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Fed Chairman Bernanke - Jackson Hole Speech - Full Text Posted by Ryan C. Rogers RMR Wealth Management, LLC

RMR Wealth Management - Friday, August 31, 2012
Chairman Ben S. Bernanke

At the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

August 31, 2012

Monetary Policy since the Onset of the Crisis

When we convened in Jackson Hole in August 2007, the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) target for the federal funds rate was 5-1/4 percent. Sixteen months later, with the financial crisis in full swing, the FOMC had lowered the target for the federal funds rate to nearly zero, thereby entering the unfamiliar territory of having to conduct monetary policy with the policy interest rate at its effective lower bound. The unusual severity of the recession and ongoing strains in financial markets made the challenges facing monetary policymakers all the greater.

Today I will review the evolution of U.S. monetary policy since late 2007. My focus will be the Federal Reserve's experience with nontraditional policy tools, notably those based on the management of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet and on its public communications. I'll discuss what we have learned about the efficacy and drawbacks of these less familiar forms of monetary policy, and I'll talk about the implications for the Federal Reserve's ongoing efforts to promote a return to maximum employment in a context of price stability.

Monetary Policy in 2007 and 2008
When significant financial stresses first emerged, in August 2007, the FOMC responded quickly, first through liquidity actions--cutting the discount rate and extending term loans to banks--and then, in September, by lowering the target for the federal funds rate by 50 basis points. 1 As further indications of economic weakness appeared over subsequent months, the Committee reduced its target for the federal funds rate by a cumulative 325 basis points, leaving the target at 2 percent by the spring of 2008.

The Committee held rates constant over the summer as it monitored economic and financial conditions. When the crisis intensified markedly in the fall, the Committee responded by cutting the target for the federal funds rate by 100 basis points in October, with half of this easing coming as part of an unprecedented coordinated interest rate cut by six major central banks. Then, in December 2008, as evidence of a dramatic slowdown mounted, the Committee reduced its target to a range of 0 to 25 basis points, effectively its lower bound. That target range remains in place today.

Despite the easing of monetary policy, dysfunction in credit markets continued to worsen. As you know, in the latter part of 2008 and early 2009, the Federal Reserve took extraordinary steps to provide liquidity and support credit market functioning, including the establishment of a number of emergency lending facilities and the creation or extension of currency swap agreements with 14 central banks around the world.2 In its role as banking regulator, the Federal Reserve also led stress tests of the largest U.S. bank holding companies, setting the stage for the companies to raise capital. These actions--along with a host of interventions by other policymakers in the United States and throughout the world--helped stabilize global financial markets, which in turn served to check the deterioration in the real economy and the emergence of deflationary pressures.

Unfortunately, although it is likely that even worse outcomes had been averted, the damage to the economy was severe. The unemployment rate in the United States rose from about 6 percent in September 2008 to nearly 9 percent by April 2009--it would peak at 10 percent in October--while inflation declined sharply. As the crisis crested, and with the federal funds rate at its effective lower bound, the FOMC turned to nontraditional policy approaches to support the recovery.

As the Committee embarked on this path, we were guided by some general principles and some insightful academic work but--with the important exception of the Japanese case--limited historical experience. As a result, central bankers in the United States, and those in other advanced economies facing similar problems, have been in the process of learning by doing. I will discuss some of what we have learned, beginning with our experience conducting policy using the Federal Reserve's balance sheet, then turn to our use of communications tools.

Balance Sheet Tools
In using the Federal Reserve's balance sheet as a tool for achieving its mandated objectives of maximum employment and price stability, the FOMC has focused on the acquisition of longer-term securities--specifically, Treasury and agency securities, which are the principal types of securities that the Federal Reserve is permitted to buy under the Federal Reserve Act.3 One mechanism through which such purchases are believed to affect the economy is the so-called portfolio balance channel, which is based on the ideas of a number of well-known monetary economists, including James Tobin, Milton Friedman, Franco Modigliani, Karl Brunner, and Allan Meltzer. The key premise underlying this channel is that, for a variety of reasons, different classes of financial assets are not perfect substitutes in investors' portfolios.4 For example, some institutional investors face regulatory restrictions on the types of securities they can hold, retail investors may be reluctant to hold certain types of assets because of high transactions or information costs, and some assets have risk characteristics that are difficult or costly to hedge.

Imperfect substitutability of assets implies that changes in the supplies of various assets available to private investors may affect the prices and yields of those assets. Thus, Federal Reserve purchases of mortgage-backed securities (MBS), for example, should raise the prices and lower the yields of those securities; moreover, as investors rebalance their portfolios by replacing the MBS sold to the Federal Reserve with other assets, the prices of the assets they buy should rise and their yields decline as well. Declining yields and rising asset prices ease overall financial conditions and stimulate economic activity through channels similar to those for conventional monetary policy. Following this logic, Tobin suggested that purchases of longer-term securities by the Federal Reserve during the Great Depression could have helped the U.S. economy recover despite the fact that short-term rates were close to zero, and Friedman argued for large-scale purchases of long-term bonds by the Bank of Japan to help overcome Japan's deflationary trap.5

Large-scale asset purchases can influence financial conditions and the broader economy through other channels as well. For instance, they can signal that the central bank intends to pursue a persistently more accommodative policy stance than previously thought, thereby lowering investors' expectations for the future path of the federal funds rate and putting additional downward pressure on long-term interest rates, particularly in real terms. Such signaling can also increase household and business confidence by helping to diminish concerns about "tail" risks such as deflation. During stressful periods, asset purchases may also improve the functioning of financial markets, thereby easing credit conditions in some sectors.

