Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am going to start with the national economy in the interest of brevity here. Concerning the national outlook, it is difficult and probably unwise to try to assess growth and inflation prospects in the immediate aftermath of an event like the Lehman bankruptcy. I expect to see more failures among financial firms, and I expect those failures to continue to contribute to market volatility. This is part of an ongoing shakeout among financial market firms, following some of the worst risk management in a generation. I expect sluggish growth in the second half of 2008, in part due to labor markets that are somewhat weaker than expected. Financial market turmoil is certainly a key concern, but the U.S. economy still outperformed expectations in the first half of 2008, despite the demise of Bear Stearns—an event not too different in some respects from the current episode.
My sense is that three large uncertainties looming over the economy have now been resolved—the GSEs and the fates of Lehman and Merrill Lynch. Of these, the resolution of GSE uncertainty seems to be the most pivotal, even though it is not the one leading the news today. Normally, the elimination of key uncertainties is a plus for the economy. As is typical in this type of situation, safe interest rates have fallen dramatically across the board.
A second macroeconomic shock stemming from the dramatic rise in oil and other commodities prices has been an unwelcome development during the past six months. The retreat of West Texas intermediate prices to $94 a barrel, and today down to $92 a barrel, should improve second-half growth prospects.
Meanwhile, an inflation problem is brewing. The headline CPI inflation rate, the one consumers actually face, is about 6¼ percent year-to-date. That does not include today’s report. This is against the federal funds target of 2 percent. While it makes sense to focus on financial markets for the time being, it is essential that we keep in position to put downward pressure on inflation going forward. The financial crisis threatens to roll on for such a long time and to demand so much attention that the private sector may rationally conclude that we have lost all sight of our inflation objective. In such a case of unmoored expectations, outcomes could be far more severe than those envisioned in the Greenbook.
My policy preference is to maintain the federal funds rate target at the current level and to wait for some time to assess the impact of the Lehman bankruptcy filing, if any, on the national economy. In uncertain circumstances like these, I think it would be unwise to react too hastily to a fluid situation. Any immediate effects may not be the ones that are intended, and further down the line—that is, once more data have accumulated—a hasty action may leave the Committee out of position relative to the incoming data. By denying funding to Lehman suitors, the Fed has begun to reestablish the idea that markets should not expect help at each difficult juncture. Changing rates today would confuse that important signal and take out much of the positive part out of the previous decision. In addition, a rate move would be poorly targeted toward mitigation of difficulties at particular financial firms. The FOMC has already done a great deal to create a low interest rate environment in order to shepherd the economy through a substantial shock to the financial and housing sectors. The Committee now needs to allow the financial sector shakeout to occur using liquidity facilities to the extent possible to help navigate the resulting turbulence. Thank you.