Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said on Wednesday he expected the U.S. economy to grow in the second half of this year. Evans, speaking at an event in St. Joseph County South Bend, IN, implied the main concern at the moment was rising unemployment.
Here are a few excerpts from his remarks:
[T]here have been some favorable developments of late, and the possibility that the economy is closer to a turning point is stronger now than just three months ago. Although the data have been uneven, our reading of the recent indicators is that the pace of contraction is slowing and that activity is bottoming out. We expect modest increases in output in the second half of this year followed by somewhat stronger growth in 2010.
So what are these signs of improvement that underlie this forecast? First, financial market conditions have improved, with credit spreads and other measures of market stress much lower than they were in late 2008 and early 2009.
Consumer spending, which had dropped sharply since the second half of last year, has been roughly flat so far in 2009. Housing markets, after more than three years of decline, have also shown some signs of stabilizing. Sales of both new and existing homes have appeared to flatten out in recent months, though both remain at very low levels. Meanwhile, homebuilders have reduced their backlog of unsold new homes—a precondition for any recovery in homebuilding. But the backlog of unsold existing homes remains high, and delinquency and foreclosure rates continue to be a substantial risk to the housing market recovery.
Labor markets remain weak, but there has been a (somewhat uneven) decline in the pace of job losses. The May and June average of monthly declines in employment was about half the rate of contraction as the beginning of this year, and newly filed jobless claims seem to have peaked in late March. However, firms are still reluctant to hire, and the unemployment rate reached 9-1/2 percent in June and will likely further increase through the remainder of the year before it flattens out in 2010.
The industrial side of the economy has been especially hard hit this year, but there are signs that the worst of the decline in the sector is in the past. Business fixed investment remains weak, but the decline is getting shallower. Steep inventory liquidations made significant negative contributions to output growth in late 2008 and early 2009. But this means that inventories are in better alignment with sales, so we expect to see less dramatic liquidation in the months ahead. In turn, the smaller declines translate into a net positive for GDP growth. Finally, in the coming months, the fiscal stimulus will continue to have positive influences on the economy.
On prices Fed’s Evans said he finds the current core inflation level of near 2%, acceptable.
In the near term, I think the downward forces on inflation will be greater than the upward forces, and we could see some declines in core inflation. But over the medium term I see the risks to the inflation forecast as being more balanced.
Evans also said that as the economy heads more clearly toward sustainable growth and stable prices, the challenge for the Fed will be the unwinding of the agency’s nontraditional programs.