Reassuring Words from 2007

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From testimony to Congress:

The ongoing tightening of lending standards, although an appropriate market response, will reduce somewhat the effective demand for housing, and foreclosed properties will add to the inventories of unsold homes. At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained. In particular, mortgages to prime borrowers and fixed-rate mortgages to all classes of borrowers continue to perform well, with low rates of delinquency. We will continue to monitor this situation closely.0720-downwego

Despite the recent weak readings, we expect business investment in equipment and software to grow at a moderate pace this year, supported by high rates of profitability, strong business balance sheets, relatively low interest rates and credit spreads, and continued expansion of output and sales. Investment in nonresidential structures (such as office buildings, factories, and retail space) should also continue to expand, although not at the unusually rapid pace of 2006.

Thus far, the weakness in housing and in some parts of manufacturing does not appear to have spilled over to any significant extent to other sectors of the economy. Employment has continued to expand as job losses in manufacturing and residential construction have been more than offset by gains in other sectors, notably health care, leisure and hospitality, and professional and technical services, and unemployment remains low by historical standards. The continuing increases in employment, together with some pickup in real wages, have helped sustain consumer spending, which increased at a brisk pace during the second half of last year and has continued to be well maintained so far this year. Growth in consumer spending should continue to support the economic expansion in coming quarters. In addition, fiscal policy at both the federal and the state and local levels should impart a small stimulus to economic activity this year.

Outside the United States, economic activity in our major trading partners has continued to grow briskly. The strength of demand abroad has helped to spur strong growth in U.S. real exports, which rose about 9 percent last year, and a robust world economy should continue to provide opportunities for U.S. exporters this year. Growth in U.S. real imports slowed to about 3 percent in 2006, in part reflecting a drop in real terms in imports of crude oil and petroleum products. Despite the improvements in trade performance, the U.S. current account deficit remains large, averaging 6-1/2 percent of nominal GDP during 2006.

Overall, the economy appears likely to continue to expand at a moderate pace over coming quarters. As the inventory of unsold new homes is worked off, the drag from residential investment should wane. Consumer spending appears solid, and business investment seems likely to post moderate gains.