Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The reports from my contacts have been very weak for several weeks now. Sadly, I feel as though the data have been catching up with the anecdotal comments that I have been receiving for a while. I have been hearing a lot of comments along the lines of “orders have fallen off a sheer cliff,” “the lights were suddenly switched off,” and “my business is dead in the water.” One thing I have noticed is that the negative outlook has spread to more and more corners of the economy, even those corners that had remained robust for a relatively longer period. For example, one of my directors, who runs a manufacturing company and exports 70 percent of his products, is a producer of highly specialized equipment that is used in steel production. He has few competitors and no debt, and until recently he was feeling very comfortable with a two and a half year backlog. Last week he reported that the backlog has essentially vanished. His customers’ problems have now become his problems. This has become a typical refrain. We had become used to hearing companies talk about their desire to hold onto liquidity. Now businesses are also focused on how they are going to protect themselves in this weakening economy. Even businesses with a healthy amount of cash are cutting back sharply on investment, hiring, and production plans.
In this environment, it is clear that forecasts need to be revised down sharply. Like the Greenbook, my own projection, which seemed pretty dire just a month ago, has also been revised down sharply with the incoming data and anecdotes. The question now is how long and how deep a decline we will experience. At the same time, it also remains difficult to judge how far disinflation will go. My projection sees substantial output gaps and energy prices that are likely to remain low. That has caused me to lower my inflation projection further as well. My inflation forecast now is clearly below desirable levels for much of 2009. Still, it looks as though the risks remain very much to the downside for output and inflation, if only because further downside misses are getting more and more problematic. The insurance metaphor, I think, has been exhausted. We are now more in a situation of treating mass trauma. Perhaps some of our actions will later be judged as having gone too far. But in my view, right now it clearly is better to ensure that the treatment is large enough rather than risk falling short. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.