With the space for further cuts in the target for the federal funds rate increasingly limited, in late 2008 the Federal Reserve initiated a series of large-scale asset purchases (LSAPs). In November, the FOMC announced a program to purchase a total of $600 billion in agency MBS and agency debt.6 In March 2009, the FOMC expanded this purchase program substantially, announcing that it would purchase up to $1.25 trillion of agency MBS, up to $200 billion of agency debt, and up to $300 billion of longer-term Treasury debt.7 These purchases were completed, with minor adjustments, in early 2010.8 In November 2010, the FOMC announced that it would further expand the Federal Reserve's security holdings by purchasing an additional $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities over a period ending in mid-2011.9

About a year ago, the FOMC introduced a variation on its earlier purchase programs, known as the maturity extension program (MEP), under which the Federal Reserve would purchase $400 billion of long-term Treasury securities and sell an equivalent amount of shorter-term Treasury securities over the period ending in June 2012.10 The FOMC subsequently extended the MEP through the end of this year.11 By reducing the average maturity of the securities held by the public, the MEP puts additional downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and further eases overall financial conditions.

How effective are balance sheet policies? After nearly four years of experience with large-scale asset purchases, a substantial body of empirical work on their effects has emerged. Generally, this research finds that the Federal Reserve's large-scale purchases have significantly lowered long-term Treasury yields. For example, studies have found that the $1.7 trillion in purchases of Treasury and agency securities under the first LSAP program reduced the yield on 10-year Treasury securities by between 40 and 110 basis points. The $600 billion in Treasury purchases under the second LSAP program has been credited with lowering 10-year yields by an additional 15 to 45 basis points.12 Three studies considering the cumulative influence of all the Federal Reserve's asset purchases, including those made under the MEP, found total effects between 80 and 120 basis points on the 10-year Treasury yield.13 These effects are economically meaningful.

Importantly, the effects of LSAPs do not appear to be confined to longer-term Treasury yields. Notably, LSAPs have been found to be associated with significant declines in the yields on both corporate bonds and MBS.14 The first purchase program, in particular, has been linked to substantial reductions in MBS yields and retail mortgage rates. LSAPs also appear to have boosted stock prices, presumably both by lowering discount rates and by improving the economic outlook; it is probably not a coincidence that the sustained recovery in U.S. equity prices began in March 2009, shortly after the FOMC's decision to greatly expand securities purchases. This effect is potentially important because stock values affect both consumption and investment decisions.

While there is substantial evidence that the Federal Reserve's asset purchases have lowered longer-term yields and eased broader financial conditions, obtaining precise estimates of the effects of these operations on the broader economy is inherently difficult, as the counterfactual--how the economy would have performed in the absence of the Federal Reserve's actions--cannot be directly observed. If we are willing to take as a working assumption that the effects of easier financial conditions on the economy are similar to those observed historically, then econometric models can be used to estimate the effects of LSAPs on the economy. Model simulations conducted at the Federal Reserve generally find that the securities purchase programs have provided significant help for the economy. For example, a study using the Board's FRB/US model of the economy found that, as of 2012, the first two rounds of LSAPs may have raised the level of output by almost 3 percent and increased private payroll employment by more than 2 million jobs, relative to what otherwise would have occurred.15 The Bank of England has used LSAPs in a manner similar to that of the Federal Reserve, so it is of interest that researchers have found the financial and macroeconomic effects of the British programs to be qualitatively similar to those in the United States.16

To be sure, these estimates of the macroeconomic effects of LSAPs should be treated with caution. It is likely that the crisis and the recession have attenuated some of the normal transmission channels of monetary policy relative to what is assumed in the models; for example, restrictive mortgage underwriting standards have reduced the effects of lower mortgage rates. Further, the estimated macroeconomic effects depend on uncertain estimates of the persistence of the effects of LSAPs on financial conditions.17 Overall, however, a balanced reading of the evidence supports the conclusion that central bank securities purchases have provided meaningful support to the economic recovery while mitigating deflationary risks.

Now I will turn to our use of communications tools.

Communication Tools
Clear communication is always important in central banking, but it can be especially important when economic conditions call for further policy stimulus but the policy rate is already at its effective lower bound. In particular, forward guidance that lowers private-sector expectations regarding future short-term rates should cause longer-term interest rates to decline, leading to more accommodative financial conditions.18

The Federal Reserve has made considerable use of forward guidance as a policy tool.19 From March 2009 through June 2011, the FOMC's postmeeting statement noted that economic conditions "are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period."20 At the August 2011 meeting, the Committee made its guidance more precise by stating that economic conditions would likely warrant that the federal funds rate remain exceptionally low "at least through mid-2013."21 At the beginning of this year, the FOMC extended the anticipated period of exceptionally low rates further, to "at least through late 2014," guidance that has been reaffirmed at subsequent meetings.22 As the language indicates, this guidance is not an unconditional promise; rather, it is a statement about the FOMC's collective judgment regarding the path of policy that is likely to prove appropriate, given the Committee's objectives and its outlook for the economy.

