Monetary Policy and the Economic Outlook for 1995 and 1996

Article excerpt

During 1994, spending by U.S. households and businesses grew at an exceptionally rapid pace, and by the end of the year, demands clearly were taking the productive capacity the economy. Pressures on resources were particularly intense in sectors of manufacturing that provide inputs for other producers, and sharp increases in the prices of materials and supplies signaled what could have been the first stage of a broader inflationary process. A weakening of the dollar on foreign exchange markets as 1995 began heightened that risk. To dampen these inflationary pressures and foster a sustainable economic expansion, the Federal Open Market Committee in February tightened policy somewhat, extending the series of actions undertaken during 1994, and the Board of Governors approved a one-half percentage point increase in the discount rate.

The economy's growth began to moderate in the first quarter of 1995. Among the factors contributing to the slowing were the lagged effects of 1994's increases in interest rates on housing and other rate-sensitive sectors and the impact on U.S. exports of the sharp contraction in Mexico's economy and fail in the foreign exchange value of the peso. As final sales moderated, businesses scaled back their desired inventory accumulation. In some key sectors, the slackening in sales was greater than anticipated, leaving firms with excess inventories. As businesses took steps to trim stocks, aggregate production decelerated further in the second quarter and was probably about flat, as measured by real gross domestic product. The inventory adjustment was especially large in the motor vehicle sector, which accounted for much of the downswing in manufacturing activity in the spring. Homebuilding also showed marked weakness, in part because builders hesitated to start new projects until they could work down stocks of unsold new homes.

Over the past half-year, foreign long-term interest rates have fallen significantly as growth prospects abroad have weakened, but by less than U.S. long-term interest rates. In addition, the Mexican crisis was seen by market participants as having adverse implications for U.S. growth, especially exports, and contributed to the dollar's decline in terms of currencies other than the peso in early 1995.

Despite the slower expansion of nominal spending this year, net borrowing by households and businesses remained substantial. In fact, total private credit flows strengthened, offsetting slower growth of federal debt and an outright decline in state and local government debt; as a result, total domestic nonfinancial debt expanded at a 5 1/2 percent pace from the fourth quarter of 1994 through May, a little faster than in 1994. …