2002 Articles from the Federal Reserve Bulletin
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Articles from the Federal Reserve Bulletin - 2002
Mortgage Refinancing in 2001 and Early 2002
Glenn Canner, Karen Dynan, and Wayne Passmore
Over the past ten years, millions of homeowners have taken advantage of lower mortgage interest rates and higher home values and have refinanced their mortgage loans. For many, the decision to refinance was motivated by a desire to reduce their monthly mortgage payments, either by obtaining a lower interest rate or by extending the maturity of their mortgage. When they have refinanced, many homeowners have liquefied some of the equity they accumulated in their homes by borrowing more than they needed to pay off their former mortgage and cover the transaction costs of the refinancing. They have used the funds raised in so-called cash-out refinancings to make home improvements, to repay other debts, or to purchase goods and services or other assets.

This article presents estimates, based on recent survey findings, of the incidence of refinancing, the changes in terms and conditions of mortgages after refinancing, the amount of funds homeowners raised in the process, and the ways in which homeowners used the funds. It also provides comparisons with previous surveys of refinancing activity and a statistical analysis of the relative importance of different determinants of refinancing and the amount of home equity liquefied during refinancing. Finally, it gives rough estimates of the effects of recent refinancing on the U.S. economy, including the effects on aggregate consumption spending.
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Financial Literacy: An Overview of Practice, Research, and Policy
Sandra Braunstein and Carolyn Welch
Attention to financial literacy has grown in recent years, in large part because technological, market, and legislative changes have resulted in a more complex financial services industry that requires consumers to be more actively involved in managing their finances. Consumer and community interest groups, banking companies, government agencies, and policymakers, among others, have become concerned that many consumers lack a working knowledge of financial concepts and the tools they need to make decisions most advantageous to their economic well-being. As a result, considerable resources have been devoted to financial literacy, with a wide range of organizations providing training, including banks, consumer and community groups, employers, and government agencies. Overall, studies suggest that financial literacy training can lead to better decisionmaking; however, the findings raise numerous questions about the best means of providing that training, the most appropriate setting, and the most opportune timing. Findings from recent research on personal money management styles, combined with awareness of human behavioral traits, offer insights that may be useful in developing successful training programs and strategies.
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An Investigation of Co-movements among the Growth Rates of the G-7 Countries
Brian M. Doyle and Jon Faust
Early in 2000, after a decade of economic expansion, growth began to slow simultaneously in the large, advanced economies known as the Group of Seven (G-7)--Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The general slide in GDP growth fueled speculation that a period was emerging in which broad movements in the economies of the industrialized countries would be more closely linked. Proponents of this view argued that greater trade in goods and financial markets was leading to a greater synchronization of national economies. A rise in the co-movement of GDP among countries would have important implications for the making of national economic policies. Governments, for example, would need to take closer account of forecasts for conditions abroad in formulating forecasts for their domestic economies.

The authors find, first, that the degree to which enhanced trade and financial linkages might be expected to increase the co-movement, or correlation, of economic growth among countries is far from clear. Then, examining the period from 1970 to the first quarter of 2002, the authors find that, indeed, the estimated correlation of growth across the G-7 has been higher in the current downturn than during the expansion of the 1990s. Rather than signaling a future of permanently higher synchronization, however, the rise is shown to be typical of business cycles over the past thirty years. Furthermore, estimates of correlation have not yet reached the peaks attained after earlier recessions. Overall, despite many changes in the international economy, the evidence does not reveal the arrival of a permanently higher correlation of growth rates among the G-7.
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Retail Fees of Depository Institutions, 1997-2001
Timothy H. Hannan
Since 1990, the Federal Reserve Board has reported annually on changes in the availability of retail banking services and in the level of the associated fees. The most recent report, covering the Board's survey conducted in 2001, was released in June 2002. Information on selected fees for each of the years from 1997 through 2001 is presented in this article.

