Inless than a month my term as Fed Chairman will end. Needless to say, my tenurehas been eventful--for the Federal Reserve, for the country, and for mepersonally. I thought it appropriate today to reflect on some accomplishmentsof the past eight years, as well as some uncompleted tasks. I will brieflycover three areas in my remarks: (1) the Federal Reserve's commitment totransparency and accountability, (2) financial stability and financial reform,and (3) monetary policy. I will close by discussing the prospects for theU.S.and globaleconomies.
Transparency and Accountability
Fostering transparency and accountability at the Federal Reserve was one of myprincipal objectives when I became Chairman in February 2006. I had longadvocated increased transparency and, in particular, a more explicit policyframework as ways to make monetary policy more predictable and more effective.Our efforts to enhance transparency and communication have indeed made monetarypolicy more effective, but, as I'll discuss, these steps have proved importantin other spheres as well.
WhenI began my term I expected to build on the monetary policy framework I hadinherited from Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan. My predecessors had solidifiedthe Fed's commitment to low and stable inflation as a foundation of broadereconomic stability, and they gradually increased the transparency of monetarypolicy deliberations and plans. For example, Chairman Volcker introduced amoney-targeting framework to help guide the Fed's attack on high inflation inthe early 1980s, and the practice of issuing a statement after each meeting ofthe Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) began under Chairman Greenspan. Ibelieved that a still more transparent approach would make monetary policy evenmore effective and further strengthen the Fed's institutional credibility. Inparticular, as an academic I had written favorably about the flexibleinflation-targeting approach used by the Bank of England and a number of othercentral banks. By making public considerable information about policy goals andstrategies, together with their economic forecasts, these central banksprovided a clear framework to help the public and market participantsunderstand and anticipate policy actions. The provision of numerical goals andpolicy plans also helped make these central banks more accountable for achievingtheir stated objectives. I was confident that we could adapt this type offramework to the Federal Reserve's dual mandate to promote both maximumemployment and price stability. Indeed, central banks using this framework werealready, in practice, often pursuing economic objectives in addition to low andstable inflation--hence the term, "flexible" inflation targeting.
Becausethe financial crisis and its aftermath naturally occupied so much ofpolicymakers' attention, progress toward a more explicit policy framework atthe Federal Reserve was slower than I had hoped. Nevertheless, progress wasmade. In the minutes of its October 2007 meeting, the FOMC introduced itsquarterly Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), which included FOMCparticipants' projections of key macroeconomic variables such as inflation,gross domestic product (GDP) growth, and the unemployment rate.1
Over time, we addedlong-run projections of inflation, growth, and unemployment, as well asprojections of the path of the target federal funds rate consistent with eachindividual's views of appropriate monetary policy. These additions have betterinformed the public about participants' views on both the long-run objectivesof policy and the path of interest rates most consistent with achieving thoseobjectives.
Wetook another important step in January 2012, when the FOMC issued a statementlaying out its longer-run goals and policy strategy.2
The statement established,for the first time, an explicit longer-run goal for inflation of 2 percent, andit pointed to the SEP to provide information about Committee participants'assessments of the longer-run normal unemployment rate, currently between 5.2and 6 percent. The statement also indicated that the Committee would take abalanced approach to its price stability and employment objectives. We adoptedadditional measures aimed at clarifying the rationales for our decisions,including my quarterly postmeeting press conference. The increases in policytransparency that were achieved proved valuable during a very difficult periodfor monetary policy.
Asit happened, during the crisis and its aftermath the Federal Reserve'stransparency and accountability proved critical in a quite differentsphere--namely, in supporting the institution's democratic legitimacy. TheFederal Reserve, like other central banks, wields powerful tools; democraticaccountability requires that the public be able to see how and for whatpurposes those tools are being used. Transparency is particularly important ina period like the recent one in which the Federal Reserve has been compelled totake unusual and dramatic actions--including the provision of liquidity to awide range of financial institutions and markets that did not normally haveaccess to the Fed's discount window--to help stabilize the financial system andthe economy.
