Wednesday, September 02, 2009

FOMC Minutes: Consumer Spending Softer than Expected

by Bill McBride on 9/02/2009 02:00:00 PM

Here are the August FOMC minutes. Economic outlook:

In the forecast prepared for the August FOMC meeting, the staff's outlook for the change in real activity over the next year and a half was essentially the same as at the time of the June meeting. Consumer spending had been on the soft side lately. The new estimates of real disposable income that were reported in the comprehensive revision to the national income and product accounts showed a noticeably slower increase in 2008 and the first half of 2009 than previously thought. By themselves, the revised income estimates would imply a lower forecast of consumer spending in coming quarters. But this negative influence on aggregate demand was roughly offset by other factors, including higher household net worth as a result of the rise in equity prices since March, lower corporate bond rates and spreads, a lower dollar, and a stronger forecast for foreign economic activity. All told, the staff continued to project that real GDP would start to increase in the second half of 2009 and that output growth would pick up to a pace somewhat above its potential rate in 2010. The projected increase in production in the second half of 2009 was expected to be the result of a slowing in the pace of inventory liquidation; final sales were not projected to increase until 2010. The step-up in economic activity in 2010 was expected to be supported by an ongoing improvement in financial conditions, which, along with accommodative monetary policy, was projected to set the stage for further improvements in household and business sentiment and an acceleration in aggregate demand.

The staff forecast for inflation was also about unchanged from that at the June meeting. Interpretation of the incoming data on core PCE inflation was complicated by changes in the definition of the core measure recently implemented by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, as well as by unusually low readings for some nonmarket components of the price index. After accounting for these factors, the underlying pace of core inflation seemed to be running a little higher than the staff had anticipated. Survey measures of inflation expectations showed no significant change. Nonetheless, with the unemployment rate anticipated to increase somewhat during the remainder of 2009 and to decline only gradually in 2010, the staff still expected core PCE inflation to slow substantially over the forecast period; the very low readings on hourly compensation lately suggested that such a process might already be in train.
emphasis added
The future path of the federal funds rate would continue to depend on the Committee's evolving outlook, but, for now, given their forecasts for only a gradual upturn in economic activity and subdued inflation, members thought it most likely that the federal funds rate would need to be maintained at an exceptionally low level for an extended period. With the downside risks to the economic outlook now considerably reduced but the economic recovery likely to be damped, the Committee also agreed that neither expansion nor contraction of its program of asset purchases was warranted at this time.
The Fed Staff still sees an immaculate recovery. That seems unlikely to me. But the FOMC seems a little less optimistic.