Analysis of the data for the 1997-2001 period shows that for the various types of checking and savings accounts tracked, monthly fees tended to rise by statistically significant amounts, as did the minimum balances that depositors had to maintain to avoid the fees. Fees associated with special actions, such as those imposed on checks returned for insufficient funds, also exhibited increases that were statistically significant. Fees imposed for withdrawals by an institution's depositors from other institutions' automated teller machines (ATMs) and for the use of the institution's ATMs by nondepositors became much more common by the end of the period, and average levels increased by statistically significant amounts. Finally, comparisons of the fees charged by institutions of different sizes in 2001 indicate that, in general, the incidence and level of fees were higher at larger institutions.
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Monetary Policy Report to the Congress
The pace of economic activity in the United States picked up noticeably in the first half of 2002 as some of the powerful forces that had been restraining spending for the preceding year and a half abated. The economy expanded especially rapidly early in the year. As had been anticipated, much of the first quarter's strength in production resulted from the efforts of firms to limit a further drawdown of inventories after the enormous liquidation in the fourth quarter of 2001. Economic activity appears to have moved up further in recent months but at a slower pace than earlier in the year.

Notable crosscurrents remain at work in the outlook for economic activity. Although some of the most recent indicators have been encouraging, businesses still appear to be reluctant to add appreciably to workforces or to boost capital spending, presumably until they see clearer signs of improving prospects for sales and profits. These concerns, as well as ongoing disclosures of corporate accounting irregularities and lapses in corporate governance, have pulled down equity prices appreciably on balance this year. The accompanying decline in net worth is likely to continue to restrain household spending in the period ahead, and less favorable financial market conditions could reinforce business caution.

Nevertheless, a number of factors are likely to boost activity as the economy moves into the second half of 2002. With the inflation-adjusted federal funds rate barely positive, monetary policy should continue to provide substantial support to the growth of interest-sensitive spending. Low interest rates also have allowed businesses and households to strengthen balance sheets by refinancing debt on more favorable terms. Fiscal policy actions in the form of lower taxes, investment incentives, and higher spending are providing considerable stimulus to aggregate demand this year. Foreign economic growth has strengthened and, together with a decline in the foreign exchange value of the dollar, should bolster U.S. exports. Finally, the exceptional performance of productivity has supported household and business incomes while relieving pressures on price inflation, a combination that augurs well for the future.
Full text (102 KB PDF)

The Use of Checks and Other Noncash Payment Instruments in the United States
Geoffrey R. Gerdes and Jack K. Walton, II
Statistical estimates indicate that the use of checks in the United States has been declining since the mid-1990s, even as the population and the level of economic activity have been increasing. In contrast, the use of electronic payments has been growing at high and accelerating rates. Nonetheless, the paper check remains the predominant means of making retail payments and will likely continue to play a significant role in the U.S. payment system for the foreseeable future. The number and value of checks paid varies across depository institutions according to type, size, and location, in part a result of differences in the use of checks and electronic payments by households, businesses, and governments. Overall, household's share of total checks written has increased relative to that of businesses and governments.
Full text (94 KB PDF)

Proposed Revision to the Federal Reserve's Discount Window Lending Programs
Brian F. Madigan and William R. Nelson
The Board of Governors' Regulation A currently authorizes the Federal Reserve Banks to operate three main discount window programs: adjustment credit, extended credit, and seasonal credit. On May 17, 2002, the Board published for public comment a proposed amendment to Regulation A that would establish two new discount window programs called primary credit and secondary credit as replacements for adjustment and extended credit. Primary credit would be available for very short terms, ordinarily overnight, to depository institutions that are in generally sound financial condition. Secondary credit would be available, subject to Reserve Bank approval and monitoring, for depository institutions that did not qualify for primary credit.