Whattypes of transparency are needed to preserve public confidence? At the mostbasic level, a central bank must be clear and open about its actions andoperations, particularly when they involve the deployment of public funds. TheFederal Reserve routinely makes public extensive information on all aspects ofits activities, and since the crisis it has greatly increased the quantity anddetail of its regular reports to the Congress and the public.3
Importantly, contrary towhat is sometimes asserted, all of the Fed's financial transactions andoperations are subject to regular, intensive audits--by the Government AccountabilityOffice, an independent Inspector General, and a private accounting firm, aswell as by our own internal auditors.4
It is a testament to thededication of the Federal Reserve's management team that these thorough auditshave consistently produced assessments of the Fed's accounting and financialcontrols that most public companies would envy.
Transparencyand accountability are about more than just opening up the books, however; theyalso require thoughtful explanations of what we are doing and why. In thisregard, our first responsibility is to the Congress, which established theFederal Reserve almost exactly a century ago and determined its structure,objectives, and powers. Federal Reserve Board members, including the Chairman,of course, as well as senior staff, testify frequently before congressionalcommittees on a wide range of topics. When I became Chairman, I anticipated theobligation to appear regularly before the Congress. I had not entirelyanticipated, though, that I would spend so much time meeting with legislatorsoutside of hearings--individually and in groups. But I quickly came to realizethe importance of these relationships with legislators in keeping open thechannels of communication. As part of the Fed's interaction with the Congress,we have also routinely provided staff briefings on request and conductedprograms at the Board for the benefit of congressional staff interested inFederal Reserve issues. I likewise maintained regular contact with both theBush and Obama Administrations, principally through meetings with the Secretaryof the Treasury and other economic officials.
Thecrisis and its aftermath, however, raised the need for communication andexplanation by the Federal Reserve to a new level. We took extraordinarymeasures to meet extraordinary economic challenges, and we had to explain thosemeasures to earn the public's support and confidence. Talking only to theCongress and to market participants would not have been enough. The effort toinform the public engaged the whole institution, including both Board membersand the staff. As Chairman, I did my part, by appearing on television programs,holding town halls, taking student questions at universities, and visiting amilitary base to talk to soldiers and their families. The Federal Reserve Banksalso played key roles in providing public information in their Districts,through programs, publications, speeches, and other media.
Thecrisis has passed, but I think the Fed's need to educate and explain will onlygrow. When Paul Volcker first sat in the Chairman's office in 1979, there wereno financial news channels on cable TV, no Bloomberg screens, no blogs, noTwitter. Today, news, ideas, and rumors circulate almost instantaneously. TheFed must continue to find ways to navigate this changing environment whileproviding clear, objective, and reliable information to the public.
For the U.S. and global economies, the most important event of the past eightyears was, of course, the global financial crisis and the deep recession thatit triggered. As I have observed on other occasions, the crisis bore a strongfamily resemblance to a classic financial panic, except that it took place inthe complex environment of the 21st century global financial system.5
Likewise, the tools used tofight the panic, though adapted to the modern context, were analogous to thosethat would have been used a century ago, including liquidity provision by thecentral bank, liability guarantees, recapitalization, and the provision ofassurances and information to the public.
Theimmediate trigger of the crisis, as you know, was a sharp decline in houseprices, which reversed a previous run-up that had been fueled by irresponsiblemortgage lending and securitization practices. Policymakers at the time,including myself, certainly appreciated that house prices might decline,although we disagreed about how much decline was likely; indeed, prices werealready moving down when I took office in 2006. However, to a significantextent, our expectations about the possible macroeconomic effects of houseprice declines were shaped by the apparent analogy to the bursting of thedot-com bubble a few years earlier. That earlier bust also involved a largereduction in paper wealth but was followed by only a mild recession. In theevent, of course, the bursting of the housing bubble helped trigger the mostsevere financial crisis since the Great Depression. It did so because, unlikethe earlier decline in equity prices, it interacted with criticalvulnerabilities in the financial system and in government regulation thatallowed what were initially moderate aggregate losses to subprime mortgageholders to cascade through the financial system. In the private sector, keyvulnerabilities included high levels of leverage, excessive dependence onunstable short-term funding, deficiencies in risk measurement and management,and the use of exotic financial instruments that redistributed risk innontransparent ways. In the public sector, vulnerabilities included gaps in theregulatory structure that allowed some systemically important firms and marketsto escape comprehensive supervision, failures of supervisors to effectively usetheir existing powers, and insufficient attention to threats to the stabilityof the system as a whole.
