Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to start with some anecdotal feedback from the region. As you know, we have a lot of Branches, so we have a lot of directors, and we ask our directors a lot of questions. The anecdotal feedback from our 44 directors about the second half can be characterized as subdued. Almost all reported that they expect economic activity to be flat or slower, and I took special note that these expectations deteriorated in June after having actually improved a bit in May.
The residential housing situation in the District resembles the national picture. Both sales and new construction are weak. High levels of inventories are being exacerbated by foreclosures, which are adding to downward pressure on prices. However, there are tentative signs of a bottom forming. Our survey of Realtors across the District indicates that the pace of decline of single-family home sales may be abating. Industry contacts tell us that foot traffic and buyer interest are picking up, particularly in Florida, although I would say that what constitutes progress in Florida would not be considered very encouraging elsewhere. Nevertheless, our view is that the beginning of an adjustment process is under way, but the end of the process looks to be a long way off. Some further home-price deterioration is likely to accompany this bottoming process.
Credit conditions in the District continue to tighten because of perceived risk and also liquidity pressure on our banks. Our banks indicate that the process of deleveraging continues, which is affecting lending for residential real estate and, to some extent, commercial real estate. We are also hearing from several sources that funding of community banks is becoming an increasing problem because of their previous dependence on wholesale and correspondent bank sources. Higher energy prices are, not surprisingly, affecting our outlook. Hospitality industry contacts, for instance, expressed concern about low summer bookings. Although most tourist destinations have reported solid activity to date, few expect this to continue.
The reacceleration of energy and commodity price inflation has businesses focused on cost pressures. Several business contacts indicated that price increases had been relatively easy to pass through and make stick in this environment. I wouldn’t say that it’s widespread yet, but I do hear some reports that businesses are expecting wage increases to eventually reflect the recent increases in the cost of living. This could be a significant factor, particularly in service price inflation. This and other anecdotal input has colored my outlook for the national economy for the balance of the year and into 2009. I have revised up my forecast for headline inflation in 2008 and 2009 by 50 and 25 basis points, respectively. I am also assuming that the recent inflationary pressures from elevated energy and food prices will unwind more slowly than I previously projected—a view reinforced by expectations expressed by my District contacts. Like everyone else, I am deeply concerned that inflation expectations seem to be rising and that expectations of general price inflation, reflecting second-, third-, and fourth-order effects of recent oil and commodity price rises, risk becoming institutionalized. I am prepared in the near term to think tactically regarding the conflict between growth and employment policy objectives and inflation objectives; but sustained inflationary pressures that extend well into the fourth quarter and rising expectation readings may force, at least on my part, a more strategic look at the tradeoff.
I would like to talk for a moment about financial markets. I made a number of calls during the intermeeting period, and the growth-versus-inflation tactical dilemma is complicated further by a very mixed picture in financial markets. My contacts all acknowledge improved conditions since mid-March, but discussion of the current market circumstances and the outlook had a sort of half-full/half-empty quality. My contacts, taken together, pointed to several positives, including the health of the corporate loan market, improved CDO pricing, the readiness of forming distressed funds to buy asset-backed securities, alt-A mortgage demand, the growing perception that subprime loss estimates have been overstated, and some comment on Goldman’s Cheyne deal, which they believe will help create price determination for certain securities. At the same time, these contacts cited areas of continuing or worsening weakness, including: HELOCs and second mortgages; option ARMs and alt-A hybrids; indirect auto, given the collateral value of SUVs in current circumstances; in contrast to CDO pricing, CDO squared pricing is very weak and deteriorating; the obvious concern about the growing liquidity issues of regional banks; and the view that the auction rate securities market valuations, given illiquidity, are suggesting that this market has little probability of returning to normalcy. Overall, my contacts in financial markets were encouraged but expressed worries over still-substantial downside potential.
Let me turn now to my national forecast compared with the Greenbook forecast. The Atlanta projections for the national economy are broadly similar to those of the Greenbook. We have the same general narrative of slow growth for the balance of the year followed by a gradual pickup through 2009 and 2010. My projections for headline and core inflation are virtually identical to the baseline Greenbook projections. However, I believe that there may be less disinflationary pressure than seems implicit in the Board staff’s forecast. As a consequence, the fed funds rate path that supports my inflation outlook is well above the Greenbook’s at the end of 2009 and 2010. We are 75 basis points higher at year-end 2009 and 100 basis points higher at year-end 2010. Notwithstanding the upward revision of the first-quarter GDP number and the better expectations for this quarter, I still believe the near-term risks to growth are weighted to the downside. At the same time, as suggested by my revised forecast, I see the risks to our inflation objective as weighted to the upside.
On the subject of the long-term projections, I favor the third approach, which is three years plus long-term averages, and certainly would be comfortable with approach number 2. I’m generally dubious about the ability to do actual forecasting for the outyears, even as near-term as the third year. So I really don’t favor approach number 1. My experience, in the brief time I have been with the Fed, has at least personally been, shall I say, challenging from the point of view of forecasting. I tend to think of the long-term projections as being roughly equivalent to our targets or policy goals. In fact, the approach we have generally taken with our three-year forecasts is making the outyear approaching at least what we would consider to be the trend rate for growth and the employment and inflation objective. So I think long-term projections really do amount to more-explicit targeting, and very likely the first question we get when we come out of the blocks—if we have this kind of approach—will be, Is this your target? I am comfortable saying “yes” to that question and, therefore, would support the third approach. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.