The interest rate on primary credit would usually be above short-term market interest rates, including the federal funds rate, as opposed to the current situation in which the discount rate (the interest rate for adjustment credit) is typically below money market interest rates. Because of the above-market rate, the restrictions currently employed to limit access to adjustment credit will be unnecessary for primary credit. The primary credit program would be broadly similar to mechanisms adopted by many other major central banks to provide credit at the margin at an above-market rate.
Full text (51 KB PDF)

Profits and Balance Sheet Developments at U.S. Commercial Banks in 2001
William F. Bassett and Mark Carlson
Despite the economic slowdown, the profitability of the U.S. commercial banking industry remained high in 2001. Although the weak economy contributed to a sharp rise in provisions for loan and lease losses, those losses were offset in large part by an advance in realized gains on investment account securities as banks' portfolios benefited from declining short- and intermediate-term market interest rates. Profits were also supported by reductions in noninterest expense, as large merger-related charges in 2000 were not repeated last year. Lower short-term interest rates also spurred a rapid increase in core deposits, which provided banks with plentiful, low-interest-rate funding. The expansion of bank balance sheets was slower in 2001 than in the preceding year, as weaker economic activity held down growth in loans to businesses. Loans to households advanced relatively rapidly, though at a somewhat slower pace than in 2000. An increase in the share of banks' portfolios consisting of mortgage-backed securities issued by government agencies, which have lower risk weights than loans, together with continued strong earnings, contributed to an increase in risk-based capital ratios.
Full text (182 KB PDF)

U.S. International Transactions in 2001
William L. Helkie
The U.S. current account deficit narrowed noticeably in 2001. Both imports and exports of goods and services fell during the year in response to a global weakening of economic activity. The decline in the deficit followed a substantial widening during most of the past decade. For 2001, a smaller merchandise trade deficit and a slightly larger surplus in trade in services offset a continued widening of the deficit on investment income. The U.S. current account deficit is the counterpart of a net inflow of foreign capital that represents a source of saving (of more than $400 billion) to help finance U.S. domestic investment. To finance the U.S. current account deficit, net private capital flowed in at a record pace in 2001 and included unprecedented net inflows through private securities transactions.

If economic activity grows faster in the United States than abroad in 2002, as most forecasters expect, the U.S. external deficit will widen, as U.S. imports of goods and services are likely to expand more rapidly than U.S. exports of goods and services. The degree to which the deficit widens will depend largely on the strength of the economic recovery in our principal trading partners and on the financial effects of that recovery and of the past appreciation of the dollar.
Full text (91 KB PDF)

Consumers and Credit Disclosures: Credit Cards and Credit Insurance
Thomas A. Durkin
Under the Truth in Lending Act, the Federal Reserve has the responsibility for writing the implementing rules, which it has carried out with its Regulation Z. Because this law is so critical for federal consumer protection policy in the credit area and because it imposes significant compliance costs on creditors, questions have been raised about consumers' use of the protections inherent in Truth in Lending.

Even though measurement of the precise effect of particular disclosure requirements on credit-use behavior or competition is problematic, one can study consumers' reports of their views about marketplace information conditions and their uses of required disclosures. To this end, the Federal Reserve Board and others have periodically sponsored and analyzed consumer surveys on disclosure matters since 1969, when the original act was implemented. In this article, the results of two surveys undertaken in 2001 of consumers' opinions about information availability are examined in the context of the earlier survey findings. The new data focus on consumers who use two, sometimes controversial, financial products--credit cards and credit insurance.
Full text (77 KB PDF)

Monetary Policy Report to the Congress
Last year was a difficult one for the economy of the United States. The slowdown in the growth of economic activity that had become apparent in late 2000 intensified in the first half of 2001, as businesses slashed investment spending and declines in manufacturing output steepened. Foreign economies also slowed, further reducing the demand for U.S. production. The aggressive actions by the Federal Reserve to ease the stance of monetary policy in the first half of the year provided support to consumer spending and the housing sector. Nevertheless, the weakening in activity became more widespread through the summer, job losses mounted further, and the unemployment rate moved higher. The devastating events of September 11 further set back an already fragile economy. The economic fallout of the events of September 11 led the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to cut the target federal funds rate early the following week and again at each meeting through the end of the year.

