Federal Reserve officials must choose this week between their best estimates and their worst fears of what will happen to the U.S. economy.
Policy makers will bring new forecasts to their June 19-20 meeting and probably will mark down their April central-tendency estimate for growth of 2.4 percent to 2.9 percent this year. Lurking in the background is the risk of increasing financial stress in Europe and stubbornly high U.S. unemployment that has remained above 8 percent for 40 consecutive months.
“We put high odds on them acting at the meeting,” said Reinhart, who was the head of the Fed board’s Division of Monetary Affairs, which develops policy strategy, under chairmen Greenspan and Bernanke. “Risk management says that you act in advance of a potential downdraft in activity because that could trigger” a collapse in demand that would be difficult to escape with the main policy rate at zero. The Fed cut the target for the federal funds rate to a record-low range between zero and 0.25 percent in December 2008.
Some of the weakness in labor markets could be explained by unseasonably warm weather that boosted hiring earlier this year. Operation Twist has helped increase housing activity, with sales of new and existing homes rising to a 4.96 million seasonally adjusted annual rate in April from 4.51 million a year earlier, based on Bloomberg calculations.
The so-called fiscal cliff includes the expiration of income-tax cuts first enacted under President George W. Bush, the end of payroll-tax reductions and automatic decreases in government expenditures, which would trim a combined 3 percentage points from growth next year if allowed to kick in, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News at the end of May. Instead, compromises will limit the damage to 0.8 point, sustaining the expansion, the survey showed.