The views of Committee members regarding the likely timing of policy firming represent a balance of many factors, but the current forward guidance is broadly consistent with prescriptions coming from a range of standard benchmarks, including simple policy rules and optimal control methods.23 Some of the policy rules informing the forward guidance relate policy interest rates to familiar determinants, such as inflation and the output gap. But a number of considerations also argue for planning to keep rates low for a longer time than implied by policy rules developed during more normal periods. These considerations include the need to take out insurance against the realization of downside risks, which are particularly difficult to manage when rates are close to their effective lower bound; the possibility that, because of various unusual headwinds slowing the recovery, the economy needs more policy support than usual at this stage of the cycle; and the need to compensate for limits to policy accommodation resulting from the lower bound on rates.24

Has the forward guidance been effective? It is certainly true that, over time, both investors and private forecasters have pushed out considerably the date at which they expect the federal funds rate to begin to rise; moreover, current policy expectations appear to align well with the FOMC's forward guidance. To be sure, the changes over time in when the private sector expects the federal funds rate to begin firming resulted in part from the same deterioration of the economic outlook that led the FOMC to introduce and then extend its forward guidance. But the private sector's revised outlook for the policy rate also appears to reflect a growing appreciation of how forceful the FOMC intends to be in supporting a sustainable recovery. For example, since 2009, forecasters participating in the Blue Chip survey have repeatedly marked down their projections of the unemployment rate they expect to prevail at the time that the FOMC begins to lift the target for the federal funds rate away from zero. Thus, the Committee's forward guidance may have conveyed a greater willingness to maintain accommodation than private forecasters had previously believed.25 The behavior of financial market prices in periods around changes in the forward guidance is also consistent with the view that the guidance has affected policy expectations.26

Making Policy with Nontraditional Tools: A Cost-Benefit Framework
Making monetary policy with nontraditional tools is challenging. In particular, our experience with these tools remains limited. In this context, the FOMC carefully compares the expected benefits and costs of proposed policy actions.

The potential benefit of policy action, of course, is the possibility of better economic outcomes--outcomes more consistent with the FOMC's dual mandate. In light of the evidence I discussed, it appears reasonable to conclude that nontraditional policy tools have been and can continue to be effective in providing financial accommodation, though we are less certain about the magnitude and persistence of these effects than we are about those of more-traditional policies.

The possible benefits of an action, however, must be considered alongside its potential costs. I will focus now on the potential costs of LSAPs.

One possible cost of conducting additional LSAPs is that these operations could impair the functioning of securities markets. As I noted, the Federal Reserve is limited by law mainly to the purchase of Treasury and agency securities; the supply of those securities is large but finite, and not all of the supply is actively traded. Conceivably, if the Federal Reserve became too dominant a buyer in certain segments of these markets, trading among private agents could dry up, degrading liquidity and price discovery. As the global financial system depends on deep and liquid markets for U.S. Treasury securities, significant impairment of those markets would be costly, and, in particular, could impede the transmission of monetary policy. For example, market disruptions could lead to higher liquidity premiums on Treasury securities, which would run counter to the policy goal of reducing Treasury yields. However, although market capacity could ultimately become an issue, to this point we have seen few if any problems in the markets for Treasury or agency securities, private-sector holdings of securities remain large, and trading among private market participants remains robust.

A second potential cost of additional securities purchases is that substantial further expansions of the balance sheet could reduce public confidence in the Fed's ability to exit smoothly from its accommodative policies at the appropriate time. Even if unjustified, such a reduction in confidence might increase the risk of a costly unanchoring of inflation expectations, leading in turn to financial and economic instability. It is noteworthy, however, that the expansion of the balance sheet to date has not materially affected inflation expectations, likely in part because of the great emphasis the Federal Reserve has placed on developing tools to ensure that we can normalize monetary policy when appropriate, even if our securities holdings remain large. In particular, the FOMC will be able to put upward pressure on short-term interest rates by raising the interest rate it pays banks for reserves they hold at the Fed. Upward pressure on rates can also be achieved by using reserve-draining tools or by selling securities from the Federal Reserve's portfolio, thus reversing the effects achieved by LSAPs. The FOMC has spent considerable effort planning and testing our exit strategy and will act decisively to execute it at the appropriate time.

A third cost to be weighed is that of risks to financial stability. For example, some observers have raised concerns that, by driving longer-term yields lower, nontraditional policies could induce an imprudent reach for yield by some investors and thereby threaten financial stability. Of course, one objective of both traditional and nontraditional policy during recoveries is to promote a return to productive risk-taking; as always, the goal is to strike the appropriate balance. Moreover, a stronger recovery is itself clearly helpful for financial stability. In assessing this risk, it is important to note that the Federal Reserve, both on its own and in collaboration with other members of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, has substantially expanded its monitoring of the financial system and modified its supervisory approach to take a more systemic perspective. We have seen little evidence thus far of unsafe buildups of risk or leverage, but we will continue both our careful oversight and the implementation of financial regulatory reforms aimed at reducing systemic risk.

A fourth potential cost of balance sheet policies is the possibility that the Federal Reserve could incur financial losses should interest rates rise to an unexpected extent. Extensive analyses suggest that, from a purely fiscal perspective, the odds are strong that the Fed's asset purchases will make money for the taxpayers, reducing the federal deficit and debt.27 And, of course, to the extent that monetary policy helps strengthen the economy and raise incomes, the benefits for the U.S. fiscal position would be substantial. In any case, this purely fiscal perspective is too narrow: Because Americans are workers and consumers as well as taxpayers, monetary policy can achieve the most for the country by focusing generally on improving economic performance rather than narrowly on possible gains or losses on the Federal Reserve's balance sheet.