TheFederal Reserve responded forcefully to the liquidity pressures during thecrisis in a manner consistent with the lessons that central banks had learnedfrom financial panics over more than 150 years and summarized in the writingsof the 19th century British journalist Walter Bagehot: Lend early and freely tosolvent institutions.6
However, the institutionalcontext had changed substantially since Bagehot wrote. The panics of the 19thand early 20th centuries typically involved runs on commercial banks and otherdepository institutions. Prior to the recent crisis, in contrast, creditextension had progressively migrated outside of traditional banking toso-called shadow banking entities, which relied heavily on short-term wholesalefunding that proved vulnerable to runs.7
Accordingly, to help calmthe panic, the Federal Reserve provided liquidity not only to commercial banks,but also to other types of financial institutions such as investment banks andmoney market funds, as well as to key financial markets such as those forcommercial paper and asset-backed securities.8
Because funding markets areglobal in scope andU.S.borrowers depend importantly on foreign lenders, the Federal Reserve alsoapproved currency swap agreements with 14 foreign central banks.
Providingliquidity represented only the first step in stabilizing the financial system.Subsequent efforts focused on rebuilding the public's confidence, notablyincluding public guarantees of bank debt by the Federal Deposit InsuranceCorporation and of money market funds by the Treasury Department, as well asthe injection of public capital into banking institutions. The bank stress testthat the Federal Reserve led in the spring of 2009, which included detailedpublic disclosure of information regarding the solvency of our largest banks,further buttressed confidence in the banking system. The success of thestress-test disclosures, by the way, was yet another example of the benefits oftransparency.
Thesubsequent efforts to reform our regulatory framework have been focused onlimiting the reemergence of the vulnerabilities that precipitated andexacerbated the crisis. Changes in bank capital regulation under Basel III havesignificantly increased requirements for loss-absorbing capital at globalbanking firms--including a surcharge for systemically important institutionsand a ceiling on leverage. The Federal Reserve's Comprehensive Capital Analysisand Review, or CCAR, process, a descendant of the 2009 stress test, requiresthat large financial institutions maintain sufficient capital to weatherextreme shocks, and that they demonstrate that their internal planningprocesses are effective; in addition, public disclosure of the resultsfacilitates market discipline. The Basel III framework also includes liquidityrequirements designed to mitigate excessive reliance by global banks onshort-term wholesale funding and to otherwise constrain risks at those banks.Further steps are under way to toughen the oversight of large institutions andto strengthen the financial infrastructure, for example, by requiring centralclearing with greater transparency for the trading of most standardizedderivatives.
Oversightof the shadow banking system also has been strengthened. For example, the newFinancial Stability Oversight Council has designated some nonbank firms assystemically important financial institutions, or SIFIs, subject toconsolidated supervision by the Federal Reserve. In addition, measures arebeing undertaken to address the potential instability of short-term wholesalefunding markets, including reforms to money market funds and the triparty repomarket.
Ofcourse, in a highly integrated global financial system, no country caneffectively implement the financial reforms I have described in isolation. Thegood news is that similar reforms are being pursued throughout the world, withthe full support of theUnited Statesand with international bodies such asthe Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board providing coordination.
