaluations. Given a variable to be forecasted, x, and its h-period-ahead forecast (made h periods in the past) by method y, [x.sup.h.sub.y], one can compute the RMSE of the real-time forecasts of each model:


Comparing the RMSEs across different forecast methods, a policymaker can then choose the method with the smallest RMSE to use. The RMSE comparison therefore answers the decision theory question: Which forecast is the best and should be used? To our knowledge, all of the forecast evaluations of DSGE models so far (Smets and Wouters 2007, Edge and others 2010, and those mentioned earlier for other countries) have used essentially this metric and concluded that the model forecasts do well.


In figure 1 we show results of this exercise with real-time data and compare the RMSEs of the DSGE model forecasts for inflation and GDP growth with those of the Greenbook and BVAR forecasts at different horizons. This figure, which reports the ratios of the RMSEs from two models, visually conveys a result that Smets and Wouters and Edge and others have shown earlier: except for inflation forecasts at very short horizons (where the Greenbook forecasts are better), the DSGE model forecasts have the lower RMSE for both inflation and growth in all comparisons. The literature has taken this finding both as a vindication of the estimated mediumscale DSGE model, and as evidence that these models can be used for forecasting as well as for positive analysis of counterfactuals and for informing optimal policy.

Although figure 1 does indeed show that the DSGE model has the best forecasting record among the three methods we consider, it offers no clues about how good the "best" is. To further evaluate the forecasts, we first present, in figure 2, scatterplots of the 4-quarter-ahead forecasts (a horizon at which the DSGE model outperforms the Greenbook and BVAR) of inflation and GDP growth from the DSGE model and the realized values of these variables. The better the forecast performance, the closer the observations should fall to the 45-degree line.

Instead figure 2 shows that, for both variables, the points form clouds rather than 45-degree lines, suggesting that the 4-quarter-ahead forecast of the DSGE model is quite unrelated to the realized value. To get the full picture, we run a standard forecast efficiency test (see Gurkaynak and Wolfers 2007 for a discussion of tests of forecast efficiency and further references) and estimate the following equation:

(2) [x.sub.t] = [[alpha].sup.h.sub.y] + [[beta].sup.h.sub.y][x.sup.h.sub.y,t]+[[epsilon].sup.h.sub.y,t].

A good forecast should have an intercept of zero, a slope coefficient of 1, and a high [R.sup.2]. If the intercept is different from zero, the forecast has on average been biased; if the slope differs from 1, the forecast has consistently under- or overpredicted deviations from the mean, and if the [R.sup.2] is low, then little of the variation of the variable to be forecasted is captured by the forecast. Note that especially when the point estimates of [[alpha].sup.h.sub.y] and [[beta].sup.h.sub.y] are different from zero and 1, respectively, the Re is a more charitable measure of the success of the forecast than the RMSE calculated in equation 1, as the errors in equation 2 are residuals obtained from the best-fitting line. That is, a policymaker would make errors of size [[epsilon].sup.h.sub.y,t], only if she knew the values of a [[alpha].suph.sub.y] and [[beta].sup.h.sub.y] and used them to adjust [x.sup.h.sub.y]. The [R.sup.2] that is comparable to the RMSE measures calculated in equation 1 would be that implied by equation 2 with [[alpha].sup.h.sub.y] and [[beta].sup.h.sub.y] constrained to zero and 1, respectively.

Tables 1, 2, and 3 show the estimation results of equation 2 for the DSGE model, BVAR, and Greenbook forecasts of inflation, GDP growth, and interest rates. (9) The tables suggest that forecasts of inflation and GDP growth have been very poor by all methods, except for the Greenbook inflation nowcast. The DSGE model inflation forecasts (table 1) have [R.sup.2]s of about zero for forecasts of the next quarter and beyond, and slope coefficients very far from unity. The DSGE model forecasts of GDP growth (table 2) likewise capture less than 10 percent of the actual variation in growth, and point estimates of the slopes are again far from unity. Again except for the Greenbook nowcast, the results are very similar for the Greenbook and the BVAR forecasts.


All three forecast methods, however, do impressively well at forecasting interest rates (table 3). This is surprising since short-term rates should be a function of inflation and GDP and thus should not be any more forecastable than those two variables, except for the forecastability coming from interest rate smoothing by policymakers. The explanation here is that the interest rate is highly serially correlated, which makes it relative easy to forecast. (Indeed, in our sample the level of the interest rate behaves like a unit root process, as verified by an augmented Dickey-Fuller test not reported here.) (10) Thus, table 3 may be showing long-run cointegrating relationships rather than short-run forecasting ability. We therefore follow Gurkaynak, Brian Sack, and Eric Swanson (2005) in studying the change in the interest rate rather than its level.

Table 4 shows results for forecasts of changes in interest rates by the three methods. These results are now more comparable to those for the inflation and GDP growth forecasts, although in the short run there is higher forecastability in interest rate changes. The very strong nowcasting ability of the Greenbook derives partly from the tact that the Federal Reserve staff know that interest rate changes normally occur in multiples of 25 basis points, whereas, again, the BVAR and the DSGE model produce continuous interest rate forecasts.

Taken together, figure 2 and tables 1 through 4 show that although the DSGE model forecasts are comparable to and often better than the Greenbook and BVAR forecasts, this is a comparison of very poor forecasts with each other. To provide a benchmark for forecast quality, we introduce a forecast series consisting simply of a constant and another that forecasts each variable as a random walk, and we ask the following two questions. First, if a policymaker could have used one of the above three forecasts over the 1992-2006 period, or could have had access to the actual mean of the series over the same period and used that as a forecast (using zero change as the interest rate forecast at all horizons), how would the RMSEs compare? Second, how large would the RMSEs be if the policymaker simply used the last observation available on each date as the forecast for all horizons, essentially treating the series to be forecast as random walks? (11)

The resulting RMSEs are depicted in figure 3. The constant forecast does about as well as the other forecasts, and often better, suggesting that the DSGE model, BVAR, and Greenbook forecasts do not contribute much information. It is some relief that the DSGE model forecast usually does better than the random walk forecast, an often-used benchmark. (12) However, the random walk RMSEs are very large. To put the numbers in perspective, observe that the RMSE of the 6-quarter-ahead inflation forecast of the DSGE model is about 0.22 in quarterly terms, or about 0.9 percent annualized, with a 95 percent confidence interval that is 3.6 percentage points wide. That is not very useful for policymaking.


IV. Discussion

Our findings, especially those for inflation, are surprising given the finding of Christina Romer and David Romer (2000) that the Greenbook is an excellent forecaster of inflation at horizons out to 8 quarters. Figure 4 shows the reason for the difference between their finding and ours. The Romer and Romer sample covers a period when inflation swung widely, whereas our sample--and the sample used in other studies for DSGE model forecast evaluations--covers a period when inflation behaved more like independent and identically distributed (i.i.d.) deviations around a constant. That is, there is little to be forecasted over our sample.

This finding is in line with Stock and Watson's (2007) result that after the Great Moderation began, the permanent (forecastable) component of inflation, which had earlier dominated, diminished in importance, and the bulk of the variance of inflation began to be driven by the transitory (unforecastable) component. It is therefore not surprising that no forecasting method does well. Bharat Trehan (2010) shows that a similar lack of forecastability is also evident in the Survey of Professional Forecasters (SPF) and the University of Michigan survey of inflation expectations. Andrew Atkeson and Lee Ohanian (2001) document that over the period 1984 to 1999, a random walk forecast of 4-quarter-ahead inflation outperforms the Greenbook forecast as well as Phillips curve models. (But our analysis finds that the DSGE model, with a sophisticated, microfounded Phillips curve, outperforms the random walk forecast.) Jeff Fuhrer, Giovanni Olivei, and Geoffrey Tootell (2009) show that this is due to the parameter changes in the inflation process that occurred with the onset of the Great Moderation. For forecasts of output growth, Tulip (2009) documents a notably larger reduction in actual output growth volatility following the Great Moderation relative to the reduction in Greenbook RMSEs, thus indicating that much of the reduction in output growth volatility has stemmed from the predictable component--the part that can potentially be forecast.


