Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The District economy continues to be sluggish. Severe weather, combined with a very wet spring, is hampering agriculture in some areas. Major flooding has caused significant damage already, and the situation continues to develop. Many business contacts in the District emphasize energy costs along with some other high commodity prices as an overriding concern. Most of the descriptions I have encountered concern businesses and consumers scrambling to adjust to new pricing realities. Many contacts are reporting skittishness over the inflation outlook, fueled by dramatic increases in key commodity prices. Many contacts with deep experience in the commodities markets remain convinced that market manipulation or speculation is behind the run-up in commodity prices across the board over the past several years. This belief is widespread and deeply held. Many predict a crash in market prices of these commodities once the bubble bursts. My assessment is that this very strong belief may, by itself, have important macroeconomic implications. Businesses and households may be reacting very differently to price increases that they see as temporary, as opposed to their reaction if they view price increases as permanent and unlikely to reverse.
Reports on the level of economic activity are decidedly mixed. The housing sector remains in a deep slump and subject to a widespread shakeup. Business in the energy sector continues to boom. High energy prices are affecting the logistics business, which has to try to be profitable at higher prices with reduced demand. Still, a very large retailer reports brisk activity, and a large technology firm is essentially unaffected by the macroeconomic slowdown. Recent data on the U.S. economy have been stronger than forecast, keeping economic performance weak but avoiding a particularly sharp contraction. The worst outcomes stemming from financial market turmoil have failed to materialize thus far. There is, to be sure, still some potential for additional upheaval, depending in part on the managerial agility among key financial firms. However, the U.S. economy is now much better positioned to handle financial market turmoil than it was six months ago. This is due to the lending facilities now in place and to the environment of low interest rates that has been created. Renewed financial market turmoil, should it occur during the summer or fall, would not now be as worrisome from a systemic risk perspective. In addition to this lessened risk from financial markets, I see the drag from housing dissipating during the second half of the year. Most likely we will also see a moderation in energy price increases. Output growth is, therefore, likely to be moderately stronger going forward.
Policy was very aggressive during January and March of this year. This was, in part, a preemptive action, insurance against a particularly severe downturn brought on by financial contagion. This was a very real possibility, but it did not materialize. This has created a situation with more stimulus in train than would have been intended had we known the outcome in advance. This is putting upward pressure on inflation and inflation expectations in the second half of this year. Policy has to turn now to face this situation.
On the long-term projections, I think it is a good idea to put down long-term projections. I am happy with any of the options. I have a slight preference for option 3. I think a trial run would be good. If the objective is to name these numbers, such as an inflation target or the potential growth of the economy, another way to do it would just be to name those numbers and not have it tied to any projection or any particular year. We could just say, “This is what I think the inflation objectives should be. This is how fast I think the economy could grow in the absence of shocks. And this is what I think the unemployment rate would be if output were growing at potential and inflation were at target.” You could just name those numbers. You wouldn’t have to say five years away or ten years away, which kind of brings in new long-run factors that you might not want to get into. Thank you.