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Chicago Fed Letter

Has Business Fixed Investment Really Been Unusually Low?

François Gourio

Business fixed investment represents the spending by businesses to increase production capacity. It is traditionally decomposed into equipment (such as computers and machines), structures (such as plants, shopping malls, or warehouses), and intellectual property (such as software and R&D). After declining sharply during the Great Recession, business fixed investment (BFI) recovered in 2010, but investment was again quite low in 2015 and 2016. This slowdown was driven in part by the decline of oil prices that led to a significant contraction in the oil drilling industry. Since then, growth has resumed. Figure 1 depicts this recent history.

Economic Growth to Decelerate in 2019 and Then Ease Further in 2020 as Auto Sales Downshift

William A. Strauss and Kelley Sarussi

According to participants in the Chicago Fed’s annual Automotive Outlook Symposium (AOS), the nation’s economic growth is forecasted to slow this year and then moderate close to its long-term average in 2020. Inflation is expected to decline in 2019 and to edge higher in 2020. The unemployment rate is anticipated to move down to 3.6% by the end of 2019, but then tick back up next year. Light vehicle sales are predicted to decrease from 17.2 million units in 2018 to 16.8 million units in 2019 and then to 16.6 million units in 2020.

What is Driving the Return Spread Between “Safe” and “Risky” Assets?

Emmanuel Farhi and François Gourio

Real interest rates on U.S. government bonds have declined persistently since the 1980s. U.S. government bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government and, hence, are considered one of the safest assets because the risk of default is extremely low. More broadly, interest rates on other safe assets, such as highly rated corporations, have also declined.

Flooding and Finances: Hurricane Harvey’s Impact on Consumer Credit

Daniel Hartley, Eleni Packis, and Ben Weintraut

This article examines consumers’ borrowing behavior and debt levels in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. We find that high levels of flooding from Harvey were associated with modest increases in auto loan balances, but moderate decreases in mortgage balances. In general, the storm did not hurt consumers’ credit access according to the limited measures we investigate. These results are influenced by a number of factors, including federal disaster assistance, insurance payouts, and creditors permitting temporary postponements in loan payments, with such delays not being reported to credit bureaus.

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