David Reifschneider and Tulip (2007) perform a wide-reaching analysis of institutional forecasts--those of the Greenbook, the SPF, and the Blue Chip, as well as forecasts produced by the Congressional Budget Office and the administration--for real GDP (or GNP) growth, the unemployment rate, and consumer price inflation. Although they do not consider changes in forecast performance associated with the Great Moderation, their analysis, which is undertaken for the post-1986 period, finds overwhelmingly that errors for all institutional forecasts are large. More broadly, Antonello D'Agostino, Domenico Giannone, and Paolo Surico (2006) also consider a range of time-series forecasting models, including univariate AR models, factor-augmented AR models, and pooled bivariate forecasting models, as well as institutional forecasts-those of the Greenbook and the SPF--and document that although RMSEs for forecasts of real activity, inflation, and interest rates dropped notably with the Great Moderation, time-series and institutional forecasts also largely lost their ability to improve on a random walk. Jon Faust and Jonathan Wright (2009) similarly note that the performance of some of the forecasting methods they consider improves when data from periods preceding the Great Moderation are included in the sample.

We would argue that DSGE models should not be judged solely by their absolute forecasting ability or lack thereof. Previous authors, such as Edge and others (2010), were conscious of the declining performance of Greenbook and time-series forecasts when they performed their comparison exercises but took as given the fact that staff at the Federal Reserve Board are required to produce Greenbook forecasts of the macroeconomy eight times a year. More precisely, they asked whether a DSGE model forecast should be introduced into the mix of inputs used to arrive at the final Greenbook forecast. In this case relative forecast performance is a relevant point of comparison. Another noteworthy aspect of central bank forecasting is that of "storytelling": not only are the values of the forecast variables important, but so, too, is the narrative explaining how present imbalances will be unwound as the macroeconomy moves toward the balanced growth path. A well-thought-out and much-scrutinized story accompanies the Greenbook forecast but is not something present in reduced-form time-series forecasts. An internally consistent and coherent narrative is, however, implicit in a DSGE model forecast, indicating that these models can also contribute along this important dimension of forecasting.

In sum, what do these findings say about the quality of DSGE models as a tool for telling internally consistent, reasonable stories for counterfactual scenarios? Not much. That inflation will be unforecastable is a prediction of basic sticky-price DSGE models when monetary policy responds aggressively to inflation. Marvin Goodfriend and Robert King (2009) make this point explicitly using a tractable model. If inflation is forecasted to be high, policymakers will increase interest rates and attempt to rein in inflation. If they are successful, inflation will never be predictably different from the (implicit) target, and all of the variation will come from unforecastable shocks. In models lacking real rigidities, the "divine coincidence" will be present, (13) which means that the output gap will have the same property of unforecastability. Thus, it is quite possible that the model is "correct" and therefore cannot forecast cyclical fluctuations but that the counterfactual scenarios produced by the model can still inform policy discussions. (14)

Of course, the particular DSGE model we employ in this paper does not have the divine coincidence, because of the real rigidities it includes, such as a rigidity of real wages due to having both sticky prices and sticky wages. Moreover, because this model incorporates a trade-off between stabilizing price inflation, wage inflation, and the output gap, optimal policy is not characterized by price inflation stabilization, and therefore price inflation is not unforecastable. Nonetheless, price inflation stabilization is a possible policy, which could be pursued even if not optimal, and this would imply unforecastable inflation. That said, this policy would likely not stabilize the output gap, thus implying some forecastability of the output gap. Ultimately, whether and to what extent the model implies forecastable or unforecastable fluctuations in inflation and GDP growth can be learned by simulating data from the model calibrated under different monetary policy rules and performing forecast exercises on the simulated data. We note the qualitative implication of the model that there should not be much predictability, especially for inflation, and leave the quantitative study to future research. Note also that our discussion here has focused on the forecastability of the output gap, not of output growth, which is ultimately the variable of interest in our forecast exercises. Unforecastability of the output gap need not imply unforecastability of output growth.

Finally, we would note that a reduced-form model with an assumed inflation process that is equal to a constant with i.i.d, deviations--in other words, a "wrong" model--will also have the same unforecastability implication. Thus, evaluating forecasting ability during a period such as the Great Moderation, when no method is able to forecast, is not a test of the empirical relevance of a model.

V. Robustness and Extensions

To verify that our results are not specific to the relatively short sample we have used or to the Greenbook vintages we employed, we repeated the exercise using Blue Chip forecasts as the judgmental forecast for the 1992-2010 period. (This test also has the advantage of adding the financial crisis and the Great Recession to our sample.) For this exercise we estimated the DSGE model and the BVAR using data vintages of Blue Chip publication dates and produced forecasts.

For the sake of brevity, we do not show the analogues of the earlier figures and tables but simply note that the findings are very similar when Blue Chip forecasts replace Greenbook forecasts and the sample is extended to 2010. (One difference is that the Blue Chip forecast has nowcasting ability for GDP as well as inflation.) The DSGE model forecast is similar to the judgmental forecast and is better than the BVAR, in terms of RMSEs, at almost all horizons, but all three forecasts are again very poor. (This exercise omits the forecasts of interest rates, since the Blue Chip forecasts do not include forecasts of the overnight rate.) The longer sample allows us to answer some interesting questions and provide further robustness checks.

Although we again use quarter-over-quarter changes and not annual growth rates for all of our variables, overlapping periods in long-horizon forecasting are a potential issue. In figure 5 we show the nonoverlapping, 4-quarter-ahead absolute errors of DSGE model forecasts made in January of each year for the first quarter of the subsequent year. The horizontal lines at -0.25 and 0.25 indicate forecast errors that would be 1 percentage point in annualized terms. Most errors are near or outside these bounds. It is thus clear that our statistical results are not driven by outliers (a fact also visible in figure 2).


To provide a better understanding of the evolution of forecast errors over time, figure 6 shows 3-year rolling averages of RMSEs for 4-quarterahead forecasts, using all 12 forecasts for each year. Not surprisingly, these average forecast errors are considerably higher in the latter part of the sample, which includes the crisis episode. The DSGE model does worse than the Blue Chip forecast once the rolling window includes 2008, for both the inflation and the GDP growth forecasts.


Lastly, we compare the forecasting performance of the DSGE and BVAR models with that of the Blue Chip forecasts during the recent crisis and recession. Figure 7 shows the forecast errors beginning with 4-quarter-ahead forecasts and ending with the nowcast for three quarters: 2007Q4, the first quarter of the recession according to the National Bureau of Economic Research dating; 2008Q3, when Lehman Brothers failed and growth in GDP per capita turned negative; and 2009Q1, when the extent of the contraction became clear (see Wieland and Wolters 2010 for a similar analysis of more episodes). In all six panels in figure 7, the model forecast and the judgmental forecast are close to each other when the forecast horizon is 4 quarters. Although all the forecasts clearly first miss the recession, and then miss its severity, the Blue Chip forecasts in general fare better as the quarter to be forecasted gets closer, and especially when nowcasting.


An interesting point is that the judgmental forecast improves within quarters, especially the nowcast quarter, whereas the DSGE and BVAR model forecasts do not. As the quarter progresses, the DSGE model and the BVAR model have access only to more revised versions of data pertaining to previous quarters. Forecasters surveyed by the Blue Chip survey, however, observe within-quarter information such as monthly frequency data on key components of GDP and GDP prices as well as news about policy developments. Also, the Blue Chip forecasters surely knew of the zero nominal bound, whereas both of the estimated models (DSGE and BVAR) imply deeply negative nominal rate forecasts during the crisis.

It is not very surprising that judgmental forecasts fare better in capturing such regime switches. The DSGE model, lacking a financial sector and a zero nominal bound on interest rates, should naturally do somewhat better in the precrisis period. In fact, that is the period this model was built to explain. But this also cautions us that out-of-sample tests for DSGE models are not truly out of sample as long as the sample is in the period the model was built to explain. The next generation of DSGE models will likely include a zero nominal bound and a financial sector as standard features and will do better when explaining the Great Recession. Their real test will be to explain--but not necessarily to forecast--the first business cycle that follows those models' creation. (15)

VI. Conclusion

DSGE models are very poor at forecasting, but so are all other approaches. Forecasting ability is a nonissue in DSGE model evaluation, however, because in recent samples (over which these models can be evaluated using real-time data) there is little to be forecasted. This is consistent with the literature on the Great Moderation, which emphasizes that not only the standard deviation of macroeconomic fluctuations but also their nature has changed. In particular, cycles today are driven more by temporary, unforecastable shocks.

The lack of forecasting ability is not, however, evidence against the DSGE model. Forecasting ability is simply not a proper metric by which to judge a model. Indeed, the DSGE model's poor recent forecasting record can be evidence in favor of it. Monetary policy was characterized by a strongly stabilizing rule in this period, and the model implies that such policy will undo predictable fluctuations, especially in inflation. We leave further analysis of this point and of the forecasting ability of the model in pre-and post-Great Moderation periods to future work.


