Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Most of the anecdotal information from the Sixth District is consistent with the downbeat picture that has been emerging in the national data. The sentiment of directors and their contacts has turned decidedly more pessimistic regarding current economic conditions and the near-term outlook. Banking contacts indicate a further tightening of credit standards, while stresses on household and small business finances have resulted in increased credit card usage. A state economic-development official noted that some banks have halted their 90/10 SBA lending. Bankers active in the VRDN (variable rate demand note) market noted that municipalities are under pressure with declining revenues and higher financing costs. Nonresidential building contractors noted a large increase in the number of canceled projects. Advisory council members described a substantial decline in domestic shipping and transport activity for most goods, other than energy products, and some slowing of export volumes through regional ports. Finally, retail contacts, in anticipation of the coming holiday season, noted that orders are down, and heavy price discounting has begun already.
Thematically, Atlanta’s forecast is consistent with the Greenbook, but we are projecting a slightly more severe and protracted downturn in business activity than the Greenbook baseline. My assumption is that the cascading dynamic at work in the financial markets may take longer than projected in the Greenbook to come to an end. As a consequence, I view the Greenbook’s scenario entitled “more financial fallout” as the most plausible storyline among the likely range of outcomes. I should acknowledge that we’re in an interval between the announcement of the TARP and its full implementation. The encouraging improvement in credit spreads and term funding we have seen in recent days may accelerate once the TARP is operational.
With inflation abating more or less as expected and with such uncertainty surrounding the playing out of continuing and recently worsening turmoil in the financial markets, I have to view the balance of risks as more negative for growth than upside for inflation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.