In sum, both the benefits and costs of nontraditional monetary policies are uncertain; in all likelihood, they will also vary over time, depending on factors such as the state of the economy and financial markets and the extent of prior Federal Reserve asset purchases. Moreover, nontraditional policies have potential costs that may be less relevant for traditional policies. For these reasons, the hurdle for using nontraditional policies should be higher than for traditional policies. At the same time, the costs of nontraditional policies, when considered carefully, appear manageable, implying that we should not rule out the further use of such policies if economic conditions warrant.

Economic Prospects
The accommodative monetary policies I have reviewed today, both traditional and nontraditional, have provided important support to the economic recovery while helping to maintain price stability. As of July, the unemployment rate had fallen to 8.3 percent from its cyclical peak of 10 percent and payrolls had risen by 4 million jobs from their low point. And despite periodic concerns about deflation risks, on the one hand, and repeated warnings that excessive policy accommodation would ignite inflation, on the other hand, inflation (except for temporary deviations caused primarily by swings in commodity prices) has remained near the Committee's 2 percent objective and inflation expectations have remained stable. Key sectors such as manufacturing, housing, and international trade have strengthened, firms' investment in equipment and software has rebounded, and conditions in financial and credit markets have improved.

Notwithstanding these positive signs, the economic situation is obviously far from satisfactory. The unemployment rate remains more than 2 percentage points above what most FOMC participants see as its longer-run normal value, and other indicators--such as the labor force participation rate and the number of people working part time for economic reasons--confirm that labor force utilization remains at very low levels. Further, the rate of improvement in the labor market has been painfully slow. I have noted on other occasions that the declines in unemployment we have seen would likely continue only if economic growth picked up to a rate above its longer-term trend.28 In fact, growth in recent quarters has been tepid, and so, not surprisingly, we have seen no net improvement in the unemployment rate since January. Unless the economy begins to grow more quickly than it has recently, the unemployment rate is likely to remain far above levels consistent with maximum employment for some time.

In light of the policy actions the FOMC has taken to date, as well as the economy's natural recovery mechanisms, we might have hoped for greater progress by now in returning to maximum employment. Some have taken the lack of progress as evidence that the financial crisis caused structural damage to the economy, rendering the current levels of unemployment impervious to additional monetary accommodation. The literature on this issue is extensive, and I cannot fully review it today.29 However, following every previous U.S. recession since World War II, the unemployment rate has returned close to its pre-recession level, and, although the recent recession was unusually deep, I see little evidence of substantial structural change in recent years.

Rather than attributing the slow recovery to longer-term structural factors, I see growth being held back currently by a number of headwinds. First, although the housing sector has shown signs of improvement, housing activity remains at low levels and is contributing much less to the recovery than would normally be expected at this stage of the cycle.

Second, fiscal policy, at both the federal and state and local levels, has become an important headwind for the pace of economic growth. Notwithstanding some recent improvement in tax revenues, state and local governments still face tight budget situations and continue to cut real spending and employment. Real purchases are also declining at the federal level. Uncertainties about fiscal policy, notably about the resolution of the so-called fiscal cliff and the lifting of the debt ceiling, are probably also restraining activity, although the magnitudes of these effects are hard to judge.30 It is critical that fiscal policymakers put in place a credible plan that sets the federal budget on a sustainable trajectory in the medium and longer runs. However, policymakers should take care to avoid a sharp near-term fiscal contraction that could endanger the recovery.

Third, stresses in credit and financial markets continue to restrain the economy. Earlier in the recovery, limited credit availability was an important factor holding back growth, and tight borrowing conditions for some potential homebuyers and small businesses remain a problem today. More recently, however, a major source of financial strains has been uncertainty about developments in Europe. These strains are most problematic for the Europeans, of course, but through global trade and financial linkages, the effects of the European situation on the U.S. economy are significant as well. Some recent policy proposals in Europe have been quite constructive, in my view, and I urge our European colleagues to press ahead with policy initiatives to resolve the crisis.

Conclusion
Early in my tenure as a member of the Board of Governors, I gave a speech that considered options for monetary policy when the short-term policy interest rate is close to its effective lower bound.31 I was reacting to common assertions at the time that monetary policymakers would be "out of ammunition" as the federal funds rate came closer to zero. I argued that, to the contrary, policy could still be effective near the lower bound. Now, with several years of experience with nontraditional policies both in the United States and in other advanced economies, we know more about how such policies work. It seems clear, based on this experience, that such policies can be effective, and that, in their absence, the 2007-09 recession would have been deeper and the current recovery would have been slower than has actually occurred.

As I have discussed today, it is also true that nontraditional policies are relatively more difficult to apply, at least given the present state of our knowledge. Estimates of the effects of nontraditional policies on economic activity and inflation are uncertain, and the use of nontraditional policies involves costs beyond those generally associated with more-standard policies. Consequently, the bar for the use of nontraditional policies is higher than for traditional policies. In addition, in the present context, nontraditional policies share the limitations of monetary policy more generally: Monetary policy cannot achieve by itself what a broader and more balanced set of economic policies might achieve; in particular, it cannot neutralize the fiscal and financial risks that the country faces. It certainly cannot fine-tune economic outcomes.

As we assess the benefits and costs of alternative policy approaches, though, we must not lose sight of the daunting economic challenges that confront our nation. The stagnation of the labor market in particular is a grave concern not only because of the enormous suffering and waste of human talent it entails, but also because persistently high levels of unemployment will wreak structural damage on our economy that could last for many years.

Over the past five years, the Federal Reserve has acted to support economic growth and foster job creation, and it is important to achieve further progress, particularly in the labor market. Taking due account of the uncertainties and limits of its policy tools, the Federal Reserve will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.

Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions by Federal Reserve District posted by Ryan C. Rorgers, RMR Wealth Management, LLC

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 30, 2012

 

Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions by Federal Reserve District

 

Prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and based on information collected on or before August 20, 2012. This document summarizes comments received from business and other contacts outside the Federal Reserve and is not a commentary on the views of Federal Reserve officials.

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest economic activity continued to expand gradually in July and early August across most regions and sectors. Six Districts indicated the local economy continued to expand at a modest pace and another three cited moderate growth; among the latter, Chicago noted that the pace of growth had slowed from the prior period. The Philadelphia and Richmond Districts reported slow growth in most sectors and declines in manufacturing, while Boston cited mixed reports from business contacts and some slowdown since the previous report.

Most Districts indicated that retail activity, including auto sales, had increased since the last Beige Book report, although Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, and San Francisco noted the retail improvements were small. Atlanta said that retail growth had slowed, while Philadelphia indicated growth in retail sales was somewhat faster than in the previous report. Boston, New York, Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and San Francisco recorded strong performance in tourism. Many Districts reported some softening in manufacturing, either a slowdown in the rate of growth or a decline in the level of sales, output, or orders; among those with declining shipments and orders, Philadelphia noted that the rate of decline was tempering.

Districts mentioning nonfinancial services noted increased activity, although at a slowing pace in Boston, softening in New York, and "flattening" in Philadelphia; Kansas City reported that sales of high-tech services declined slightly. Several Districts cited declining demand for staffing services. According to District reports, bankers in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, and Kansas City saw increases in demand for most loan types in recent months; by contrast, St. Louis, Dallas, and San Francisco indicated that loan demand was mixed, softening, or slightly weaker.

Real estate markets were generally said to be improving. On the residential side, all 12 Districts cited increases in home sales, home prices, or housing construction. Reports on commercial real estate markets were also generally positive, although San Francisco noted stable demand, Boston indicated conditions were not much changed since the last report, and Richmond, Chicago, and St. Louis said commercial real estate conditions were mixed.

District reports indicated that energy and mining activity was generally high and increasing. However, Cleveland noted softening demand for coal, while Minneapolis and Kansas City had some energy sectors up and some down. The Midwest drought has reduced actual and expected farm output, especially cotton, soybean, and/or corn crops in the Chicago, Kansas City, and St. Louis Districts.

Most Districts reported that the selling prices of manufacturing and retail products were largely stable. By exception, several Districts noted concerns about rising agricultural commodity prices, and Richmond mentioned a small uptick in retail prices. Hiring was said to be modest across the Districts, and wage pressures were characterized as contained.

Consumer Spending and Tourism
Most Districts reported that retail spending in July and early August was up compared with the previous Beige Book. New York and San Francisco noted strengthening sales compared with a softer May and June, although in San Francisco's case, the rise was only "a bit further." Philadelphia, Richmond, Minneapolis, and Kansas City reported stronger retail sales, while Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas all said that sales were up "slightly." In the Atlanta District, most retail contacts reported slower sales, while Boston's retail contacts provided a mixed assessment. The Atlanta and San Francisco reports noted that discount retailers performed better than traditional department stores, while the Chicago report attributed the pace of growth in consumer spending to heavy discounting by retailers clearing space for back-to-school items. Boston and Chicago reported continuing weakness in furniture sales; Boston also reported weak sales of electronics, but Chicago noted some improvement in this category. Adult clothing sold well in Boston, Chicago, and Dallas. The Atlanta District said that luxury goods merchants, while still largely positive, provided more mixed reports compared with earlier this year; Kansas City cited weaker sales for high-end jewelry. For the remainder of 2012, Boston retailers have mixed sales expectations, Philadelphia retailers are cautiously optimistic, and those in Atlanta are conservative; retail contacts in Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Dallas expect sales to rise through the end of the year.

Automobile sales are up in the New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Kansas City Districts, flat in Cleveland, Chicago, and Dallas, and a bit slower paced in Richmond and San Francisco; nonetheless, vehicle demand in the latter two Districts is still strong, especially for used cars. The New York District reported that new car sales are "particularly robust" and Kansas City cited a sharp increase in new vehicle sales. Atlanta, St. Louis, and Kansas City indicated that car dealers in their Districts expected these strong automobile sales to continue, while the Philadelphia and Dallas Districts reported concerns that consumer uncertainty might depress vehicle sales in coming months.

Respondents in the Boston, New York, Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and San Francisco Districts reported that tourist industry performance remains strong. The Atlanta District mentioned that Florida contacts reported a drop in European travelers, but said this decline was offset by an increase in business from Central and South America. Contacts in Boston noted some concern that weakness in Europe could soften tourist activity and that rising gas prices could affect leisure travel. The San Francisco District reported that the pace of growth had slowed in Las Vegas and other areas.

Manufacturing and Related Services
The picture in manufacturing was mixed. The Boston, Chicago, Kansas City and San Francisco Districts reported increasing demand and sales since the previous Beige Book, although the improvement was generally small and uneven, with two of these four Districts reporting that demand growth, while positive, was slowing. Six Districts reported that demand for manufactured goods was actually falling, although none reported a dramatic fall. The outlook was somewhat more positive, with six Districts reporting that manufacturers expected increasing demand and only two reporting the opposite.

Areas of strength were varied. The Cleveland and Philadelphia Districts both pointed to the revolution in natural gas production in the United States as a driver of demand, but the Chicago District said that a contact blamed cheap natural gas for weakness in demand for coal. Several Districts noted that improvements in residential construction boosted demand for products such as lumber, PVC, cement, and home goods. The Chicago and Philadelphia Districts said that auto production was positive, but Richmond said the opposite.

