Current Economic Situation and Outlook from Janet Yellin

This is Janet Yellin’s prepared testimony excerpted directly from the official Federal Reserve Board website. Nobody has better data. They thoroughly discredit the Republican Big Lie. But reality is so yesterday when you’re trying for the Republican nomination. Note: The section that follows immediately after this excerpt relates to monetary policy directly. Readers can view the entire prepared statement here.

Current Economic Situation and Outlook

Since my appearance before this Committee last July, the economy has made further progress toward the Federal Reserve's objective of maximum employment. And while inflation is expected to remain low in the near term, in part because of the further declines in energy prices, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) expects that inflation will rise to its 2 percent objective over the medium term.

In the labor market, the number of nonfarm payroll jobs rose 2.7 million in 2015, and posted a further gain of 150,000 in January of this year. The cumulative increase in employment since its trough in early 2010, is now more than 13 million jobs. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent in January, 0.8 percentage point below its level a year ago and in line with the median of FOMC participants' most recent estimates of its longer-run normal level. Other measures of labor market conditions have also shown solid improvement, with noticeable declines over the past year in the number of individuals who want and are available to work but have not actively searched recently, and in the number of people who are working part time but would rather work full time. However, these measures remain above the levels seen prior to the recession, suggesting that some slack in labor markets remains. Thus, while labor market conditions have improved substantially, there is still room for further sustainable improvement.
The strong gains in the job market last year were accompanied by a continued moderate expansion in economic activity. U.S. real gross domestic product is estimated to have increased about 1-3/4 percent in 2015. Over the course of the year, subdued foreign growth and the appreciation of the dollar restrained net exports. In the fourth quarter of last year, growth in the gross domestic product is reported to have slowed more sharply, to an annual rate of just 3/4 percent; again, growth was held back by weak net exports as well as by a negative contribution from inventory investment. Although private domestic final demand appears to have slowed somewhat in the fourth quarter, it has continued to advance. Household spending has been supported by steady job gains and solid growth in real disposable income--aided in part by the declines in oil prices. One area of particular strength has been purchases of cars and light trucks; sales of these vehicles in 2015, reached their highest level ever. In the drilling and mining sector, lower oil prices have caused companies to slash jobs and sharply cut capital outlays, but in most other sectors, business investment rose over the second half of last year. And homebuilding activity has continued to move up, on balance, although the level of new construction remains well below the longer-run levels implied by demographic trends.

Financial conditions in the United States have recently become less supportive of growth, with declines in broad measures of equity prices, higher borrowing rates for riskier borrowers, and a further appreciation of the dollar. These developments, if they prove persistent, could weigh on the outlook for economic activity and the labor market, although declines in longer-term interest rates and oil prices provide some offset. Still, ongoing employment gains and faster wage growth should support the growth of real incomes and therefore consumer spending, and global economic growth should pick up over time, supported by highly accommodative monetary policies abroad. Against this backdrop, the Committee expects that with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace in coming years and that labor market indicators will continue to strengthen.

As is always the case, the economic outlook is uncertain. Foreign economic developments, in particular, pose risks to U.S. economic growth. Most notably, although recent economic indicators do not suggest a sharp slowdown in Chinese growth, declines in the foreign exchange value of the renminbi have intensified uncertainty about China's exchange rate policy and the prospects for its economy. This uncertainty led to increased volatility in global financial markets and, against the background of persistent weakness abroad, exacerbated concerns about the outlook for global growth. These growth concerns, along with strong supply conditions and high inventories, contributed to the recent fall in the prices of oil and other commodities. In turn, low commodity prices could trigger financial stresses in commodity-exporting economies, particularly in vulnerable emerging market economies, and for commodity-producing firms in many countries. Should any of these downside risks materialize, foreign activity and demand for U.S. exports could weaken and financial market conditions could tighten further.
Of course, economic growth could also exceed our projections for a number of reasons, including the possibility that low oil prices will boost U.S. economic growth more than we expect. At present, the Committee is closely monitoring global economic and financial developments, as well as assessing their implications for the labor market and inflation and the balance of risks to the outlook.

As I noted earlier, inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent objective. Overall consumer prices, as measured by the price index for personal consumption expenditures, increased just 1/2 percent over the 12 months of 2015. To a large extent, the low average pace of inflation last year can be traced to the earlier steep declines in oil prices and in the prices of other imported goods. And, given the recent further declines in the prices of oil and other commodities, as well as the further appreciation of the dollar, the Committee expects inflation to remain low in the near term. However, once oil and import prices stop falling, the downward pressure on domestic inflation from those sources should wane, and as the labor market strengthens further, inflation is expected to rise gradually to 2 percent over the medium term. In light of the current shortfall of inflation from 2 percent, the Committee is carefully monitoring actual and expected progress toward its inflation goal.

Of course, inflation expectations play an important role in the inflation process, and the Committee's confidence in the inflation outlook depends importantly on the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations remain well anchored. It is worth noting, in this regard, that market-based measures of inflation compensation have moved down to historically low levels; our analysis suggests that changes in risk and liquidity premiums over the past year and a half contributed significantly to these declines. Some survey measures of longer-run inflation expectations are also at the low end of their recent ranges; overall, however, they have been reasonably stable.

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