Statement by Alan Greenspan, Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate, July 20, 1994

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I appreciate this opportunity to discuss with you recent economic developments and the Federal Reserve's conduct of monetary policy.(1)

The favorable performance of the economy continued in the first half of 1994. Economic growth was strong, unemployment fell appreciably, and inflation remained subdued. To sustain the expansion, the Federal Reserve adjusted monetary policy over recent months so as to contain potential inflation pressures.

Our actions this year can be understood by reference to policy over the previous several years. Through that period, the Federal Reserve moved toward and then maintained for a considerable time a purposefully accommodative stance of policy. During 1993, that stance was associated with low levels of real short-term interest rates--around zero. We judged that low interest rates would be necessary for a time to overcome the effects of a number of factors that were restraining the economic expansion, including heavy debt burdens of households and businesses and tighter credit policies of many lenders. By early this year, however, it became clear that many of these impediments had diminished and that the economy had consequently gained considerable momentum. In these circumstances, it was no longer appropriate to maintain an accommodative policy. Indeed, history strongly suggests that maintenance of real short-term rates at levels prevailing last year ultimately would have fueled inflationary pressures.

Accordingly, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) at its meeting in early February decided to move away from its accommodative posture by tightening reserve market conditions. Given the level of real short-term rates and the evident momentum in the economy, it seemed likely that a substantial cumulative adjustment of policy would be needed. However, Committee members recognized that financial markets were not fully prepared for this action. About five years had passed since the previous episode of monetary firming, and a number of market participants in designing their investment strategies seemed to give little weight to the possibility that interest rates would rise; instead, many apparently extrapolated the then-recent, but highly unusual, extended period of low short-term interest rates, fairly steady capital gains on long-term investments, and relatively stable conditions in financial markets. Many Committee members were concerned that a marked shift in the stance of policy, though necessary, could precipitate an exaggerated reaction in financial markets.

With this in mind, we initially tightened reserve conditions only slightly--just enough to raise the federal funds rate 1/4 percentage point. And the financial markets did indeed react sharply, with substantial increases in longer-term interest rates and declines in stock prices. Markets remained unsettled for several months, and we continued to move cautiously in March and April in the process of moving away from our accommodative stance. By mid-May, however, a considerable portion of the adjustment in portfolios to the new rate environment appeared to have taken place. With financial markets evidently better prepared to absorb a larger move, the Federal Reserve could substantially complete the removal of the degree of monetary accommodation that prevailed throughout 1993. The Board raised the discount rate 1/2 percentage point, a move that was fully passed through to reserve market conditions by the FOMC. Overall, the federal funds rate increased 1 1/4 percentage points during the first half of the year, and real short-term rates likely rose a similar amount. Partly to minimize any market confusion about the extent of, and rationale for, our moves, the Federal Reserve has announced each action and, in relevant instances, provided an explanation. At its meeting in early July, the FOMC faced considerable uncertainty about the pace of expansion and pressures on prices going forward, and it made no further adjustment in its policy stance. …