Bank credit rose slightly in October and November, as growth in commercial and industrial loans, CRE loans, and consumer loans was partially offset by declines in the outstanding balances of closed-end residential mortgages on banks’ books. Stock prices for large and regional domestic banking firms outperformed the broad equity market over the intermeeting period amid better-than-expected economic data and the settlement of mortgage-related litigation by some large banking organizations. Spreads on credit default swaps for the largest bank holding companies also moved lower, on net.
M2 contracted in November, likely reflecting in part portfolio reallocations by investors that had temporarily placed funds in bank deposits as a safe haven during the recent federal debt limit impasse. Meanwhile, the monetary base continued to expand rapidly, primarily reflecting the increase in reserve balances resulting from the Federal Reserve’s asset purchases.
The foreign exchange value of the dollar appreciated following the October FOMC meeting and the October employment report and ended the intermeeting period higher on balance. A shift in market expectations toward easier monetary policy abroad may have also boosted the exchange value of the dollar, most notably against the Japanese yen, and equity prices in Japan rose substantially further during the period. By contrast, equity prices declined in many emerging market economies; in some cases, those declines were large and accompanied by sizable decreases in currency values and sovereign bond prices. European equity prices were also lower over the period. Long-term benchmark sovereign yields in the United Kingdom and Canada increased, in line with, but somewhat less than, the rise in yields on comparable U.S. Treasury securities. Yields on German sovereign bonds, which reacted to a policy rate cut by the European Central Bank and the release of data showing lower-than-expected euro-area inflation, were only slightly higher on net.
The staff’s periodic report on potential risks to financial stability concluded that the vulnerability of the financial system to adverse shocks remained at moderate levels overall. Relatively strong capital profiles of large domestic banking firms, low levels and moderate growth of aggregate credit in the nonfinancial sectors, and some reduction in reliance on short-term wholesale funding across the financial sector were seen as factors supporting financial stability in the current environment. Valuations in most asset markets seemed broadly in line with historical norms. However, the staff report noted that the complexity and interconnectedness of large financial institutions, along with some apparent increases in investor appetite for higher-yielding assets and associated pressures on underwriting standards remained potential sources of risk to the financial system.
Staff Economic Outlook
In the economic projection prepared by the staff for the December FOMC meeting, the forecast for growth in real gross domestic product (GDP) in the second half of this year was revised up a little from the one prepared for the previous meeting, as the recent information on private domestic final demand–particularly consumer spending–was somewhat better, on balance, than the staff had anticipated. The staff’s medium-term forecast for real GDP growth was also revised up slightly, reflecting a small reduction in fiscal restraint from the recent federal budget agreement, which the staff assumed would be enacted; a lower anticipated trajectory for longer-term interest rates; and higher paths for equity values and home prices. Those factors, in total, more than offset a higher path for the foreign exchange value of the dollar. The staff continued to project that real GDP would expand more quickly over the next few years than it has this year and would rise significantly faster than the growth rate of potential output. This acceleration in economic activity was expected to be supported by an easing in the effects of fiscal policy restraint on economic growth, increases in consumer and business sentiment, continued improvements in credit availability and financial conditions, a further easing of the economic stresses in Europe, and still-accommodative monetary policy. The expansion in economic activity was anticipated to slowly reduce resource slack over the projection period, and the unemployment rate was expected to decline gradually to the staff’s estimate of its longer-run natural rate.
The staff’s forecast for inflation was quite similar to the projection prepared for the previous FOMC meeting. The near-term forecast for inflation was revised down slightly to reflect some recent softer-than-expected data. The staff continued to forecast that inflation would be modest, on net, through early next year but higher than its low level in the first half of this year. The staff’s projection for inflation over the medium term was essentially unchanged. With longer-run inflation expectations assumed to remain stable, changes in commodity and import prices expected to be measured, and slack in labor and product markets persisting over most of the projection period, inflation was projected to be subdued through 2016.
The staff viewed the uncertainty around the projection for economic activity as similar to its average over the past 20 years. Nonetheless, the risks to the forecast for real GDP growth were viewed as tilted to the downside, reflecting concerns that the extent of supply-side damage to the economy since the recession could prove greater than assumed; that the tightening in mortgage rates since last spring could exert greater restraint on the housing recovery than had been projected; that economic and financial stresses in emerging market economies and the euro area could intensify; and that, with the target federal funds rate already near its lower bound, the U.S. economy was not well