Constructing the Real-Time Datasets

In this appendix we discuss how we constructed the real-time datasets that we use to generate all of the forecasts other than those of the Greenbook. To ensure that when we carry out our forecast performance exercises we are indeed comparing the forecasting ability of different methodologies (and not some other difference), it is critical that the datasets and other information that we use to generate our model forecasts are the same as those that were available when the Greenbook and Blue Chip forecasts were generated. For this we are very conscious of the timing of the releases of the data that we use to generate our model forecasts and how they relate to the Greenbook's closing dates and Blue Chip publication dates.

We begin by documenting the data series used in the DSGE model and in the other reduced-form forecasting models. Here relatively little discussion is necessary, since we employ essentially all of the same data series used by Smets and Wouters in estimating their model. We then move on to provide a full account of how we constructed the real-time datasets used to generate the model forecasts. We then briefly explain our construction of the "first final" data, which are ultimately what we consider to be the realized values of real GDP growth and the rate of GDP price inflation against which we compare the forecasts.

Data Series Used

To allow comparability with the results of Smets and Wouters (2007), we use exactly the same data series that they used in their analysis.

Because we will subsequently have to obtain different release vintages for all of our data series (other than the federal funds rate), we need to be very specific about not only which government statistical agency is the source of the data series but also which data release we use.

Four series used in our estimation are taken from the national income and product accounts (NIPA). These accounts are produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and are constructed at quarterly frequency. The four series are real GDP (GDPC), the GDP price deflator (GDPDEF), nominal personal consumption expenditures (PCEC), and nominal fixed private investment (FPI). The variable names that we use, except that for real GDP, are also the same as those used by Smets and Wouters. We use a different name for real GDP because whereas Smets and Wouters define real GDP in terms of chained 1996 dollars, in our analysis the chained dollars for which real GDP is defined change with the data's base year. (In fact, the GDP price deflator also changes with the base year, since it is usually set to 100 in the base year.)

Another series used in our estimation is compensation per hour in the nonfarm business sector (PRS85006103), taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' quarterly Labor Productivity and Costs (LPC) release. The variable name is that assigned to it by the data service (Macrospect) that Smets and Wouters used to extract their data.

Three additional series used in our estimation are taken from the Employment Situation Summary (ESS), which contains the findings of two surveys: the Household Survey and the Establishment Survey. These three series, which are produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and constructed at monthly frequency, are average weekly hours of production and nonsupervisory employees for total private industries (PRS85006023), civilian employment (CE16OV), and civilian noninstitutional population (LNSINDEX). The first of these series is from the Establishment Survey and the other two are from the Household Survey. Since our model is quarterly, we calculate simple quarterly averages of the monthly data.

The final series in our model, the federal funds rate, differs from the others in that it is not revised after the first release. This series is obtained from the Federal Reserve Board's H. 15 release, published every business day, and our quarterly series is simply the averages of these daily data.

We transform all of our data sources for use in the model in exactly the same way as Smets and Wouters:

consumption = ln[(PCEC/GDPDEF)/LNSINDEX] x 100

investment = ln[(FPI/GDPDEF)/LNSINDEX] x 100

output = ln(GDPC/LNSINDEX) x 100

hours = ln[(PRS85006023 x CE 16OV/100)/LNSINDEX] x 100

inflation = ln(GDPDEF/[GDPDEF.sub.-1]) x 100

real wage = ln(PRS85006103/GDPDEF) x 100

interest rate = federal funds rate / 4.

Obtaining the Real-Time Datasets Corresponding to Greenbook Forecasts

Appendix table A I provides for the year 1997 what, in the vertical dimension, is essentially a timeline of the dates of all Greenbook forecasts and all release dates for the data sources that we use and that revise. The horizontal dimension of the table sorts the release dates by data source. The online appendix includes a set of tables for the whole 1992-2004 sample period. From these tables it is reasonably straightforward to understand how we go about constructing the real-time datasets that we use to estimate the models from which we obtain our model forecasts to be compared with the Greenbook forecasts. Specifically, for each Greenbook forecast the table shows the most recent release, or vintage, of each data source at the time that edition of the Greenbook closed. For example, for the June 1997 Greenbook forecast, which closed on June 25, the tables show that the most recent release of NIPA data was the preliminary release of 1997Q1, on May 30, and the most recent release of the LPC data was the final release of 1997Q1, on June 18. (16)

The ESS data require a little more explanation. These are monthly series for which the first estimate of the data is available quite promptly (within a week) after the data's reference period. Thus, for example, the last release of the ESS before the June 1997 Greenbook is that for May 1997, released on June 6. Each ESS release, however, includes not only the first estimate of the preceding month's data (in this case May) but also revisions to the two preceding months (in this case April and March). This means that from the perspective of thinking about quarterly data, the June 6 ESS release represents the second and final revision of 1997Q1 data. (17)

By looking up what vintage of the data was available at the time of each Greenbook, we can construct a dataset corresponding to each Greenbook that contains observations for each of our model variables taken from the correct release vintage. All vintages for 1992 to 1996 (shown in tables 1 to 5 in the online appendix) were obtained from ALFRED, an archive of Federal Reserve economic data maintained by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank. All vintages tot 1997 to 2004 (shown in tables 6 to 13 in the online appendix and, for 1997, in table Al in this paper) were obtained from datasets that since September 1996 have been archived by Federal Reserve Board staff at the end of each Greenbook round.

In the June 1997 example given above, the last observation that we have for each data series is the same: 1997Q1. This will not always be the case. For example, in every January Greenbook round, LPC data are not available for the preceding year's fourth quarter, ESS data are always available, and NIPA data are sometimes available, specifically, only in the years 1992-94. This means that in the January Greenbook for all years other than 1992-94, there is one more quarter of employment data than of NIPA data. This is also the case in the October 2002 and 2003 Greenbooks; all Greenbooks for which this is an issue are marked with a dagger (t) in table Al of this paper and in tables 1 to 13 of the online appendix.

Differences in data availability can also work the other way. For example, in the Greenbooks marked with an asterisk (*) in table A1 of this paper and tables 1 to 13 of the online appendix, there is always one less observation of the LPC data than of the NIPA data. We use the availability of the NIPA data as what determines whether data are available for a given quarter or not. Thus, if we have an extra quarter of ESS data (as we do in the rounds indicated by t), we ignore those data, even those for HOURS, in making our first quarter-ahead forecasts. If instead we have one less quarter of the LPC data (as we do in the rounds indicated by *), we use the Federal Reserve Board staff's estimate of compensation per hour for the quarter, which is calculated based on the ESS's reading of average hourly earnings. This is always available in real time, since the ESS is very prompt. Of course, this raises the question of why (given its timeliness) we do not just use the ESS's estimate for wages (that is, average hourly earnings for total private industry) instead of the LPC's compensation per hour for the nonfarm business sector series. One reason is our desire to stay as close as possible to Smets and Wouters, but another is that real-time data on average hourly earnings in ALFRED extend back only to 1999. Also, there are much more elegant ways to deal with the lack of uniformity in data availability that we face. In particular, the Kalman filter, which is present in our DSGE model, represents one way to make use of data that are available for only some series. We leave this to future work.

Obtaining the Real-Time Datasets Corresponding to Blue Chip Forecasts

Tables 14 though 31 of the online appendix provide a timeline of the dates for all Blue Chip forecasts and the release dates of all our data sources. These tables are exactly analogous to tables 1 to 13 of the online appendix for the Greenbook except that they extend further in time to September 2009, one year before the conference draft of this paper was written. Note also that there are 12 Blue Chip forecasts per year.

As with the Greenbook, there are instances where the last observation in time differs across series. Indeed, this is more frequent for the Blue Chip, because its survey of forecasters occurs at the beginning of the month, close to the time when the ESS is released, whereas the preliminary release of the LPC is usually at the beginning of February, May, August, and November. The timing of the ESS's release means that for every January, April, July, and October edition of the Blue Chip forecasts, there is an extra quarter of employment data that we do not use in the estimation. Again, these rounds are marked with a dagger in tables 14 to 31 of the online appendix. Blue Chip rounds marked with an asterisk denote those for which we have one less quarter of LPC data than of NIPA data. In these cases, however, the LPC data are released only a day or so later, so we make the assumption that forecasters do have these data over the relevant quarters. As with the Greenbook forecast, we use the availability of NIPA data to determine whether data are available for a quarter.

Constructing the First Final Data

The data release tables also give some indication of how we construct the "first final" data series, the series against which the Greenbook, Blue Chip, and model forecasts are evaluated. Every third release of the NIPA data and every second release of the LPC data is marked with an "F," indicating that it is the final release of the data before they are revised in either an annual or a comprehensive revision. For ESS releases, the final release for any quarter is indicated by "r2." This denotes the second revision to the data, which is the last revision before any annual revision or benchmarking is made. Note that even when considering our economic growth forecasts, we are in fact considering real GDP growth per capita, and for this reason we must also pay attention to the "first final" releases of the ESS.

