"Chairman Dodd, Senator Shelby, and members of the Committee, I am pleased to present the Federal Reserve's Monetary Policy Report to the Congress. The U.S. economy and financial system have confronted some significant challenges thus far in 2008. The contraction in housing activity that began in 2006 and the associated deterioration in mortgage markets that became evident last year have led to sizable losses at financial institutions and a sharp tightening in overall credit conditions.
The effects of the housing contraction and of the financial headwinds on spending and economic activity have been compounded by rapid increases in the prices of energy and other commodities, which have sapped household purchasing power even as they have boosted inflation. Against this backdrop, economic activity has advanced at a sluggish pace during the first half of this year, while inflation has remained elevated.
Following a significant reduction in its policy rate over the second half of 2007, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) eased policy considerably further through the spring to counter actual and expected weakness in economic growth and to mitigate downside risks to economic activity. In addition, the Federal Reserve expanded some of the special liquidity programs that were established last year and implemented additional facilities to support the functioning of financial markets and foster financial stability. Although these policy actions have had positive effects, the economy continues to face numerous difficulties, including ongoing strains in financial markets, declining house prices, a softening labor market, and rising prices of oil, food, and some other commodities. Let me now turn to a more detailed discussion of some of these key issues.
Developments in financial markets and their implications for the macroeconomic outlook have been a focus of monetary policy makers over the past year. In the second half of 2007, the deteriorating performance of subprime mortgages in the United States triggered turbulence in domestic and international financial markets as investors became markedly less willing to bear credit risks of any type. In the first quarter of 2008, reports of further losses and write-downs at financial institutions intensified investor concerns and resulted in further sharp reductions in market liquidity. By March, many dealers and other institutions, even those that had relied heavily on short-term secured financing, were facing much more stringent borrowing conditions.