Morebroadly, the approach to regulation and supervision at the Federal Reserve hasevolved to include a substantial macroprudential, or systemic, orientation inaddition to the traditional focus on individual institutions. For example, theFederal Reserve created the Office of Financial Stability Policy and Research,which coordinates System efforts to monitor the interaction of financialinstitutions, financial markets, and economic developments to identify emergingvulnerabilities and systemic risks.10
Enhanced monitoring of thistype is especially important as the changes in regulatory structure andfinancial innovation may lead risks to manifest in new ways or to migrateoutside the perimeter of the current regulatory structure.
Muchprogress has been made, but more remains to be done. In addition to completingthe efforts I have already mentioned, including the full implementation of newrules and supervisory responsibilities, the agenda still includes furtherdomestic and international cooperation to ensure the effectiveness ofmechanisms to allow the orderly resolution of insolvent institutions andthereby increase market discipline on large institutions.11
The evaluation of potentialmacroprudential tools that might be used to address emerging financialimbalances is another high priority. For example, the new Basel III regulatorycapital framework includes a countercyclical capital buffer, which may help buildadditional resilience within the financial sector during periods of buoyantcredit creation. Staff members are investigating the potential of this andother regulatory tools, such as cyclically sensitive loan-to-value requirementsfor mortgages, to improve financial stability. A number of countries, includingboth advanced and emerging-market economies, have already deployed suchmeasures, and their experiences should be instructive. Although, in principle,monetary policy can be used to address financial imbalances, the presumptionremains that macroprudential tools, together with well-focused traditionalregulation and supervision, should serve as the first line of defense againstemerging threats to financial stability. However, more remains to be done tobetter understand how to design and implement more effective macroprudentialtools and how these tools interact with monetary policy.
While liquidity provision and other emergencysteps were critical to stemming the financial panic, a rapid shift in thestance of monetary policy was necessary to counteract the massive economic blowdelivered by the crisis. The FOMC reduced the target federal funds rate from5-1/4 percent in the summer of 2007 to a range of 0 to 1/4 percent by the end of2008, a very rapid easing. The federal funds rate has been at its effectivelower bound since then.
Toprovide additional monetary policy accommodation despite the constraint imposedby the effective lower bound on interest rates, the Federal Reserve turned totwo alternative tools: enhanced forward guidance regarding the likely path ofthe federal funds rate and large-scale purchases of longer-term securities forthe Federal Reserve's portfolio. Other major central banks have responded todevelopments since 2008 inroughly similar ways. For example, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japanhave employed detailed forward guidance and conducted large-scale assetpurchases, while the European Central Bank has moved to reduce the perceivedrisk of sovereign debt, provided banks with substantial liquidity, and offeredqualitative guidance regarding the future path of interest rates.
Withshort-term rates near zero, expanded guidance about intentions for futurepolicy has helped to shape market expectations, which in turn has easedfinancial conditions by putting downward pressure on longer-term interest ratesand helped support economic activity. Forward guidance about the short-terminterest rate supplements the broader policy framework I described earlier, byproviding information about how the Committee expects to achieve its statedpolicy objectives despite the complications created by the zero lower bound onthe policy interest rate and uncertainties about the costs and efficacy of theavailable policy tools. Beginning with qualitative guidance, the Committee'scommunication about its anticipated future policy has evolved through severalstages. In December 2012, the Committee introduced state-contingent guidance,announcing for the first time that no increase in the federal funds rate targetshould be anticipated so long as unemployment remained above 6-1/2 percent,inflation between one and two years ahead was projected to be no more than ahalf percentage point above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, andlonger-term inflation expectations continued to be well anchored.12
My colleagues and Iemphasized that the conditions stated in that guidance were thresholds, nottriggers. That is, crossing one of the thresholds would not automatically giverise to an increase in the federal funds rate target; instead, it would signalonly that it would be appropriate for the Committee to begin considering, basedon a wider range of indicators, whether and when an increase in the targetmight be warranted.
