Thank you, Mr. Chairman. During the past several weeks, my head office and Branch directors have become decidedly more pessimistic about the economic outlook. My own assessment of incoming data coincides with theirs. My contacts also report that their businesses are still raising prices in response to past increases in commodity and import prices that boosted their costs. I expect as a consequence that core inflation will remain uncomfortably high for a while longer, but the marked decline in commodity prices since June reinforces my conviction that there is light at the end of this inflation tunnel.
With respect to growth, our forecast is similar to the Greenbook’s, with a little more weakness in the second half of this year and a little more strength in 2009. I think the risks to this forecast are decidedly skewed to the downside. I agree with the Greenbook’s assessment that the strength we saw in the upwardly revised real GDP growth in the second quarter will not hold up. Despite the tax rebates, real personal consumption expenditures declined in both June and July, and retail sales were down in August. My contacts report that cutbacks in spending are widespread, especially for discretionary items. For example, East Bay plastic surgeons and dentists note that patients are deferring elective procedures. [Laughter] Reservations are no longer necessary at many high-end restaurants. And the Silicon Valley Country Club, with a $250,000 entrance fee and seven-to-eight-year waiting list, has seen the number of would-be new members shrink to a mere thirteen. [Laughter]
Exports were a huge source of strength in the second quarter, but I am concerned that we cannot count on very large contributions to growth from exports going forward, now that the dollar has begun to rise and economic growth abroad has slowed, even turning negative in some important trade partners. Indeed, the growing weakness of the global outlook appears to be an important explanation for the reversion in commodity prices, and this adds a dimension of gloom to what would otherwise be a decided plus for both inflation and demand.
Recent data also suggest that labor markets are weakening across the board—a development that will cast a pall on household income and spending. The interaction of higher unemployment with the housing and financial markets raises the potential for even worse news—namely, an intensification of the adverse feedback loop we have long worried about and are now experiencing. Indeed, delinquencies have risen substantially across the spectrum of consumer loans, and credit availability continues to decline. One ray of hope is that the changes at Fannie and Freddie have caused a notable drop in mortgage rates. Another is that the decline in home prices has become somewhat less steep, and we have seen an outright improvement in home inventories relative to sales. But my contacts are very pessimistic about the prospects for nonresidential construction. They note that construction is continuing on projects in the pipeline with committed funding, but new projects are all but impossible to finance.
Turning to inflation, I have long anticipated and still expect that inflation will fall to more-reasonable levels in 2009. However, developments since our August meeting diminish the upside risks to this projection. The drop in oil and other commodity prices, along with the appreciation of the dollar, should work to moderate the current inflation bulge and diminish the potential for a wage–price spiral to develop. Import inflation has already begun to ease. Furthermore, we have seen a remarkable decline in inflation compensation for the next five years in the TIPS market. I would not rely heavily on this decline to support my view, but I do have to say that the decline is a lot more reassuring than the alternative. I was also encouraged by the 30 basis point drop in long-term inflation expectations in the most recent Michigan survey. I anticipate that the recent jump in the unemployment rate will place some additional downward pressure on growth in labor compensation, which has been quite low, and in core inflation. Although the jump in the unemployment rate probably partly reflects the extension of unemployment insurance coverage, a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the upper bound on this effect is just a few tenths of a percent. I would agree with the Greenbook estimates. We have also examined the possibility that the increase in unemployment reflects a rise in the NAIRU due to sectoral employment shifts out of construction and finance and into other industries. Ned Phelps has argued that the sectoral shift story implies a sizable dispersion of employment growth across industries and states. But we looked at these data and found no significant increase, so I don’t find this Phelps argument particularly convincing. Considering all of these factors, I expect both headline and core PCE price inflation to fall to about 2 percent for 2009 as a whole, and I see the risks to this projection as roughly balanced.
With respect to policy, I would be inclined to keep the funds rate target at 2 percent today. For now, it seems to me that the additional liquidity measures that have been put in place are an appropriate response to the turmoil. I am fine with the wording of alternative B and would support President Lockhart’s suggestion for change. That would seem fine to me, too. In view of the intensified financial stress and the potential for more turmoil, obviously I think we will need to be flexible in setting policy going forward, and I am very concerned about downside risks to the real economy and think that inflation risk is diminished.