We construct the first final data by simply extracting the first final observation--always the last one--from each final (F) or second revision (r2) vintage. We must, however, extract not the levels of these observations but rather the growth rates. The reason is that whenever there is a comprehensive revision, the base year of real GDP and the GDP price deflator changes, so that if we were to construct our first final series in levels, the series would have large jumps at quarters where a comprehensive revision takes place. Deriving our first final series in growth rates overcomes this problem.
Table A1. Dates of Greenbook Forecasts and NIPA, LPC, and ESS
Releases, 1997 (a)

 Greenbook Greenbook Interim NIPA
Month closed forecast horizon releases

 96Q3(F): 12/20/96
January 1/29/1997 97Q1-98Q4
 96Q4(A): 1/31/97
 96Q4(P): 2/28/97
March 3/19/1997 97Q1-98Q4
 96Q4(F): 3/28/97
 97Q1(A): 4/30/97
 97Q1(A, Err): 5/7/97
May 5/15/1997 97Q2-98Q4
 97Q1(P): 5/30/97
June 6/25/1997 97Q2-98Q4
 97Q1(F): 6/27/97
 97Q2(A): 7/31/97 (c)
August 8/14/1997 97Q3-98Q4
 97Q2(P): 8/28/97
September 9/24/1997 97Q3-99Q4
 97Q2(F): 9/26/97
 97Q3(A): 10/31/97
November 11/6/1997 97Q4-99Q4
 97Q3(P): 11/26/97

December 12/11/1997 97Q4-99Q4

 Interim LPC Interim ESS
Month releases releases (monthly)

 96Dec: 1/10/97 (b)
 96Q4(P): 2/11/97 97Jan: 2/7/97
 96Q4(F): 3/11/97 (c) 97Feb: 3/7/97
 97Q1(P): 5/7/97 97Mar: 4/4/97
 97Apr: 5/2/97

 97Q1(F): 6/18/97 97May: 6/6/97 (d)
 97Q2(P): 8/12/97 (c) 97Jun: 7/3/97
 97Jul: 8/l/97
 97Q2(F): 9/9/97 97Aug: 9/5/97
 97Sep: 10/3/97

 97Q3(P): 11/13/97 970ct: 11/7/97
 97Q3(F): 12/4/97 97Nov: 12/5/97

 Interim ESS
Month releases (quarterly)

 96Q4: 1/10/97
 96Q4(r1): 2/7/97
 96Q4(r2): 3/7/97
 97Q1: 4/4/97
 97Q1(r1): 5/2/97

 97Q1(r2): 6/6/97
 97Q2: 7/3/97
 97Q2(r1): 8/I/97
 97Q2(r2): 9/5/97
 97Q3: 10/3/97

 97Q3(r1): 11/7/97
 97Q3(r2): 12/5/97

Sources: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Bureau of
Economic Analysis, and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(a.) NIPA = national income and product accounts; LPC = Labor
Productivity and Costs: ESS = Employment Situation Summary; A =
advance; P = preliminary; F = final: Err= corrected; r1 and r2, first
and second revisions. Dagger indicates rounds for which one more
quarter of employment data than of NIPA data are available.

(b.) Current Population Survey revisions also released on this date.

(c.) Annual revisions also released on this date.

(d.) Consumer Expenditure Survey revisions also released on this date.

(e.) Revision in response to the NIPA annual revisions
also released on this date.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We are grateful to Burcin Kisacikoglu for outstanding research assistance that went beyond the call of duty. We thank Harun Alp, Selim Elekdag, Jeff Fuhrer, Marvin Goodfriend, Fulya Ozcan, Jeremy Rudd, Frank Smets, Peter Tulip, Raf Wouters, and Jonathan Wright, as well as seminar participants at Bilkent University, the Brookings Panel, the Central Bank of Turkey, the Geneva Graduate Institute, George Washington University, the Johns Hopkins University, Middle East Technical University, and the Paris School of Economics for very useful comments and suggestions. We thank Ricardo Reis, Chris Sims, and the editors for several rounds of detailed feedback, and Volker Wieland and Maik Wolters for allowing us to cross-check our data with theirs. This paper uses Blue Chip Economic Indicators and Blue Chip Financial Forecasts: Blue Chip Economic Indicators and Blue Chip Financial Forecasts are publications owned by Aspen Publishers. Copyright [C] 2010 by Aspen Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are our own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Governors or the staff of the Federal Reserve System.

The authors report no relevant potential conflicts of interest.


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Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System


Bilkent University

(1.) Other examples with similar findings include Adolfson and others (2007) for the Swedish Riksbank's DSGE model and Lees, Matheson, and Smith (2007) for the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's DSGE model. In addition, Adolfson and others (2007) and Christoffel, Coenen, and Warne (forthcoming) examine out-of-sample forecast performance for DSGE models of the euro area. although the focus of these papers is much more on technical aspects of model evaluation.

(2.) All of the data used in this paper, except the Blue Chip median forecasts, which are proprietary, are available at

(3.) The renaming of the Federal Reserve Board's main forecasting document in early 2010 reflected a reorganization and combination of the original Greenbook and Bluebook. Throughout this paper we will continue to refer to the Federal Reserve Board's main forecasting document as the Greenbook.

(4.) See www.

(5.) Online appendices to papers in this issue may be found on the Brookings Papers webpage ( under "Conferences and Papers."

(6.) See the appendix for exceptions. In a few instances, one of the variables from the last quarter had not yet been released on a Greenbook forecast date. In these instances we help the DSGE and BVAR forecasts by appending the Federal Reserve Board staff backcast of that data point to the time series. We verify that doing so does not influence our results by dropping these forecast observations from our analysis and rerunning our results.

(7.) The exceptions for the Blue Chip forecasts are the January, April, July, and October forecasts. These typically take place so early in the quarter that few or no data for the preceding quarter are available. For these forecasts the previous quarter is considered the nowcast.

(8.) We also experimented with converting the realized aggregate GDP growth numbers and Blue Chip forecasts to per capita values using the realized population growth rates, and converting the Greenbook GDP growth forecast into per capita values by using the Federal Reserve Board staffs internal population forecast. This essentially gives Blue Chip forecasts perfect foresight about the population component of GDP per capita, which improves their forecasting considerably because the variance of the population series is high, and weakens the Greenbook GDP forecast considerably because the Federal Reserve staff's population growth estimate is a smooth series. These results are available from the authors upon request.

(9.) The standard errors reported are Newey-West standard errors for 2h lags, given that there are two forecasts made in each quarter. Explicitly taking into account the clustering at the level of quarters (since forecasts made in the same quarter may be correlated) made no perceptible difference. Neither did using only the first or the second forecast in each quarter.

(10.) Although nominal interest rates cannot theoretically be simple unit-root processes because of the zero nominal bound, they can be statistically indistinguishable from unit-root processes in small samples and pose the same econometric difficulties.

(11.) In the random walk forecasts we set the interest rate change forecasts to zero. That is+ in this exercise the assumed policymaker treats the level of the interest rate as a random walk.

(12.) We also looked at how the DSGE model forecast RMSEs compare statistically with other forecast RMSEs (results available from the authors upon request). Results of Diebold-Mariano tests show that for inflation, the RMSE of the DSGE model is significantly lower than those of the BVAR and the random walk forecasts for most maturities, is indistinguishable from the RMSE of the Greenbook. and is higher than that of the constant forecast for some maturities: for GDP growth the DSGE model RMSE is statistically lower than those of the BVAR and the random walk forecasts and is indistinguishable from the RMSEs of the Greenbook and the constant forecasts.

(13.) The divine coincidence (see Blanchard and Gal/2007 for the first use of this term in print) refers to a property of New Keynesian models in which stabilizing inflation is equivalent to stabilizing the output gap, defined as the gap between actual output and the natural rate of output.

(14.) However, see Gall(2010) about the difficulties inherent in generating counterfactual scenarios using DSGE models.

(15.) A promising avenue of research is adding unemployment explicitly to the model, as in Gall, Smets, and Wouters (2010). This will likely help improve the model forecasts, as Stock and Watson (2010) show that utilizing an unemployment gap measure helps improve forecasts of inflation in recession episodes.

(16.) Until last year the three releases in the N|PA were called the advance release, the preliminary release, and the final release. Thus, the preliminary release described above is actually the second of the three. Last year, however, the names of the releases were changed to the first release, the second release, and the final release. We refer to the original names of the releases in this paper. Note also that there are only two releases of the LPC for each quarter. These are called the preliminary release and the final release.