Firms moved quickly to reduce payrolls and cut production after mid-September; manufacturing and industries related to travel, hospitality, and entertainment bore the brunt of the downturn. Consumer spending, however, remained surprisingly solid over the final three months of the year in the face of enormous economic uncertainty, widespread job losses, and further deterioration of household balance sheets from the sharp drop in equity prices immediately following September 11. With businesses having positioned themselves to absorb a falloff of demand, the surprising strength in household spending late in the year resulted in a dramatic liquidation of inventories. In the end, real GDP posted a much better performance than had been anticipated in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. More recently, there have been encouraging signs that economic activity is beginning to firm. The FOMC left its target for the federal funds rate unchanged in its meeting in January 2002, but reflecting a concern that growth could be weaker than the economy's potential for a time, the Committee retained its assessment that the balance of risks were tilted unacceptably toward economic weakness. The extent and persistence of any recovery in production will, of course, depend critically on the trajectory of final demand in the period ahead, a period in which the economy faces considerable risk of subpar economic performance.
Full text (247 KB PDF)

Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization: The 2001 Annual Revision
Carol Corrado, Charles Gilbert, and Norman Morin
In late 2001, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System published the annual revision of its index of industrial production and the related measures of capacity and capacity utilization for the period January 1992 to October 2001. The updated measures reflect the incorporation of newly available, more-comprehensive source data and the introduction of improved methods for compiling a few series.

Measured fourth quarter to fourth quarter, increases in rates of industrial output and capacity have been revised downward from rates previously reported for 1999 and 2000. The revision places the decline in industrial output in 2001 at an annual rate of 6.0 percent. The estimated rate of increase in capacity in 2001 was lowered by 0.7 percentage point, to 1.7 percent. The rate of industrial capacity utilization as of the third quarter of 2001 was little changed by the revision; at 74.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2001, the rate is 4 percentage points below the nadir of the 1990-91 recession but 3 percentage points above that of the 1982 recession.
Full text (91 KB PDF)

The Evolution of the Federal Reserve's Intraday Credit Policies
Stacy Panigay Coleman
One of the Federal Reserve's roles is to provide payment services to depository institutions and to the U.S. Treasury. Many of the nation's transfers of funds--whether they are large-dollar payments for financial market transactions or small-value business and consumer payments--settle through depository institutions' accounts held at the Federal Reserve for reserve-maintenance purposes and transaction processing. If a depository institution has insufficient balances during the day to cover its debits, it will run a negative balance or "daylight overdraft" in its Federal Reserve account until sufficient funds are received later in the day. Because depository institutions generally hold a relatively small amount of funds overnight in their Federal Reserve accounts in relation to the trillions of dollars of payments processed by the Federal Reserve each day, the Federal Reserve extends intraday credit to ensure the smooth functioning of the U.S. payment system.

To reduce the risks that depository institutions present to the Federal Reserve through their use of daylight credit and to address the risks that payment systems, in general, present to the banking system and other sectors of the economy, the Federal Reserve Board in 1985 developed a payments system risk (PSR) policy. One of the primary goals of the PSR policy is to control depository institutions' use of Federal Reserve intraday credit, and as the policy has evolved, the Board has adopted specific methods for controlling daylight overdrafts. The history of the Board's PSR policy, trends in daylight overdraft and payment activity, and a possible future policy direction are discussed in this article.
Full text (168 KB PDF)

Survey of Finance Companies, 2000
Karen E. Dynan, Kathleen W. Johnson, and Samuel M. Slowinski
Against a backdrop of robust economic activity, the finance company sector expanded briskly over the second half of the 1990s. The value of receivables held by finance companies in the United States rose nearly 50 percent, or about 11 percent a year, between 1996 and 2000. Business lending remained finance companies' major line of activity; the importance to the sector of consumer lending and leasing declined slightly, and the importance of real estate lending rose a bit. These and other findings from the Federal Reserve's mid-2000 benchmark survey of finance companies, as well as developments in the sector since that time, are discussed in this article.
Full text (38 KB PDF)

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Last update: January 8, 2003