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Using Market Indicators to Understand Economic Growth

The Manager of the System Open Market Account reported on recent developments in foreign exchange markets. He indicated that the swap line drawing by the Bank of Mexico had been repaid in full on January 29, 1996. The Committee ratified that transaction by unanimous vote.

The Manager also reported on recent developments in domestic financial markets and on System open market transactions in U.S. government securities and federal agency obligations during the period December 19, 1995, through January 30, 1996. By unanimous vote, the Committee ratified these transactions.

The Committee then turned to a discussion of the economic and financial outlook, the ranges for the growth of money and debt in 1996, and the implementation of monetary policy over the intermeeting period ahead. A summary of the economic and financial information available at the time of the meeting and of the Committee's discussion is provided below, followed by the domestic policy directive that was approved by the Committee and issued to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Only a limited amount of new information was available for this meeting because of delays in government releases; that which was available, along with anecdotal commentary, suggested that the economy had been growing relatively slowly in recent months. Consumer spending had expanded modestly on balance, growth in business investment in capital goods appeared to have slackened somewhat recently, and housing demand seemed to have leveled out. Slower growth in final sales was leading to inventory build ups in a few industries and these buildups, together with the disruptions from government shutdowns and severe weather, were having a restraining effect on economic activity. The demand for labor was still growing at a moderate pace, though, and the unemployment rate remained relatively low. The recent data on prices and wages had been mixed, but there was no firm evidence of a change in underlying inflation trends.

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to expand moderately in December; the gain was in line with the average monthly increase for 1995. Employment in manufacturing, boosted by the settlement of a strike at a major aircraft manufacturer, reversed the declines of October and November. Construction payrolls rose further in December, despite unfavorable weather in some parts of the country. Job growth remained solid in much of the services industry, although employment at personnel supply firms was little changed. The civilian unemployment rate remained at 5.6 percent in December.

Industrial production edged up in December and for the fourth quarter as a whole advanced only slightly; industrial activity remained sluggish in January according to the limited statistical information that was available. In December, manufacturing output rose a bit in association with an increase in motor vehicle assemblies and aircraft production. Elsewhere in manufacturing, the growth of output of office and computing equipment slowed somewhat from the rapid pace of previous monthsArticle Submission, and the production of defense and space equipment and of nondurable consumer goods registered sizable declines. The output of utilities was boosted somewhat in December by the effect of colder-than-average temperatures on the demand for heating services. Utilization of total industrial capacity fell slightly but remained at a moderately elevated level.

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