11:13 p.m.
Wednesday, 22 November 2017

US economic growth has continued at a moderate rate: Bernanke

San Diego, California.- Ben Bernanke said today that the US Federal Reserve could start slowing down the pace of its asset purchases “in the next few meetings”, but only if the labour market shows sustained improvement.

Economic growth has continued at a moderate pace so far this year. Real gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have risen at an annual rate of 2-1/2 percent in the first quarter after increasing 1-3/4 percent during 2012. Economic growth in the first quarter was supported by continued expansion in demand by U.S. households and businesses, which more than offset the drag from declines in government spending, especially defense spending.

Conditions in the job market have shown some improvement recently. The unemployment rate, at 7.5 percent in April, has declined more than 1/2 percentage point since last summer. Moreover, gains in total nonfarm payroll employment have averaged more than 200,000 jobs per month over the past six months, compared with average monthly gains of less than 140,000 during the prior six months. In all, payroll employment has now expanded by about 6 million jobs since its low point, and the unemployment rate has fallen 2-1/2 percentage points since its peak.

Despite this improvement, the job market remains weak overall: The unemployment rate is still well above its longer-run normal level, rates of long-term unemployment are historically high, and the labor force participation rate has continued to move down. Moreover, nearly 8 million people are working part time even though they would prefer full-time work. High rates of unemployment and underemployment are extraordinarily costly: Not only do they impose hardships on the affected individuals and their families, they also damage the productive potential of the economy as a whole by eroding workers' skills and--particularly relevant during this commencement season--by preventing many young people from gaining workplace skills and experience in the first place. The loss of output and earnings associated with high unemployment also reduces government revenues and increases spending on income-support programs, thereby leading to larger budget deficits and higher levels of public debt than would otherwise occur.

Consumer price inflation has been low. The price index for personal consumption expenditures rose only 1 percent over the 12 months ending in March, down from about 2-1/4 percent during the previous 12 months. This slow rate of inflation partly reflects recent declines in consumer energy prices, but price inflation for other consumer goods and services has also been subdued. Nevertheless, measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable and continue to run in the narrow ranges seen over the past several years. Over the next few years, inflation appears likely to run at or below the 2 percent rate that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) judges to be most consistent with the Federal Reserve's statutory mandate to foster maximum employment and stable prices.

Over the nearly four years since the recovery began, the economy has been held back by a number of headwinds. Some of these headwinds have begun to dissipate recently, in part because of the Federal Reserve's highly accommodative monetary policy. Notably, the housing market has strengthened over the past year, supported by low mortgage rates and improved sentiment on the part of potential buyers. Increased housing activity is fostering job creation in construction and related industries, such as real estate brokerage and home furnishings, while higher home prices are bolstering household finances, which helps support the growth of private consumption.

Severe fiscal and financial strains in Europe, by weighing on U.S. exports and financial markets, have also restrained U.S. economic growth over the past couple of years. However, since last summer, financial conditions in the euro area have improved somewhat, which should help mitigate the economic slowdown there while also reducing the headwinds faced by the U.S. economy. Also, credit conditions in the United States have eased for some types of loans, as bank capital and asset quality have strengthened.

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