(17.) Of course, the release also contains two-thirds of the data for 1997Q2, but we do not use this information at all. This is reasonably standard practice.
Table 1. Inflation Forecast Accuracy: DSGE, BVAR, and Greenbook (a)

 Quarters ahead

Forecast 1 2 3 4

DSGE model
Slope 0.451 ** 0.089 0.031 0.209
 (0.108) (0.149) (0.250) (0.261)
Intercept 0.261 ** 0.421 ** 0.446 ** 0.363 **
 (0.051) (0.082) (0.122) (0.128)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.13 0.00 0.00 0.02

BVAR model
Slope 0.472 ** 0.205 0.224 * 0.209
 (0.096) (0.133) (0.104) (0.121)
Intercept 0.216 ** 0.344 ** 0.322 ** 0.329 **
 (0.052) (0.091) (0.066) (0.085)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.17 0.03 0.04 0.04

Slope 0.642 ** 0.288 0.268 0.209
 (0.084) (0.161) (0.188) (0.245)
Intercept 0.138 ** 0.322 ** 0.332 ** 0.369 **
 (0.048) (0.091) (0.106) (0.130)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.48 0.08 0.05 0.02

 Quarters ahead

Forecast 5 6

DSGE model
Slope 0.167 0.134
 (0.216) (0.174)
Intercept 0.386 ** 0.398 **
 (0.112) (0.112)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.01 0.01

BVAR model
Slope 0.062 -0.033
 (0.094) (0.119)
Intercept 0.430 ** 0.497 **
 (0.069) (0.097)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.00 0.00

Slope -0.007 -0.386
 (0.306) (0.253)
Intercept 0.477 ** 0.657 **
 (0.157) (0.136)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.00 0.06

Source: Authors' regressions.

(a.) Sample size is 104 observations in all regressions. Standard
errors are in parentheses. Asterisks indicate statistical significance
at the ** 1 percent or the * 5 percent level.

Table 2. GDP Growth Forecast Accuracy: DSGE, BVAR, and Greenbook (a)

 Quarters ahead

Forecast l 2 3 4

DSGE model
Slope 0.374 * 0.485 0.477 0.507
 (0.174) (0.249) (0.321) (0.303)
Intercept 0.419 * 0.313 0.331 0.299
 (0.206) (0.292) (0.362) (0.346
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.08 0.09 0.07 0.08

BVAR model
Slope 0.041 -0.057 0.094 0.082
 (0.130) (0.136 (0.143) (0.135)
Intercept 0.784 ** 0.894 ** 0.735 ** 0.754 **
 (0.160) (0.196) (0.198) (0.189)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.00 0.00 0.01 0.01

Slope 0.641 ** 0.260 -0.081 -0.115
 (0.172) (0.339) (0.287) (0.318)
Intercept 0.561 ** 0.721 ** 0.875 ** 0.893 **
 (0.102) (0.179) (0.162) (0.181)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.13 0.01 0.00 0.00

 Quarters ahead

Forecast 5 6

DSGE model
Slope 0.485 0.553
 (0.312) (0.279)
Intercept 0.320 0.284
 (0.344) (0.311)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.07 0.06

BVAR model
Slope 0.110 0.037
 (0.146 (0.206)
Intercept 0.713 ** 0.815 **
 (0.205) (0.263)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.01 0.00

Slope -0.416 -0.001
 (0.359) (0.422)
Intercept 1.015 ** 0.852 **
 (0.195) (0.233)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.02 0.00

Source: Authors' regressions.

(a.) Sample size is 104 observations in all regressions. Standard errors
are in parentheses. Asterisks indicate statistical significance at
the ** 11 percent or the * 5 percent level.

Table 3. Interest Rate Forecast Accuracy: DSGE, BVAR, and Greenbook (a)

 Quarters ahead

Forecast l 2 3 4

DSGE model
Slope 1.138 ** 1.286 ** 1.373 ** 1.385 **
 (0.031) (0.085) (0.181) (0.305)
Intercept -0.149 ** -0.308 ** -0.427 ** -0.483
 (0.027) (0.068) (0.153) (0.289)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.95 0.83 0.66 0.48

BVAR model
Slope 0.924 ** 0.888 ** 0.867 ** 0.852 **
 (0.020) (0.041) (0.076) (0.126)
Intercept 0.056 ** 0.067 0.056 0.037
 (0.020) (0.036) (0.064) (0.117)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.96 0.87 0.74 0.60

Slope 0.993 ** 0.962 ** 0.904 ** 0.829 **
 (0.006) (0.025) (0.057) (0.098)
Intercept 0.001 0.012 0.049 0.112
 (0.006) (0.025) (0.056) (0.096)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 1.00 0.96 0.87 0.72

 Quarters ahead

Forecast 5 6

DSGE model
Slope 1.381 ** 1.324 *
 (0.416) (0.538)
Intercept -0.528 -0.512
 (0.422) (0.582)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.35 0.24

BVAR model
Slope 0.828 ** 0.807 **
 (0.191) (0.262)
Intercept 0.031 0.025
 (0.195) (0.281)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.47 0.35

Slope 0.735 ** 0.614 **
 (0.148) (0.194)
Intercept 0.200 0.316
 (0.150) (0.205)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.54 0.36

Source: Authors' regressions.

(a.) Sample size is 104 observations in all regressions. Standard errors
are in parentheses. Asterisks indicate statistical significance at
the ** 1 percent or the * 5 percent level.

Table 4. Accuracy in Forecasting Changes in Interest Rates: DSGE,
BVAR, and Greenbook (a)

 Quarters ahead

Forecast 1 2 3 4

DSGE model
Slope 0.498 ** 0.453 * 0.560 * 0.862 *
 (0.121) (0.173) (0.240) (0.411)
Intercept -0.012 -0.009 -0.017 -0.029
 (0.016) (0.019) (0.023) (0.028)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.15 0.11 0.11 0.17

BVAR model
Slope 0.724 ** 0.978 ** 1.202 * 1.064 *
 (0.133) (0.274) (0.459) (0.489)
Intercept -0.018 -0.027 -0.044 -0.043
 (0.014) (0.019) (0.028) (0.033)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.30 0.17 0.16 0.16

Slope 1.052 ** 1.191 ** 0.986 ** 0.588
 (0.030) (0.144) (0.212) (0.358)
Intercept -0.006 -0.022 -0.023 -0.011
 (0.003) (0.013) (0.022) (0.023)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.96 0.50 0.14 0.03

 Quarters ahead

Forecast 5 6

DSGE model
Slope 1.127 * 1.003
 (0.473) (0.507)
Intercept -0.041 -0.034
 (0.031) (0.031)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.20 0.12

BVAR model
Slope 1.025 * 1.040 *
 (0.476) (0.482)
Intercept -0.040 -0.038
 (0.033) (0.033)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.17 0.18

Slope 0.423 -0.279
 (0.215) (0.333)
Intercept -0.006 0.005
 (0.024) (0.022)
Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.02 0.01

Source: Authors' regressions.

(a.) Sample size is 104 observations in all regressions. Standard
errors are in parentheses. Asterisks indicate statistical
significance at the ** 1 percent or the a * 5 percent level.

Comments and Discussion


Ricardo Reis (1) Progress in the study of short-run economic fluctuations seems to come in three stages. First, macroeconomists become excited by the arrival of a new theoretical approach, a new set of principles to organize knowledge, or some new modeling tools. Second come the refiners, who explore how to apply the idea to an increasing number of markets and to tease out all of its implications. Third, a synthesis emerges, bringing together the progress in different areas into one large model that tries to capture many features of an aggregate economy. This last stage is always technically challenging and involves considerable ingenuity at fine tuning models to match the subtleties of the data.

One example of this evolution is the progress from Keynes's ideas on the role of aggregate demand, disequilibrium, and rigidities, to the refining work on the investment accelerator, the consumption function, money demand, and the Phillips curve, finally leading to the synthesis of these ideas in the large-scale MPS and Brookings models. Similarly, over the last 30 years, the ideas of Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott (1982) and Gregory Mankiw and David Romer (1991) were applied and refined, culminating in the 2000s in the dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) synthesis of Lawrence Christiano, Martin Eichenbaum, and Charles Evans (2005) and Frank Smets and Raf Wouters (2003). For a subgroup of macroeconomists, work in the last few years has been solidly in the third, synthesis stage.

