Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’ll start with a few comments about the District economy, which will sound pretty familiar by now. The preponderance of the anecdotes from business contacts that I’ve talked with since our last meeting have been distinctly negative. It’s not just a slowing of activity or some deterioration but a sharp contraction in activity, particularly with regard to discretionary spending or discretionary projects, beginning in the middle of September. The one exception to that is commercial construction, where there are enough things under way that business remains pretty good. But the backlogs are dropping, and so weakness certainly is anticipated next year. I thought another possible exception to the negative tone was the housing market in the Twin Cities—not that the housing market in the Twin Cities is in and of itself so important but that it might be representative of some middle-of-the-road markets across the country. Clearly, it’s not indicative of what’s going on in Florida, California, or places like those because sales volumes in the Twin Cities had been up distinctly. Some of that is no doubt due to short sales and foreclosures; nevertheless, there were some other signs that were favorable. The affordability index has really improved a lot. It is back to levels of 2002-03, which Realtors call very comfortable. The ratio of housing prices to rent has moved back to the levels of 2002-03, and that’s also encouraging. I already mentioned the higher sales volumes.
Unfortunately, when you get beyond those statistics and look at other things, it’s too early to declare stability in the housing market or anything resembling underlying improvement. Part of the problem is something that we’ve talked about before. The inventory of unsold, unoccupied properties remains very substantial—by historical experience way above anything resembling normal. Second, even though the price-to-rent ratio has come down, it’s still elevated relative to the longer-term historical experience. So it looks to me as though, even in that market, there are some further price declines to come and it’s going to take some more time to get through all of this— probably well into next year.
As far as the national economy is concerned, I, too, have marked down my outlook for real growth for the balance of this year, for all of next year, and into early 2010 as well. This reflects to some extent the nature of the incoming data but also the intensification of the financial problems and associated headwinds, the impact of the negative wealth effect, and so on. When I looked at my June forecast, back then the forecast obviously looked better, although there were a number of what I called “identifiable negatives.” They have proven, for worse rather than for better, to be relevant. I already talked about some of them. In addition, we still have the problem in housing with excess inventories. We have steady declines in employment, which obviously have negative implications for consumer spending, and the credit headwinds as well. So now I have the economy contracting through the middle of next year, modest growth resuming thereafter, and robust growth beginning with the second quarter of 2010—quite some distance off.
On the inflation outlook, I have for some time been thinking that inflation would begin to slow this quarter. With the decline in commodity prices, the evolution of the economic outlook, and so forth, my confidence in that forecast has increased, and I do expect inflation to diminish over the forecast period. So I think I’ll conclude with that.