Weakness overseas remains a problem for U.S. manufacturing. Reports from the Boston, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts explicitly mentioned it. Although Europe represented one notable problem, several Districts also mentioned weakness in demand in Asia as an issue. In general, District reports indicate that the cost and availability of raw materials has not been an issue for manufacturers recently, especially as compared with the situation in previous years. Four Districts reported lower input costs, but contacts in New York reported a slight increase.

On the employment front, there was little movement. Across all Districts, few manufacturing firms reported any major hiring or layoffs, and the ones that did usually attributed it to idiosyncratic factors like new products or restructuring related to a merger. The Cleveland District reported that firms continued to have trouble finding skilled workers. Capital spending also showed little change; in addition, several Districts reported that contacted manufacturers had not revised their investment plans.

Nonfinancial Services
Activity in nonfinancial services generally picked up since the previous report, although results were mixed across Districts and service industries. New York and Philadelphia reported that overall service-sector activity was flat to down slightly, whereas Minneapolis and San Francisco noted expanding activity. Several Districts, including Boston, Richmond, and San Francisco, reported steady to increasing demand for information technology services; Kansas City, by contrast, cited decreased sales at high-tech services firms. Reports from the healthcare sector were also somewhat mixed, with Philadelphia and St. Louis reporting positive results and San Francisco noting a drop in the frequency of elective procedures. Advertisers in the Philadelphia and San Francisco Districts continued to report strong revenues. In the Dallas District, legal firms reported continued increases in demand for services, while accounting firms cited seasonal slowness. Demand for staffing services was generally lower than expected, with decreases reported by Boston, New York, Richmond, and Dallas. Even so, demand remained strong for highly skilled IT personnel in the Boston and Richmond Districts.

Reports on transportation services were generally positive. Rail contacts reported continued increases in intermodal shipments in the Atlanta District and increased cargo volumes in the Dallas District, with both Districts recognizing gains in lumber shipments. Atlanta and Dallas also reported steady to increasing demand for trucking services, whereas logistics firms and carriers in the Philadelphia District reported a relatively sluggish start to the traditional "freight season."

Banking and Financial Services
Credit conditions have improved over the reporting period according to District reports. Credit spreads were lower and competition for high-quality borrowers among lending institutions has increased. The New York District noted that shrinking spreads were observed particularly in commercial and industrial loans as well as in commercial mortgages. Some bankers in the Cleveland District mentioned a moderate loosening of lending guidelines. The New York, St. Louis, and Kansas City Districts reported unchanged credit standards; New York and Cleveland cited declining delinquency rates.

The direction and magnitude of changes in loan demand varied among the Districts and also with respect to type of loan. The Richmond and Atlanta Districts reported generally low demand for loans, but some pockets of growth. The Chicago District noted that growth in business loan demand was generated mostly from small and mid-size firms and for the purpose of refinancing rather than financing capital expenditures. Cleveland, St. Louis, and San Francisco mentioned small positive or negative changes in business credit demand, and relatively strong demand for consumer credit. The Kansas City District reported stable demand for commercial and industrial loans and commercial real estate loans, while Dallas noted softer demand for loans overall; however, both Districts cited increases in demand for residential real estate loans. The New York and Philadelphia Districts observed growth in most lending categories.

Real Estate and Construction
Housing markets across most Districts exhibited signs of improvement, with sales and construction continuing to increase. Dallas reported significant levels of buyer traffic, Richmond noted strong pending sales, and Minneapolis and St. Louis mentioned increases in building permits. New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago indicated improvements as well, but characterized the progress as slow and modest. Declines in inventory levels were reported in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco; these declining inventories put some upward pressure on prices according to Boston, Atlanta, and Dallas. A reduction in the stock of distressed properties was mentioned in New York, Richmond, and San Francisco. In Philadelphia and Kansas City, the possibility of shadow inventory entering the market remains a concern. In general, outlooks were positive, with continued increases in activity expected, although the projected gains were more modest in Boston, Cleveland, and Kansas City.

Commercial real estate market conditions held steady or improved in nearly all Districts in recent weeks. New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Kansas City all reported that commercial leasing increased and vacancy rates fell. New York and Kansas City reported increases in office rents as well; Kansas City also cited a rise in commercial construction. Commercial building permits were up significantly from one year ago in portions of the Minneapolis District. Chicago's report was mixed: office vacancy rates remained high, restraining demand for new office construction, but office leasing demand improved modestly and industrial construction picked up. Atlanta reported rising apartment rents and small gains in office leasing, with weakness in the retail and industrial sectors. Boston reported that office fundamentals were flat on average, with rising rents in portions of Boston proper and muted but steady activity elsewhere in the District. Nonresidential construction picked up in the Boston and Cleveland Districts. Office and industrial real estate markets remained healthy in Dallas. The St. Louis report noted an increase in commercial construction across much of the District and varied reports on leasing across areas within the District. In San Francisco, demand for commercial property was stable while commercial construction was limited. Richmond reported a decline in office leasing volume in Washington, D.C., but some portions of the District recorded increasing sales and construction. Multifamily real estate remained a strong submarket and a key driver of construction in many Districts, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, and San Francisco.