The DSGE approach has never lacked for criticism (for a recent critique, see Caballero 2010), but until recently these models seemed successful at empirically matching business cycle facts and producing short-run forecasts that were as good as those from vector autoregressions (VARs). However,

the Great Recession dealt this body of work a heavy blow. The models not only failed to predict the crisis but also were unable to provide an interpretation of the events after the fact, because for the most part they omitted a financial sector. It is too early to tell whether this failure will lead to this class of DSGE models being refined or abandoned, but already it is clear that their empirical performance must be judged more carefully.

This is what Rochelle Edge and Refet Gurkaynak set out to do in this paper: to reassess empirically the forecasting performance of the Smets and Wouters DSGE model. They explore how this model would have forecasted, from 1 to 8 quarters ahead, movements in inflation, output growth, and interest rates between 1997 and 2006. Importantly, they do not give the model the unfair advantage of 20-20 hindsight. In 2000Q1, for example, their fictional econometrician produces estimates and forecasts using only the data available at the time.

The conclusions of their exercise are surprising, at least to this reader. On the positive side, the DSGE model's forecasts beat those from a Bayesian VAR as well as the Greenbook forecasts compiled by the staff of the Federal Reserve, and its forecasts are precise, as demonstrated by their small root mean squared errors (RMSEs). On the negative side, the forecasts themselves are terrible, worse than a simple naive forecast of constant inflation (or constant output growth), and worse than a forecast that simply assumes that inflation equals its last available observation. In addition, the model's low RMSEs are much less impressive once one realizes that the variance of inflation was also quite small during this period. Rather, the forecasting power is close to zero, and trying to improve the forecasts through some second-stage "cleaning" regressions makes almost no difference.

Contemplating this outcome, the authors see the glass as half full. They argue that according to the model, if monetary policy was effective, then inflation should be difficult to predict and should have a low variance. I am considerably more skeptical of this point of view in light of the events of the last 2 years. Inflation and output growth have not been stable since 2008, but rather have fallen quite dramatically. At the same time, the model's forecast errors for 2008-10 are large and persistent, as figures 5 and 6 of the paper demonstrate. If the authors' explanation is correct, these two facts would have been highly unlikely, unless monetary policy suddenly became particularly ineffective during these last 2 years. I would argue instead that larger shocks during this period simply exposed the model's faults.

Beyond this general assessment, I will offer two comments on the paper, as well as on the broader literature on DSGEs and forecasting. First, I will quibble somewhat with the authors' methodology, in particular with their peculiar mix of Bayesian and frequentist elements. Second, I will argue more generally that by setting themselves the goal of unconditional forecasting of aggregate variables, macroeconomists are setting such a high bar that they are almost sure to fail. Instead I will argue, through reference to a practical example, that DSGE models can be useful at making predictions even when they fail at making forecasts.

FORECASTING METHODOLOGY. The problem of estimation and forecasting with a DSGE model (or indeed with most models) can be expressed in the following setup. Assume that a researcher has a model or structure, S, that postulates some relationships among variables. The model has a vector of parameters, [theta], and some prior information is available about what their values might be, captured in a probability density function p([theta]|S). The sample of data that one is trying to explain at some date t, including current and past observations of many variables, is denoted by [y.sub.t], and its density is p(y, |S). Finally, the likelihood of having observed these data is the density L([y.sub.t]|S,[theta]), which is typically known and easy to calculate given certain assumptions about the normality of the distribution of shocks.

Edge and Gurkaynak use Bayes's rule to estimate the parameters:

(1) p([theta]|[y.sub.t],S) = L([y.sub.t]|S, [theta])p([theta]|S/p([y.sub.t]|S).

The output is a posterior density that reflects the uncertainty about the parameters through the whole posterior distribution. Although conceptually simple, this estimation work can be computationally exhausting. Fortunately, there has been much progress on algorithms in this area, as evidenced by the fact that Edge and Gurkaynak's paper contains more than 300 estimates of the model for different subsamples.

BAYESIAN ESTIMATION BUT NOT BAYESIAN FORECASTING. When it comes to forecasting, the authors take a distinctly non-Bayesian approach. First, they pick the mode of the posterior density at a date t: [[theta].sup.*.sub.t] = arg [max.sub.[theta]] p([phi]|[y.sub.t], S). Next, they use the model's law of motion to obtain the probability density for the variable to be forecasted j periods ahead: p([y.sub.1+j]|[y.sub.t], S, [[theta].sup.*]). Finally, they take the average over this density to represent their model forecast as an expectation:

(2) [m.sub.t+j] ([[theta].sup.*],S) = [integral] ([y.sub.t+j] p([y.sub.t+j]| [y.sub.t], S, [[theta].sup.*.sub.t])[dy.sub.t+j].

The common approach when taking a frequentist perspective is to take the mode of the density (akin to the maximum-likelihood estimator) and produce the unbiased point forecast. But this is unnatural to the Bayesian, who is careful to take into account parameter uncertainty in the estimation stage, and so does not want to ignore it by focusing on the mode when it comes to forecasting. Likewise, it is awkward for a Bayesian to focus on one average forecast rather than report that there is a distribution of possible forecasts, each with some probability of occurring.

As I see it, asked what the model predicts for inflation or output j periods out, the Bayesian forecaster would perform the following computation:

(3) b([y.sub.t+j]|[y.sub.t], S) = [integral] p([y.sub.t+j]|[y.sub.t], S, [[theta].sup.*.sub.t])p([theta]|[y.sub.t], S)d[theta].

That is, she would consider both the uncertainty about the future due to the possible arrival of shocks, captured as a density, p([y.sub.t+j]|[y.sub.t], S, [theta]), and the uncertainty on the parameter estimates, captured as a posterior, p([theta]|[y.sub.t], S). Instead of producing a single average forecast, the Bayesian forecaster would integrate over all the possible parameter combinations, [theta], and report not a single number but rather a density function of possible forecasts, b([y.sub.t+j]|[y.sub.t], S), given the current data and the model at hand. To assess whether the model is good at forecasting, this econometrician might then ask, How often does the actual realization of [y.sub.t+j] fall within the interquartile range of its prediction, b[y.sub.t+j]|[y.sub.t], S)? If this happens much less often than 75 percent of the time, then the model is not giving good forecasts.

WHAT IS IN THE MODEL, WHAT IS IN THE PARAMETERS? Another difficulty with the authors' methodology is that although they try very hard to keep future information from influencing their past forecasts, one can only push this pseudo-forecasting exercise so far. The authors are careful to try to use only data available up to date t to produce forecasts for date t + j. This care is evident in two ways. First, the forecast, [m.sub.t+j]([[theta].sup.*.sub.t], S), depends on the posterior estimate of parameters, [[theta].sup.*.sub.t], which used only data up to date t. Second, the data are not the revised data that we have today for that period, but rather the data that forecasters had available at the time.

However, Edge and Gurkaynak use the model structure S at all dates, as given to them by Smets and Wouters (2007). As the opening paragraph of Smets and Wouters (2003) makes clear, this structure did not arise purely from theory. Rather, it assumes a particular utility function with a very peculiar habit term and a very specific law of motion. The Smets and Wouters model assumes adjustment costs for some actions but not for others, and it has sporadic updating, not of prices, but of prices relative to a backward-looking index. All of these elements and more arose because the Smets and Wouters model is the result of an iterative process between theorists and the data over the previous 20 years. Thus, even if the authors' estimates of the parameters in 1992Q1 use only information available then, the structure brought to the data was arrived at by researchers looking continuously at the data all the way into the 2000s and adjusting that structure to improve its fit and forecasting performance.

Moreover, the distinction between S and [theta] is ultimately arbitrary. The Smets and Wouters model has a Cobb-Douglas production function (the S) for which the parameter is the labor share (the [theta]). But one can also see this as a production function with a constant elasticity of substitution (the S) and with the labor share and this elasticity of substitution (the [theta]) as parameters. Researchers used data covering all of the sample to agree on a strict prior that the elasticity of substitution is exactly equal to 1, and this knowledge has become embedded in the structure of the model, transitioning from [theta] to S. In short, Edge and Gurkaynak make forecasts from the perspective of the 1990s using the structure S that researchers arrived at from interacting with the data in the 2000s.

THE HIGH, AND PERHAPS UNREALISTIC, EXPECTATIONS OF MACROECONOMISTS. Turning more generally to the goal of the broad literature that uses DSGE models in forecasting, I wonder whether macroeconomists are being unrealistically ambitious. At the same session of the Brookings Panel conference at which Edge and Gurkaynak presented this paper, two other papers were presented. In one, Thomas Dee and Brian Jacob build a regression model of educational outcomes to identify the effects of the No Child Left Behind policy. In the other, Gary Gorton and Andrew Metrick offer a theory of the role of shadow banks in the financial system and use it to justify a form of regulation. One could ask the authors of both papers, What are your unconditional forecasts for student achievement and total financial assets, respectively, in the United States for 2010-12?