Large-scaleasset purchases also provide monetary accommodation by lowering long-terminterest rates. Working through the portfolio-balance channel, asset purchasesreduce the supply of long-duration assets in the hands of the public,depressing term premiums and thus reducing longer-term yields. At times, thedecision to begin or extend an asset-purchase program may also have a signalingeffect, to the extent that market participants see that decision as indicativeof policymakers' commitment to an accommodative policy stance. However, it isimportant to recognize that the potential signaling aspect of asset purchasesdepends on the broader economic and policy context. In particular, the FOMC'sdecision to modestly reduce the pace of asset purchases at its December meetingdid not indicate any diminution of its commitment to maintain a highlyaccommodative monetary policy for as long as needed; rather, it reflected theprogress we have made toward our goal of substantial improvement in the labormarket outlook that we set out when we began the current purchase program inSeptember 2012. At its most recent meeting, the Committee reaffirmed andclarified its guidance on rates, stating that it expects to maintain thecurrent target range for the federal funds rate well past the time that theunemployment threshold of 6-1/2 percent is crossed, especially if projectedinflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal.13
Havethese unconventional tools been effective? Skeptics have pointed out that thepace of recovery has been disappointingly slow, with inflation-adjusted GDPgrowth averaging only slightly higher than a 2 percent annual rate over thepast few years and inflation below the Committee's 2 percent longer-termtarget. However, as I will discuss, the recovery has faced powerful headwinds,suggesting that economic growth might well have been considerably weaker, oreven negative, without substantial monetary policy support. For the most part,research supports the conclusion that the combination of forward guidance andlarge-scale asset purchases has helped promote the recovery. For example,changes in guidance appear to shift interest rate expectations, and thepreponderance of studies show that asset purchases push down longer-terminterest rates and boost asset prices.14
These changes in financialconditions in turn appear to have provided material support to the economy.15
Oncethe economy improves sufficiently so that unconventional tools are no longerneeded, the Committee will face issues of policy implementation and,ultimately, the design of the policy framework. Large-scale asset purchaseshave increased the size of our balance sheet and created substantial excessreserves in the banking system. Under the operating procedures used prior tothe crisis, the presence of large quantities of excess reserves likely wouldhave impeded the FOMC's ability to raise short-term nominal interest rates whenappropriate. However, the Federal Reserve now has effective tools to normalizethe stance of policy when conditions warrant, without reliance on asset sales.The interest rate on excess reserves can be raised, which will put upwardpressure on short-term rates; in addition, the Federal Reserve will be able toemploy other tools, such as fixed-rate overnight reverse repurchase agreements,term deposits, or term repurchase agreements, to drain bank reserves andtighten its control over money market rates if this proves necessary. As aresult, at the appropriate time, the FOMC will be able to return to conductingmonetary policy primarily through adjustments in the short-term policy rate. Itis possible, however, that some specific aspects of the Federal Reserve'soperating framework will change; the Committee will be considering thisquestion in the future, taking into account what it learned from its experiencewith an expanded balance sheet and new tools for managing interest rates.
In the remainder of my remarks, I willreflect on the state of theU.S.economic recovery and its prospects.
The economy has made considerable progress since the recovery officially begansome four and a half years ago. Payroll employment has risen by 7-1/2 millionjobs from its trough. Real GDP has grown in 16 of 17 quarters, and the level ofreal GDP in the third quarter of 2013 was 5-1/2 percent above its pre-recessionpeak. The unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent in the fall of 2009 to 7percent recently. Industrial production and equipment investment have matchedor exceeded pre-recession peaks. The banking system has been recapitalized, andthe financial system is safer. When the economy was in free fall in late 2008and early 2009, such improvement was far from certain, as indicated at the timeby stock prices that were nearly 60 percent below current levels and very widecredit spreads.
Despitethis progress, the recovery clearly remains incomplete. At 7 percent, theunemployment rate still is elevated. The number of long-term unemployed remainsunusually high, and other measures of labor underutilization, such as thenumber of people who are working part time for economic reasons, have improvedless than the unemployment rate. Labor force participation has continued todecline, and, although some of this decline reflects longer-term trends thatwere in place prior to the crisis, some of it likely reflects potentialworkers' discouragement about job prospects.
