Fed: H1/15 Economic Activity Revised Up

According to the minutes of the Fed’s March 17-18 policy meeting, the staff estimated that real GDP growth in the second half of 2014 was faster than in the projection prepared for the December meeting, primarily reflecting stronger-than-expected consumer spending. Even so, real GDP was still estimated to have risen more slowly in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter, as changes in both net exports and federal government purchases appeared likely to have subtracted from real GDP growth in the fourth quarter following large positive contributions in the previous

The staff’s outlook for economic activity over the first half of 2015 was revised up since December, in part reflecting an anticipated boost to consumer spending from declines in energy prices. However, the forecast for real GDP growth over the medium term was little revised, as the greater momentum implied by recent spending gains and the support to household spending from lower energy prices was about offset by the restraint implied by the recent appreciation of the dollar.

The staff continued to forecast that real GDP would expand at a modestly faster pace in 2015 and 2016 than it did in 2014 and that it would rise more quickly than potential output, supported by increases in consumer and business confidence and a pickup in foreign economic growth, as well as by a U.S. monetary policy stance that was assumed to remain highly accommodative for some time.

In 2017, real GDP growth was projected to begin slowing toward, but to remain slightly above, the rate of growth of potential output. The expansion in economic activity over the medium term was anticipated to lead to a slow reduction in resource slack, and the unemployment rate was expected to decline gradually and to move slightly below the staff’s estimate of its longer-run natural rate for a time.

The staff’s forecast for inflation in the near term was revised down, as further sharp declines in crude oil prices since the December FOMC meeting pointed toward a somewhat larger transitory decrease in the total PCE price index early this year than was previously projected. In addition, the incoming data on consumer prices apart from those for energy showed a somewhat smaller rise than anticipated. The staff’s forecast for inflation in 2016 and 2017 was essentially unchanged, with inflation projected to remain below the Committee’s 2% objective. Nevertheless, inflation was projected to reach 2% over time, with inflation expectations in the longer run assumed to be consistent with the Committee’s objective and slack in labor and product markets anticipated to fade.

The staff viewed the uncertainty around its projections for real GDP growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation as similar to the average over the past 20 years. The risks to the forecast for real GDP growth were viewed as tilted a little to the downside, reflecting the staff’s assessment that neither monetary policy nor fiscal policy was well positioned to help the economy withstand ad-verse shocks. At the same time, the staff viewed the risks around its outlook for the unemployment rate as roughly balanced. The downside risks to the forecast for inflation were seen as having increased somewhat, partly reflecting the recent soft monthly readings on core inflation.

Participants expected that, over the medium term, real economic activity would increase at a moderate pace sufficient to lead to further improvements in labor market conditions toward levels consistent with the Committee’s objective of maximum employment. Inflation had declined further below the Committee’s longer-run objective, largely reflecting declines in energy prices, and was anticipated to decline further in the near term. Market-based measures of inflation compensation five to 10 years ahead had registered a further decline, while survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations remained stable.

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