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Friday, August 31, 2007

Bernanke: Housing, Housing Finance, and Monetary Policy

by Calculated Risk on 8/31/2007 10:00:00 AM

From Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke at Jackson Hole: Housing, Housing Finance, and Monetary Policy.

"It is not the responsibility of the Federal Reserve--nor would it be appropriate--to protect lenders and investors from the consequences of their financial decisions. But developments in financial markets can have broad economic effects felt by many outside the markets, and the Federal Reserve must take those effects into account when determining policy. In a statement issued simultaneously with the discount window announcement, the FOMC indicated that the deterioration in financial market conditions and the tightening of credit since its August 7 meeting had appreciably increased the downside risks to growth. In particular, the further tightening of credit conditions, if sustained, would increase the risk that the current weakness in housing could be deeper or more prolonged than previously expected, with possible adverse effects on consumer spending and the economy more generally.

The incoming data indicate that the economy continued to expand at a moderate pace into the summer, despite the sharp correction in the housing sector. However, in light of recent financial developments, economic data bearing on past months or quarters may be less useful than usual for our forecasts of economic activity and inflation. Consequently, we will pay particularly close attention to the timeliest indicators, as well as information gleaned from our business and banking contacts around the country. Inevitably, the uncertainty surrounding the outlook will be greater than normal, presenting a challenge to policymakers to manage the risks to their growth and price stability objectives. The Committee continues to monitor the situation and will act as needed to limit the adverse effects on the broader economy that may arise from the disruptions in financial markets."
emphasis added
Excerpt on mortgage equity withdrawal and consumption:
"... housing may have indirect effects on economic activity, most notably by influencing consumer spending. With regard to household consumption, perhaps the most significant effect of recent developments in mortgage finance is that home equity, which was once a highly illiquid asset, has become instead quite liquid, the result of the development of home equity lines of credit and the relatively low cost of cash-out refinancing. Economic theory suggests that the greater liquidity of home equity should allow households to better smooth consumption over time. This smoothing in turn should reduce the dependence of their spending on current income, which, by limiting the power of conventional multiplier effects, should tend to increase macroeconomic stability and reduce the effects of a given change in the short-term interest rate. These inferences are supported by some empirical evidence.

On the other hand, the increased liquidity of home equity may lead consumer spending to respond more than in past years to changes in the values of their homes; some evidence does suggest that the correlation of consumption and house prices is higher in countries, like the United States, that have more sophisticated mortgage markets (Calza, Monacelli, and Stracca, 2007). Whether the development of home equity loans and easier mortgage refinancing has increased the magnitude of the real estate wealth effect--and if so, by how much--is a much-debated question that I will leave to another occasion."