Inretrospect, at least, many of the factors that held back the recovery can beidentified. Some of these factors were difficult or impossible to anticipate,such as the resurgence in financial volatility associated with the Europeansovereign debt and banking crisis and the economic effects of natural disastersinJapanand elsewhere. Other factors were more predictable; in particular, weappreciated early on, though perhaps to a lesser extent than we might have,that the boom and bust left severe imbalances that would take time to work off.As Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff noted in their prescient research, economicactivity following financial crises tends to be anemic, especially when thepreceding economic expansion was accompanied by rapid growth in credit and realestate prices.16
Weak recoveries fromfinancial crises reflect, in part, the process of deleveraging and balancesheet repair: Households pull back on spending to recoup lost wealth and reducedebt burdens, while financial institutions restrict credit to restore capitalratios and reduce the riskiness of their portfolios. In addition to thesefinancial factors, the weakness of the recovery reflects the overbuilding ofhousing (and, to some extent, commercial real estate) prior to the crisis,together with tight mortgage credit; indeed, recent activity in these areas isespecially tepid in comparison to the rapid gains in construction moretypically seen in recoveries.
Althoughthe Federal Reserve, like other forecasters, has tended to be overoptimistic inits forecasts of real GDP during this recovery, we have also, at times, beentoo pessimistic in our forecasts of the unemployment rate. For example, overthe past year unemployment has declined notably more quickly than we or otherforecasters expected, even as GDP growth was moderately lower than expected ayear ago. This discrepancy reflects a number of factors, including declines inparticipation, but an important reason is the slow growth of productivityduring this recovery; intuitively, when productivity gains are limited, firmsneed more workers even if demand is growing slowly. Disappointing productivitygrowth accordingly must be added to the list of reasons that economic growth hasbeen slower than hoped.17
(Incidentally, the slowpace of productivity gains early in the recovery was not evident until wellafter the fact because of large data revisions--an illustration of thefrustrations of real-time policymaking.) The reasons for weak productivitygrowth are not entirely clear: It may be a result of the severity of thefinancial crisis, for example, if tight credit conditions have inhibitedinnovation, productivity-improving investments, and the formation of new firms;or it may simply reflect slow growth in sales, which have led firms to usecapital and labor less intensively, or even mismeasurement. Notably,productivity growth has also flagged in a number of foreign economies that werehard-hit by the financial crisis. Yet another possibility is weak productivitygrowth reflects longer-term trends largely unrelated to the recession.Obviously, the resolution of the productivity puzzle will be important inshaping our expectations for longer-term growth.
Tothis list of reasons for the slow recovery--the effects of the financialcrisis, problems in the housing and mortgage markets, weaker-than-expectedproductivity growth, and events in Europe and elsewhere--I would add one moresignificant factor--namely, fiscal policy. Federal fiscal policy wasexpansionary in 2009 and 2010.18
Since that time, however,federal fiscal policy has turned quite restrictive; according to theCongressional Budget Office, tax increases and spending cuts likely loweredoutput growth in 2013 by as much as 1-1/2 percentage points. In addition,throughout much of the recovery, state and local government budgets have beenhighly contractionary, reflecting their adjustment to sharply declining taxrevenues. To illustrate the extent of fiscal tightness, at the current point inthe recovery from the 2001 recession, employment at all levels of governmenthad increased by nearly 600,000 workers; in contrast, in the current recovery,government employment has declined by more than 700,000 jobs, a net differenceof more than 1.3 million jobs. There have been corresponding cuts in governmentinvestment, in infrastructure for example, as well as increases in taxes andreductions in transfers.
