Fed officials see risks in housing, financial markets

 @ibtimes
on September 10 2007 10:23 PM

Federal Reserve officials said on Monday that while there were risks related to ongoing housing and financial markets turmoil, it was not completely clear if such uncertainty could spread to the wider economy.

After the first report of overall U.S. job losses in the past four years last Friday, several top Federal Reserve officials assessed the economy in scheduled speeches around the nation.

The U.S. commerce department reported that the employers cut 4,000 jobs in August surprising some economists and increasing pressure on policy makers to reduce interest rates to spur economic activity.

Federal Reserve Governor Frederic S. Mishkin, a member of the monetary policy setting Federal Open Market Committee, said he would not rule out a scenario where heightened uncertainty could lead to further retrenchment in housing and business spending.

That scenario cannot, in my view, be ruled out, and I believe it poses an important downside risk to economic activity, he said according to prepared remarks.

He added however that the recent process of readjustment in financial markets would create a more solid footing for the real economy.

But in the meantime, the FOMC is monitoring the situation and is prepared to act as needed to mitigate the adverse effects on the economy arising from the disruptions in financial markets, he said.

Other Fed presidents, not currently in rotating voting slots of the FOMC, had their say as well.

Janet Yellen, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco expressed view similar to that of Mishkin.

To sum up the story on the outlook for aggregate demand, I see significant downward pressure based on recent data indicating further weakening in the housing sector and the tightening of financial markets, she said, according to prepared statements for a speech before the National Association for Business Economics in San Francisco.

However she noted that market conditions could change quickly for better or for worse – especially in financial markets – so it’s hard now to speak with a great deal of confidence about future economic developments.

In a separate speech, Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher provided a more upbeat assessment of economic conditions.

Given the financial turmoil that began last month, I am generally encouraged by what I have heard and seen so far: As yet, tighter credit conditions do not appear to have had a major impact on overall economic activity outside of real estate, Fisher noted in prepared remarks.

Our economy appears to be weathering the storm thus far, Fisher said. The future path of that storm and the appropriate policy course, however, are still to be determined.

Tighter credit conditions did not seem to have had a major impact on the general economy outside of the real estate market, he said.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart also said that it was not clear whether the overall economy had been impacted despite the job losses reported on Friday.

Last Thursday, I said in a speech that I have not seen conclusive signs of weakness in the broader economy, Lockhart, said at in remarks made at a speech in Atlanta. Friday's data, however, shows employment was beginning to soften back in June. This news should be evaluated with recently positive reports in retail sales.

However he didn’t minimize the figures either.

We evaluate data from a number of sources and employment data are certainly very important, he said, noting that Friday's figures clearly have to be taken very seriously.

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