Agriculture and Natural Resources
According to District reports, agricultural conditions were mixed largely because of severe drought conditions that affected the Midwest more than the rest of the country. Producers in the Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City Districts were all severely affected by the drought, with cotton, soybean, and corn crops particularly damaged. Cotton production in the Dallas District was also badly damaged, while the northern part of the Minneapolis District reported good corn, soybean, and wheat crops, and the San Francisco and Richmond Districts reported strong demand for their healthy cotton crops. Although nearly all agricultural commodity prices rose, higher feed costs led to reduced herd sizes and lower livestock prices in nearly all Districts reporting on livestock. Reports from the Richmond and Kansas City Districts indicated that farmland values have continued to rise, although contacts in the Kansas City District expected them to hold steady for the rest of the year. Farm incomes generally rose or stayed the same in the Minneapolis District.

Oil and gas activity continued to be robust across most Districts. Extraction of natural gas and petroleum remained at high levels in the Dallas and Minneapolis Districts and expanded in the Cleveland and Richmond Districts, partly because of increased demand from electrical utilities. Production increased in Gulf Coast oil refineries in the Atlanta District as a result of closures along the East Coast, while higher demand for crude oil, diesel, and other distillates supported prices. However, natural gas producers in the Cleveland, Richmond, Minneapolis, and Dallas Districts reported a decline in exploration and drilling of new wells on account of high inventories and low prices. Coal demand was unchanged from 2011 in the St. Louis District but was expected to fall below 2011 levels in the Cleveland District due to reduced demand for thermal coal from domestic utilities and metallurgical coal from Europe and Asia. Iron ore, taconite, and sand mines in the Minneapolis District continued to operate at high capacity.

Employment, Wages, and Prices
Most Districts reported that employment was holding steady or growing only slightly. Several Districts including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond noted a softening in employment relative to expectations; upcoming layoffs were reported by a defense contractor in the Boston District and by firms in sectors such as air transportation, appliances, and business support services in the St Louis District. Almost all Districts indicated that manufacturers were continuing to hire, albeit modestly. Demand has been strongest for skilled manufacturing and engineering positions, as well as for IT services. Contacts in the Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Kansas City, and Dallas Districts all reported some difficulty meeting demand for truck drivers.

Overall, upward wage pressure was reported to be very contained across Districts. The Philadelphia and Chicago Districts both noted that despite little wage pressure, some contacts reported upward pressures for medical benefits. Sources from Boston and Atlanta mentioned that continuing demand was putting some upward pressure on wages for highly-skilled positions in software, engineering, and information technology. The San Francisco District also noted specialized IT positions as an exception to generally limited wage growth. The Dallas District reported upward wage pressure for truck drivers and construction workers, and the Minneapolis District noted wage increases in areas with increased oil drilling.

Most Districts reported that overall prices for finished goods were relatively stable despite somewhat increased input prices. Higher prices for grain and other food commodities were cited by many Districts, primarily due to the drought. The Cleveland District noted increased upward pressure on lumber prices, while contacts in Boston, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis reported higher gasoline prices as a potential concern. Chicago mentioned some pass-through of higher crop prices to wholesale prices, while contacts in the Kansas City and Richmond Districts expected to raise future prices in response to more expensive raw materials.

Globalization 101 Resource Information by Ryan C. Rogers, RMR Wealth Management

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Globalizaton 101

http://www.globalization101.org

Created for students, this site provides information on defining globalization, issue briefs, and news analysis

 

Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) Resource Information by Ryan C. Rogers, RMR Wealth Management

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae)

http://www.fanniemae.com/portal/research-and-analysis/index.html

Economics and mortgage market commentary

 

Bureau of Economic Analysis: U.S. Department of Commerce Resourse Information by Ryan C. Rogers, RMR Wealth Management

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bureau of Economic Analysis: U.S. Department of Commerce

http://www.bea.gov

Site includes several News links and links to national and regional GDP figures as well as International Trade.

Conference Board Resource Informaton by Ryan C. Rogers, RMR Wealth Management

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Conference Board

http://www.conference-board.org

Tracks and reports on leading, coincidental, and lagging economic indicators.

 

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Resource Information by Ryan C. Rogers, RMR Wealth Management

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

http://www.federalreserve.gov

Numerous links to monetary policy, economic and research data and economic indicators.

 

Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) Resource Information by Ryan C. Rogers, RMR Wealth Management

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac)

http://www.freddiemac.com/news/finance/

Economic and housing research and commentary

 

Federal Reserve System Resource Information by Ryan C. Rogers, RMR Wealth Management

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Federal Reserve Systme Online

http://federalreserveonline.org

Site has information about the federal reserve system plus links to each of the Federal Reserve Districts including:

*New York - http://www.newyorkfed.org

*Boston - http://www.bos.frb.org

*Minneaspolis - http://minneapolisfed.org

*San Francisco - http://frbsf.org

 

 

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi Opening Statement Text posted by Ryan C. Rogers

RMR Wealth Management - Thursday, August 02, 2012

ECB President Mario Draghi Opening Statement - 08/02/12

“Based on our regular economic and monetary analyses, we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged, following the decrease of 25 basis points in July. As we said a month ago, inflation should decline further in the course of 2012 and be below 2% again in 2013. Consistent with this picture, the underlying pace of monetary expansion remains subdued. Inflation expectations for the euro area economy continue to be firmly anchored in line with our aim of maintaining inflation rates below, but close to, 2% over the medium term. At the same time, economic growth in the euro area remains weak, with the ongoing tensions in financial markets and heightened uncertainty weighing on confidence and sentiment. A further intensification of financial market tensions has the potential to affect the balance of risks for both growth and inflation on the downside.

