U.S. Federal Debt Has Increased, but Appears Sustainable for Now
The unprecedented fiscal stimulus packages that Congress passed earlier this year provided timely assistance to households and businesses, but also led to a sharp increase in U.S. federal government debt. We find that the current net federal debt level of about 100 percent of GDP does not pose a threat to fiscal sustainability. Over a longer horizon, debt sustainability will depend, to a large extent, on whether the federal government can curb mandatory spending or raise taxes.
The Evolving Relationship between COVID-19 and Financial Distress.
During most of the COVID-19 pandemic, regions with high financial distress saw disproportionately more infections and deaths than regions with low financial distress. As of February 2021, cumulative infections appear more evenly distributed. However, total deaths remain higher in financially distressed regions.
The Persistent Effects of the Temporary Tightening in Financial Conditions
Market-based measures of uncertainty, a common proxy for broader financial conditions, rose sharply in the fourth quarter of 2018 but have retreated to more normal levels over the last few months. While the recent increase in uncertainty was brief, the temporary tightening in financial conditions will likely have longer-lasting effects on economic activity and prices.
COVID-19 Stuns U.S. and Tenth District Economies, but Both Show Signs of Stabilization
COVID-19 and attempts to slow its spread have led to a decline in economic activity unprecedented in both severity and speed. Although every part of the United States experienced dramatic decreases in activity, states in the Tenth Federal Reserve District, with lower COVID-19 cases as a percentage of the population, have fared slightly better. More recently, national and regional measures of business and consumer activity have improved but remain well below pre-pandemic levels.
Policymakers Have Options for Additional Accommodation: Forward Guidance and Yield Curve Control
With the federal funds rate near zero, policymakers are evaluating options for providing additional monetary policy accommodation, including a tool known as yield curve control. We find that despite low nominal Treasury yields, some scope for additional accommodation remains should policymakers deem it appropriate. However, we argue that forward guidance about future interest rates could deliver much, though not all, of the accommodation of yield curve control.
Inflation Expectations Limit the Power of Negative Interest Rates
Both the federal funds rate and longer-run yields have dropped to near zero, renewing discussion of negative interest rate policy. Although negative rates would allow for additional cuts in the United States, negative policy rates in line with what other countries have implemented would not be able to achieve the nominal rate reduction of previous easing cycles. Moreover, inflation expectations remained flat or fell after negative rates were introduced in most countries, limiting the expansionary power of these additional rate cuts.
As Manufacturing Weakens, Consumers Pull Back
The United States has faced two recent downturns in manufacturing: one from 2014 to 2015 and one that has been ongoing since 2018. We examine consumption growth at the state level to see how consumers have responded to the current downturn relative to the last. We find that during the current downturn, changes in consumption growth at the state level have been negatively correlated with the state?s share of workers in manufacturing. In contrast, we find the opposite relationship during the 2014?15 downturn.
U.S. Business Applications Surge in the Face of COVID-19
Business formation in the United States has been on a decline for several decades. Most prior economic recessions have accelerated this trend. However, the recent economic downturn associated with COVID-19 appears to have had the opposite effect: business formation, as measured by business applications, has actually surged since late May.
Understanding the Recent Rise in Municipal Bond Yields
In late March, investors sold off municipal bonds at a rapid pace, depressing municipal bond prices and driving up their yields relative to U.S. Treasuries. We find that this initial investor run on the municipal bond market was likely due to increased liquidity demand rather than credit concerns, making the Federal Reserve’s early actions to relieve liquidity stress effective. Going forward, however, municipal bond prices will likely reflect increased credit concerns.
Women Take a Bigger Hit in the First Wave of Job Losses due to COVID-19
The temporary shutdown orders and social distancing measures taken to fight the COVID-19 outbreak have caused substantial job losses in the United States. Women, especially those without a college degree, have taken a bigger hit in the first wave of job losses. This imbalance could lead to prolonged damage to women’s employment and labor market attachment if job losses deepen and persist in the coming months.