If one attempted, literally, to use the models in those papers to make such forecasts, the results would likely be terrible. But it is not hard to guess that the authors would be puzzled that I would even be asking the question, and almost surely they would not endorse the forecasts thus arrived at. Nor, I would venture, would most, if not all, labor and financial economists. Most economists write models to capture some particular trade-offs and to make some limited predictions about what would happen if a particular policy were followed. To many economists, it is hard to imagine that one could know enough about any given market to make the type of unconditional forecasts sought in the question posed in the previous paragraph.


Some macroeconomists, however, do not shy away from producing unconditional forecasts. On the one hand, this is puzzling, If anything, our ability to forecast many aggregate variables at once is likely smaller than our ability to forecast outcomes in particular education or financial markets. On the other hand, it is understandable that macroeconomists produce these forecasts because there is an enormous demand for them from policymakers and the public at large. One consequence of this ambition to produce unconditional forecasts is that, with some regularity, the forecasts fail, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Forecasting is, simply put, a very hard thing to do.

PREDICTION INSTEAD OF FORECASTING. Even if unconditional forecasting may be too hard a task, a model can still make sharp predictions that are useful to policymakers. As an interesting illustration, consider the challenge facing the Federal Reserve at the start of 2001Q3. The economy was hit by a shock that economists did not predict (and, I would add, should not have predicted): the September 11 terrorist attacks. Imagine that the Federal Reserve at the time was using the Smets and Wouters model estimated by Edge and Gurkaynak to consider two possible policy responses to this shock. One response would be to ignore the shock, keeping to the same course of action as planned beforehand. This is displayed in my figure 1 as the forecasted path for nominal interest rates before the terrorist attack. The other response would be to cut nominal interest rates aggressively. This is captured in the figure by the actual path of interest rates that the Federal Reserve followed. Figure 2 shows the effect of the two policies for inflation, and figure 3 for GDP. I obtained these by substituting the differences between the two paths in figure 1 and treating those as innovations that were then fed through the model. Because the solved Smets and Wouters model is linear, this delivers the right partial effect from considering what discretionary policy response to follow.


The model predicts that by aggressively cutting interest rates, the Federal Reserve generated higher inflation throughout the next 2 years, cumulating to a difference of almost 0.3 percentage point. That implies that whereas actual inflation in the United States was 0.3 percent in 2003Q2, if the Federal Reserve had not reacted to the shock, it would have been close to zero. Similarly, according to the model, GDP growth, instead of being close to zero between 2001Q3 and 2003Q2, would have been between -0.2 and -0.3 percent for most of 2002 and 2003.

This is the type of prediction that, I would conjecture, policymakers want from a model. It answers the following question: If some policy course is followed, what will happen? Moreover, the DSGE model can confidently answer two further questions. First, why is the model predicting this? The impulse responses to monetary policy shocks in the model, and the trade-offs that agents face within it, provide a clear answer to this question. Second, how confident can we be about these predictions? This could be easily assessed by using the Bayesian approach I described in the previous section, rather than taking the modal estimate as I did for these plots.


This is where DSGE models excel. Indeed, few other types of models in economics can compete with them at answering these types of questions. DSGE models allow the researcher to provide precise quantitative predictions, to quantify the uncertainty around them, and to attach to the forecasts an internally coherent economic narrative. Considering more alternative scenarios is easy within the model, and more broadly, the information presented this way can be supplemented with that from other models as well as other subjective inputs.

If the models are going to be used this way, then one would like to know how good these predictions are. Unconditional forecasts do not answer this question, even if they give a strong hint (and the poor performance of the forecasts found by the authors suggests that the predictions may not be very trustworthy). As an alternative, researchers can (and do) compare the model's predictions with identified impulse responses from VARs or from natural experiments. Or they can use individual studies of the different mechanisms that the model is synthesizing, to see if the different parts of the story hold up on their own. I hope that more effort will go into refining the tests of models along this dimension. This would help in judging other DSGE models as well as in ultimately deciding whether the whole DSGE research agenda is useful.


Caballero, Ricardo J. 2010. "Macroeconomics after the Crisis: Time to Deal with the Pretense-of-Knowledge Syndrome." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 4: 85-102.

Christiano, Lawrence J., Martin Eichenbaum, and Charles L. Evans. 2005. "Nominal Rigidities and the Dynamic Effects of a Shock to Monetary Policy." Journal of Political Economy 113: 1-45.

Kydland, Finn E., and Edward C. Prescott. 1982. "Time to Build and Aggregate Fluctuations." Econometrica 50, no. 6: 1345-70.

Mankiw, N. Gregory, and David Romer. 1991. New Keynesian Economics, vols. 1 and 2. MIT Press.

Smets, Frank, and Raf Wouters. 2003. "An Estimated Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium Model of the Euro Area." Journal of the European Economic Association 1, no. 5: 1123-75.

--. 2007. "Shocks and Frictions in US Business Cycles: A Bayesian DSGE Approach." American Economic Review 97, no. 3: 586-606.

(1.) I am grateful to Betsy Feldman, Dylan Kotliar, and Benjamin Mills for comments.


CHRISTOPHER A. SIMS It is important from time to time to look at the forecasting records of models used for policy analysis. This is how forecasters and users of models learn which ones are more reliable and discover ways to improve model specifications. Doing these evaluations is harder than it might appear. Data revisions are of the same order of magnitude as forecast errors, so it is essential to take a consistent view of what is to be forecast and to make sure that forecasts being compared are based on the same data. This is a formidable task if done carefully, and this paper by Rochelle Edge and Refet Gurkaynak has indeed done it carefully.

The paper says that the forecasts of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models, like the other forecasts it considers, have been "poor" and "not very useful for policymaking" and that the DSGE model forecasts "do not contribute much information." But there is in fact no support for these conclusions in the data the paper displays.

The only way to justify a claim that a forecast is poor is to show that some other feasible way to forecast was, or would have been, better. The period covered by most of the authors' tables and figures, running through 2006, was one of unusual macroeconomic stability. Previous studies of forecast accuracy have shown that the margin of superiority of sophisticated forecasting methods over naive methods was small in this period, as is to be expected when the variables being forecast make small and smooth movements. Yet the paper's figure 3 shows that the DSGE model forecasts had, for the most part, root mean square errors as good as or better than every other feasible forecast the paper considers. In some cases the "forecast" that the paper labels as a "constant" forecast does better, but this is not a feasible alternative--it uses data from the future in "forecasting" the future, so as to automatically eliminate bias in the forecast. What is more remarkable is that the margin by which the DSGE model forecasts improve on the other forecasts is not statistically small. The paper points out (in a footnote!) that statistical tests show the DSGE model forecasts to have better RMSEs than feasible purely statistical alternatives (the Bayesian VAR and random walk forecasts) by a statistically significant margin for inflation and GDP growth. One would like to know what the corresponding results for forecasts of interest rates or interest rate changes are. It might appear from figure 3 that the RMSEs are essentially the same after the first 2 quarters for interest rates, but because the nowcast of interest rates by the Greenbook is so much more accurate than the others, the scale in figure 3 is spread out, and the apparent similarity of the RMSEs in that plot for later quarters may be misleading.

The paper also presents another approach to evaluating forecast accuracy, based on regressions of actual values on their forecasts. An ideal forecast would have a coefficient of 1 in such a regression and a constant term of zero. In comparing forecasts meeting this ideal, the higher the [R.sup.2] for the regression, the better, and a higher [R.sup.2] would imply a lower RMSE. For inflation, the paper's table 1 shows that all the forecasts have low [R.sup.2]s with actual values and statistically significant constant terms. They are very far from "ideal." Since the [R.sup.2]s are low, the differences among the forecasts in RMSE must be determined by their degree of bias and by the scale of the random variation in the forecast around a constant. It is clear, then, why the constant forecast does well, in terms of RMSEs, for inflation: in a contest where bias is a major determinant of accuracy, it has simply eliminated bias after seeing the future data. But for forecasts like these, the regression results give little direct insight into accuracy. The BVAR and DSGE regression results look quite similar, even in the sizes of their estimated coefficients, yet the DSGE model's RMSE is considerably better, by a statistically significant margin, than that of the BVAR at all horizons beyond the first.

