The forum was presented in two parts; the economic update for Wyoming and a national update that included an update on Fed monetary policy.
Wyoming Economic Update
Alison Felix, Economist and Executive for the Federal Reserve's Denver Branch spoke first on the topic of the Wyoming economy, which continues to roll - beating the national results in most areas. Of particular interest is the rate of job creation. Even though the rate of growth has slowed to below the national average this past year, Wyoming has posted a 14.8% growth in employment over the last 10 years. This compares to only 5.5% growth for the U.S. as a whole.
The unemployment rate in Wyoming is 1.5% below the national rate at 4.6% and is very near the estimate for full employment in the state. The industries that have added the most jobs in the past year are Retail Trade, Services, Manufacturing, Information and Transportation, with Wyoming's overall largest employers being in the Government, Leisure and Hospitality, Retail and Natural Resources sectors.
Natural Resources and Mining provide the largest input to the Gross State Product at 39.4%, which also provides 45% of the state tax revenues. With so much of the state economy and tax base relying so heavily on natural resources, the real question is how Wyoming would withstand an overall drop in wholesale energy prices. For the short-term, this scenario seems unlikely given continued worldwide increase in energy-related demand.
U.S. Economic Outlook and Fed Monetary Policy Update
Esther George, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, spoke about the nation in general and touched on the Fed's monetary policy. The biggest question, according to her, is when the Fed will begin raising interest rates. It will not be long, according to Ms. George.
The U.S. economy is continuing to produce jobs and the unemployment rate continues to drop. Profitability in businesses continues to rise and banks continue to become better able to withstand economic slowdowns. The biggest concern to the Fed is that it chooses timing for interest rate hikes that will not overly shock the economy.
Also of concern is the Fed's balance sheet assets that resulted from three rounds of Quantitative Easing (QE1, QE2 and QE3). The bonds that were re-purchased during the three rounds create bond assets of nearly $4.5 Trillion. The concern is that any interest rate hike will de-value those assets, causing stress to the money supply. According to Ms. George, this remains a delicate balancing act, but the rate-hikes have to come in order to suppress inflationary forces.
The presentation materials offered the following summary of the national economic outlook:
- Growth has rebounded following a soft first quarter of 2014,
- Labor markets continue to heal, as full employment is likely to be reached sometime in 2015 and wage growth continues to edge higher,
- Activity in the manufacturing and service sector is increasing,
- Measures of inflation remain below the 2% goal, but continue to rise,
- The Euro and the Pound have fallen sharply against the U.S. Dollar.
In short, the economy continues to gain momentum, but we should all prepare ourselves for the coming hikes in interest rates.