Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I finalized the thinking that went into my prepared remarks late last week, which seemed like a good idea at the time. But I should follow the philosophy of Charlie Brown, who I think said, “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” [Laughter] Obviously, we can’t ignore the events of the weekend and yesterday’s financial markets. So late yesterday I reviewed the views that I shaped last week and tried to ground them in an assessment of whether the outlook for the real economy has changed materially, whether the balance of risks has been altered, and whether, in my opinion, we must reintroduce a risk-management approach and consider taking out more insurance.
With that as prologue, let me make just a couple of comments on regional soundings from the last couple of weeks. Anecdotal reports from the Sixth District support the view that the economy is quite weak but not deteriorating markedly. The CFO of a large retailer of housing-related goods said that they think they see a bottom forming. I am also starting to hear some reports that housing markets feel as though they are beginning to stabilize; but, really, it is a little too early to say that a bottom has formed in any of our housing markets. My overall sense from District contacts and our surveys is of an economy that is quite weak, with no clear trend evident.
Turning to the national outlook, like most forecasts, my view on the likely path for the economy has not changed materially since our August meeting. I see nothing in the data and hear nothing from District reports that alters my views that the second half will be very weak. I expect this weak period to be followed by a slow recovery gathering in 2009, but the foundation of a recovery starting around year-end or early 2009 may be far from solid. The contraction of credit availability that is confirmed by both surveys and anecdotal evidence could deepen as financial institutions face tight liquidity and difficulty recapitalizing. A protracted credit crunch would likely operate as a substantial drag on the economy.
Consistent with the Greenbook, I expect some near-term improvement in headline inflation, as we saw this morning, some near-term deterioration of core inflation measures, and inflation moving in the right direction later this year and into next year. That said, one director said that he and his particular industry had seen no moderation of price increases up to this date. I am comforted somewhat that the upward drift in some inflation expectation measures appears to have been reversed. In addition, my staff has been monitoring revisions to inflation forecasts of professional forecasters, which also seem to suggest that concerns about accelerating inflation have abated somewhat.
Regarding the balance of risks in the economy, I am concerned that the downside risks to growth may be gathering force, as evidenced by the weakening personal consumption and retail sales data, the weakening economies of export partners, and the delicate state of the financial markets. At the same time, I perceive that there is significant risk that the current disinflationary environment may fail to bring core inflation down to anything resembling acceptable levels for the longer term. Adding up all of this, I perceive a very rough balance of risks that could break either way in coming months.
My view of the appropriate policy path is consistent with the Greenbook—that the fed funds rate target will remain stable at or close to the current level for several months going into 2009. My preference is to hold the fed funds rate at the current level of 2 percent. Among the reasons is that a ¼ percentage point drop, as suggested by alternative A, is really not clearly called for by a changed outlook for the real economy. Inflation risks are still in play, and I think we should give credit markets more time to digest events and sort out rate relationships.
As regards the statement, my preference is alternative B. However, I am concerned that the reference to the recent financial turbulence is not quite strong enough, so I took a shot at rephrasing just the beginning of the rationale section to read as such: “Economic growth appears to have slowed recently, and labor markets have weakened further. In addition, strains in financial markets have increased significantly”—basically taking the slightly stronger expression in the alternative A rationale and putting it in alternative B. So my position, Mr. Chairman, is to hold at this meeting. Thank you very much.