Althoughlong-term fiscal sustainability is a critical objective, excessively tightnear-term fiscal policies have likely been counterproductive. Most importantly,with fiscal and monetary policy working in opposite directions, the recovery isweaker than it otherwise would be. But the current policy mix is particularlyproblematic when interest rates are very low, as is the case today. Monetarypolicy has less room to maneuver when interest rates are close to zero, whileexpansionary fiscal policy is likely both more effective and less costly interms of increased debt burden when interest rates are pinned at low levels. Amore balanced policy mix might also avoid some of the costs of very lowinterest rates, such as potential risks to financial stability, withoutsacrificing jobs and growth.
Ihave discussed the factors that have held back the recovery, not only to betterunderstand the recent past but also to think about the economy's prospects. Theencouraging news is that the headwinds I have mentioned may now be abating.Near-term fiscal policy at the federal level remains restrictive, but thedegree of restraint on economic growth seems likely to lessen somewhat in 2014and even more so in 2015; meanwhile, the budgetary situations of state andlocal governments have improved, reducing the need for further sharp cuts. Theaftereffects of the housing bust also appear to have waned. For example,notwithstanding the effects of somewhat higher mortgage rates, house priceshave rebounded, with one consequence being that the number of homeowners with"underwater" mortgages has dropped significantly, as have foreclosuresand mortgage delinquencies. Household balance sheets have strengthenedconsiderably, with wealth and income rising and the household debt-serviceburden at its lowest level in decades. Partly as a result of households'improved finances, lending standards to households are showing signs of easing,though potential mortgage borrowers still face impediments. Businesses,especially larger ones, are also in good financial shape. The combination offinancial healing, greater balance in the housing market, less fiscalrestraint, and, of course, continued monetary policy accommodation bodes wellfor U.S. economic growth in coming quarters. But, of course, if the experienceof the past few years teaches us anything, it is that we should be cautious inour forecasts.
Whatabout the rest of the world? TheU.S.recovery appears to be somewhat ahead of those of most other advancedindustrial economies; for example, real GDP is still slightly below itspre-recession peak inJapanand remains 2 percent and 3 percent below pre-recession peaks in theUnited Kingdomand the euro area, respectively. Nevertheless, I see some grounds for cautiousoptimism abroad as well. As in theUnited States, central banks inother advanced economies have taken significant steps to strengthen financialsystems and to provide policy accommodation. Financial-sector reform isproceeding, and the contractionary effects of tight fiscal policies are waning.Although difficult reforms--such as banking and fiscal reform in Europe andstructural reform inJapan--arestill in early stages, we have also seen indications of better growth in theadvanced economies, which should have positive implications for theUnited States.Emerging market economies have also grown somewhat more quickly lately after aslowing in the first half of 2013. Although growth prospects for the emergingmarkets continue to be good, here too the extent and effectiveness ofstructural reforms, like those currently under way inChinaandMexico, will be critical factors.
Last month we had a ceremony at the Board tocommemorate the centennial of the signing of the Federal Reserve Act byPresident Woodrow Wilson. Over its 100 years of existence, the Fed has facednumerous economic and financial challenges. Certainly the past few years willrank among some of the more difficult for theU.S.economy and for the Fed. Theexperience has led to important changes at our institution, including newmonetary policy tools, enhanced policy communication, a substantial increase inthe institutional focus on financial stability and macroprudential policy, andincreased transparency.
Weoften speak of the Federal Reserve or other institutions as if they wereautonomous actors. Of course, they are not. The Fed is made up of people,working within an organizational structure and with an institutional cultureand set of values. I am very proud of my colleagues at the Fed for the hardwork and creativity they have brought to bear in addressing the financial andeconomic crisis, and I think we and they have been well served by a culturethat emphasizes objective, expert analysis; professionalism; dedication; andindependence from political influence. Whatever the Fed may have achieved inrecent years reflects the efforts of many people who are committed,individually and collectively, to pursuing the public interest. Although theFed undoubtedly will face some difficult challenges in the years ahead, ourpeople and our values make me confident that our institution will meet thosechallenges successfully.
At the Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
January 3, 2014