The Governing Council extensively discussed the policy options to address the severe malfunctioning in the price formation process in the bond markets of euro area countries. Exceptionally high risk premia are observed in government bond prices in several countries and financial fragmentation hinders the effective working of monetary policy. Risk premia that are related to fears of the reversibility of the euro are unacceptable, and they need to be addressed in a fundamental manner. The euro is irreversible.

In order to create the fundamental conditions for such risk premia to disappear, policy-makers in the euro area need to push ahead with fiscal consolidation, structural reform and European institution-building with great determination. As implementation takes time and financial markets often only adjust once success becomes clearly visible, governments must stand ready to activate the EFSF/ESM in the bond market when exceptional financial market circumstances and risks to financial stability exist – with strict and effective conditionality in line with the established guidelines.

The adherence of governments to their commitments and the fulfillment by the EFSF/ESM of their role are necessary conditions. The Governing Council, within its mandate to maintain price stability over the medium term and in observance of its independence in determining monetary policy, may undertake outright open market operations of a size adequate to reach its objective. In this context, the concerns of private investors about seniority will be addressed. Furthermore, the Governing Council may consider undertaking further non-standard monetary policy measures according to what is required to repair monetary policy transmission. Over the coming weeks, we will design the appropriate modalities for such policy measures.

Let me now explain our assessment in greater detail, starting with the economic analysis. On a quarterly basis, euro area real GDP growth was flat in the first quarter of 2012, following a decline of 0.3% in the previous quarter. Economic indicators point to weak economic activity in the second quarter of 2012 and at the beginning of the third quarter, in an environment of heightened uncertainty. Looking beyond the short term, we expect the euro area economy to recover only very gradually, with growth momentum being further dampened by a number of factors. In particular, tensions in some euro area sovereign debt markets and their impact on financing conditions, the process of balance sheet adjustment in the financial and non-financial sectors and high unemployment are expected to weigh on the underlying growth momentum, which is also affected by the ongoing global slowdown.

The risks surrounding the economic outlook for the euro area continue to be on the downside. They relate, in particular, to the tensions in several euro area financial markets and their potential spillover to the euro area real economy. Downside risks also relate to possible renewed increases in energy prices over the medium term.

Euro area annual HICP inflation was 2.4% in July 2012, according to Eurostat’s flash estimate, unchanged from the previous month. On the basis of current futures prices for oil, inflation rates should decline further in the course of 2012 and be below 2% again in 2013. Over the policy-relevant horizon, in an environment of modest growth in the euro area and well-anchored long-term inflation expectations, underlying price pressures should remain moderate.

Risks to the outlook for price developments continue to be broadly balanced over the medium term. Upside risks pertain to further increases in indirect taxes, owing to the need for fiscal consolidation, and higher than expected energy prices over the medium term. The main downside risks relate to the impact of weaker than expected growth in the euro area, in particular resulting from a further intensification of financial market tensions. Such intensification has the potential to affect the balance of risks on the downside.

Turning to the monetary analysis, the underlying pace of monetary expansion remained subdued. The annual growth rate of M3 stood at 3.2% in June 2012, slightly higher than the 3.1% observed in the previous month and close to the rate observed at the end of the first quarter. Overall, inflows into broad money in the second quarter were weak. Annual growth in M1 increased further to 3.5% in June, in line with the increased preference of investors for liquid instruments in an environment of low interest rates and high uncertainty.

The annual growth rate of loans to the private sector (adjusted for loan sales and securitization) declined to 0.3% in June (from 0.5% in May). As net redemptions of loans to non-financial corporations and households (both adjusted for loan sales and securitization) were observed in June, the annual growth rates for loans to both non-financial corporations and households (adjusted for loan sales and securitization) decreased further in June, to -0.3% and 1.1% respectively. To a large extent, subdued loan growth reflects the current cyclical situation, heightened risk aversion and the ongoing adjustment in the balance sheets of households and enterprises, all of which weigh on credit demand. A considerable contribution of demand factors to weak MFI loan growth is confirmed by the euro area bank lending survey for the second quarter of 2012. This survey also shows that the net tightening of banks’ credit standards at the euro area level was broadly stable in the second quarter of 2012, as compared with the previous quarter, for loans to both enterprises and households.

Looking ahead, it is essential for banks to continue to strengthen their resilience where this is needed. The soundness of banks’ balance sheets will be a key factor in facilitating both an appropriate provision of credit to the economy and the normalization of all funding channels.

To sum up, the economic analysis indicates that price developments should remain in line with price stability over the medium term. A cross-check with the signals from the monetary analysis confirms this picture.

While significant progress has been achieved with fiscal consolidation over recent years, further decisive and urgent steps need to be taken to improve competitiveness. From 2009 to 2011, euro area countries, on average, reduced the deficit-to-GDP ratio by 2.3 percentage points, and the primary deficit improved by about 2½ percentage points. Fiscal adjustment in the euro area is continuing in 2012, and it is indeed crucial that efforts are maintained to restore sound fiscal positions. At the same time, structural reforms are as essential as fiscal consolidation efforts and the measures to repair the financial sector. Some progress has also been made in this area. For example, unit labor costs and current account developments have started to undergo a correction process in most of the countries strongly affected by the crisis. However, further reform measures need to be implemented swiftly and decisively. Product market reforms to foster competitiveness and the creation of efficient and flexible labor markets are preconditions for the unwinding of existing imbalances and the achievement of robust, sustainable growth. It is now crucial that Member States implement their country-specific recommendations with determination.”


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