The results for GDP growth in table 2 show a clear difference between the DSGE model and the other two forecasts. Although one cannot be sure, because the paper does not present the results of such tests, it looks as if the DSGE model forecasts would pass a test of "rationality" (a slope of 1 and an intercept of zero) at least at the 3-quarter horizon and beyond, whereas the other two forecasts clearly would not. The picture that results is somewhat puzzling: the regression results suggest that there is little evidence that using the longer-horizon DSGE model GDP forecasts in unmodified form was a mistake, whereas there is strong evidence in the regression that doing so with the Greenbook forecast of GDP was a mistake. This corresponds to the clear margin of superiority in terms of RMSE for the DSGE model over the Greenbook and the BVAR in figure 3 for GDP, but leaves it a bit mysterious why the Greenbook forecasts emerge as statistically indistinguishable in terms of RMSE from the DSGE forecasts. Possibly this is a matter of using 95 percent confidence levels to define "indistinguishable" when a difference would have emerged at the 90 percent level, but one cannot be sure from the paper's brief footnote discussion of formal RMSE-difference tests.

The results for interest rates in tables 3 and 4 show a very different picture. The [R.sup.2]s of the forecasts of interest rate levels (table 3) using actual data are high, and it appears that tests of rationality might be passed at longer horizons for all the models. (In saying such tests "might be passed," I am looking at whether the coefficients lie within 2 standard errors of the ideal-forecast values. This is not foolproof, because the estimated coefficients could be correlated.) Table 4 shows that this good performance is not simply a consequence of making "no change" forecasts for interest rate levels. The [R.sup.2]s are statistically significantly positive at the 10 percent level for forecasts of interest rate changes at most long horizons for both the BVAR and the DSGE forecasts, and again it appears that at these horizons, in most cases, these forecasts would pass tests of rationality. It is not surprising that the Greenbook does not do so well at long-horizon forecasting of changes in interest rates, because for most of this period the Greenbook forecasts assumed constant interest rates.

The message from tables 3 and 4 is that although the DSGE interest rate forecasts were not clearly better than those of a BVAR, there was a substantial amount of predictable variation in interest rates, and both the BVAR and the DSGE forecasts succeeded in capturing it.

Where does this pattern of results leave us? Certainly not with a conclusion that the DSGE forecasts were "poor." This is especially true when one considers that the DSGE model is known, through published research on its impulse responses, to imply strong reactions of the economy to interest rate changes generated by policy. If the DSGE model had misestimated these reactions, therefore, it would have produced, in a period with substantial, predictable variation in interest rates, mistaken forecasts of GDP and inflation. Rather, the DSGE model produced forecasts of stable inflation and GDP growth by correctly modeling the response of monetary policy to the state of the economy, thereby producing good interest rate forecasts, and then by correctly modeling the stabilizing effects of+ these interest rate policy reactions on GDP growth and inflation.

A few less central aspects of the paper also deserve comment. First, the paper observes that a 2-standard-error confidence band for inflation 6 quarters ahead would bet according to the authors' calculations, 4 percentage points wide and says that such a confidence interval is "not very useful for policymaking." But this is the actual level of the uncertainty. The paper gives no evidence that some other way of forecasting could reduce this uncertainty. It should certainly be "useful" to policymakers to know the actual level of uncertainty. And this level of uncertainty would not in fact look unreasonable to most policymakers. Central banks that produce regular inflation reports usually display forecasts of inflation and output as fan charts, with clear error bands that widen over time. Policymaking in these countries is based on these projections and error bands, and the fan charts show forecast uncertainty consistent with the degree of forecast accuracy shown in figure 3 for the DSGE model forecasts. For example, the Swedish Riksbank's October 2010 Monetary Policy Report shows a fan chart for inflation in which the 90 percent band for annualized consumer price inflation 6 quarters ahead is about 4.8 percentage points wide, and of course a 95 percent band would be considerably wider. The error bands are said to be based on the historical record of Riksbank forecast accuracy, and the fan charts seem informative about expected future inflation, as well as realistic about the uncertainty surrounding these expectations.

The paper describes its priors, both for the DSGE model itself and for the BVAR naive standard of comparison, only by reference to Smets and Wouters (2003). It is unfortunate that the seminal Smets and Wouters paper used a prior for the BVAR that is highly simplified relative to any that would be used in a serious forecasting application of BVARs. The "Minnesota prior" family of which this paper's BVAR prior is a member has a number of parameters that in any particular application have to be tuned, either by a formal Bayesian procedure that would integrate over a prior on these parameters, or informally by experimenting with a few settings of them, to be sure that the default settings are not far out of sync with the data. Smets and Wouters set these parameters at default values without checking whether the default values were reasonable for their data. The claim in the original Smets and Wouters papers that their DSGE model specification fits better than their BVAR comparison model is itself fragile if the parameters of the prior are handled more realistically. The BVAR might have been a stronger competitor to the DSGE model in this paper's analysis if the BVAR prior had been handled more carefully.

Finally, one of the main advantages of DSGE models estimated by Bayesian methods over previous vintages of econometric policy models is that the DSGE models provide usable measures of postsample uncertainty about parameters, and hence of uncertainty about forecasts. We are therefore interested at least as much--maybe more--in whether the model's characterization of the distribution of forecast errors is correct as we are in the accuracy of the point forecasts. This paper could have cited measures of this distributional accuracy, reporting, for example, how often actual values lay outside the model' s implied 68 percent or 90 percent error bands as computed at the forecast date. That the paper did not seems to me a lost opportunity.


Smets, Frank, and Raf Wouters. 2003. "An Estimated Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium Model of the Euro Area." Journal of the European Economic Association 1, no. 5:1123--75.

GENERAL DISCUSSION Justin Wolfers noted that the Bayesian setup means that the authors have a probability distribution over likely forecast errors, and hence he suggested that the authors use the full set of model posteriors to compare the size of the average forecast errors with those implied by the model.

Annette Vissing-Jorgensen remarked that the stock market should be useful in forecasting, since it is a valuable predictor of consumption growth. She was not sure how valuable an addition it would be in forecasting inflation, but it could be a useful indicator for GDP.

David Romer noted the paper's emphasis on the fact that, in baseline New Keynesian models like the DSGE model they use, inflation is not forecastable. In fact, those models imply that when the output gap has an important predictable component--which it appears to, based on its lagged values--inflation has an important forecastable component as well. He also commented that the paper's characterization of the model as predicting little variation in inflation during the sample period was somewhat of an exaggeration, and that the paper's figure 2 showed nontrivial variation in predicted inflation.

Donald Kohn expressed the hope that the recent period would turn out to be an outlier not worth including in the analysis. He noted that the DSGE model is not useful when policymakers need it most. Nor does it have a financial sector, which is a problematic omission given that sector's central role in the crisis. The Federal Reserve's FRB-US model has a rich financial sector, which could be adapted in an ad hoc way. As it is, however, the model is not useful for policy when interest rates are at their zero lower bound. Whatever the virtues and limitations of the various models, policymakers still have to know when to abandon the model and recognize the story that is unfolding around them.

Robert Gordon objected to the so-called New Keynesian Phillips curve embedded in all DSGE models, including that in the paper. By omitting the impact on inflation of supply shocks, including changes in the relative price of energy and of imports, as well as the impact of changes in trend productivity growth and of the imposition and then termination of the Nixon price controls in 1971-74, the models' inflation equations omit significant variables that give rise to a negative correlation between inflation and output. As a result, all New Keynesian Phillips curves report coefficients of inflation on the output gap that are biased toward zero.

Christopher Sims noted that models do sometimes forecast interest rates, and thus it is not hard to condition on interest rates not going below zero. Observing that GDP had been somewhat better forecasted by the DSGE model than inflation, Sims thought the zero lower bound should be imposed on the model either by building it in or by throwing out simulations with forecasted paths implying negative rates.

William Nordhaus thought that, in some sense, oranges were being compared to tangerines. There is a difference between a true forecast and a forecast that allows itself a peek at the future. The Blue Chip and Greenbook forecasts are true forecasts, but the DSGE forecasts are not. True forecasts will probably come from DSGE models in the future, but as of yet this has not happened. All forecasts are indeed quite poor, as the paper recognizes, and we often do not remember how poor they were after the fact. Nordhaus wondered what would be revealed by surveying a wider sample of forecasters, as has been done by the Wall Street Journal, especially about the extent to which forecasters' predictions tend to cluster together.

Ricardo Reis noted that recent research on the Smets-Wouters model interprets some of its residuals as being accounted for by the missing financial sector. However, he thought that where the model was most deficient was in its treatment of fiscal policy, and specifically its assumptions that government purchases are exogenous and that taxes are lump sum and neutral.

Robert Hall closed the discussion by reminding the Panel that Paul Samuelson had once said, at a Brookings Papers conference years ago, "If you have to forecast, forecast often."
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Author:Edge, Rochelle M.; Gurkaynak, Refet S.
Publication:Brookings Papers on Economic Activity
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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