On July 6, 2015, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with the United States.1
The U.S. economy’s momentum in the first quarter was sapped by unfavorable weather, a sharp contraction in oil sector investment, and the West Coast port strike. But the underpinnings for a continued expansion remain in place. A solid labor market, accommodative financial conditions, and cheaper oil should support a more dynamic path for the remainder of the year. Despite this, the weaker outturn in the first few months of this year will unavoidably pull down 2015 growth, which is now projected at 2.5 percent. Stronger growth over the next few years is expected to return output to potential before it begins steadily declining to 2 percent over the medium term.
Inflation pressures remain muted. In May headline and core personal consumption expenditure (PCE) inflation declined to 0.2 and 1.2 percent year on year, respectively. Long-term unemployment and high levels of part-time work both point to remaining employment slack, and wage indicators on the whole have shown only tepid growth. When combined with the dollar appreciation and cheaper energy costs, inflation is expected to rise slowly staring later in the year, reaching the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent medium-term objective by mid 2017.
An important risk to growth is a further U.S. dollar appreciation. The real appreciation of the currency has been rapid, reflecting cyclical growth divergences, different trajectories for monetary policies among the systemically important economies, and a portfolio shift toward U.S. dollar assets. Lower oil prices and increasing energy independence have contained the U.S. current account deficit, despite the cyclical growth divergence with respect to its main trading partners and the rise in the U.S. dollar. Nevertheless, over the medium term, at current levels of the real exchange rate, the current account deficit is forecast to widen toward 3.5 percent of GDP.
Despite important policy uncertainties, the near term fiscal outlook has improved, and the federal government deficit is likely to move modestly lower in the current fiscal year. Following a temporary improvement, the federal deficit and debt-to-GDP ratios are, however, expected to begin rising again over the medium term as aging-related pressures assert themselves and interest rates normalize. In the near-term, the potential for disruption from either a government shutdown or a stand-off linked to the federal debt ceiling represent important (and avoidable) downside risks to growth and job creation that could move to the forefront, once again, later in 2015.
Much has been done over the past several years to strengthen the U.S. financial system. However, search for yield during the prolonged period of low interest rates, rapid growth in assets in the nonbank sector, and signs of stretched valuations across a range of asset markets point to emerging pockets of vulnerabilities. The more serious risks are likely to be linked to: (1) the migration of intermediation to the nonbanks; (2) the potential for insufficient liquidity in a range of fixed income markets that could lead to abrupt moves in market pricing; and (3) life-insurance companies that have taken on greater market risk. But several factors mitigate these downsides. In particular, the U.S. banking system has strengthened its capital position (Tier 1 capital as a ratio of risk-weighted assets is at about 13 percent) and appears resilient to a range of extreme market and economic shocks. In addition, overall leverage does not appear excessive, household and corporate balance sheets look generally healthy, and credit growth has been modest.
The consultation focused on the prospects for higher policy rates and the outlook for, and policy response to financial stability risks, integrating the findings of the latest IMF Financial Sector Assessment Program for the U.S.
Under Article IV of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country’s economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board.
At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country’s authorities. An explanation of any qualifiers used in summings up can be found here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/misc/qualifiers.htm.