Fed’s Ben Bernanke Still Mum About Stimulus

Ben Bernanke arrives with his wife Anna for an economic symposium at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Moran, Wyoming, Aug. 25, 2011. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered his usual Sphinx-like remarks to the Economic Club of Minnesota on Thursday, revealing little detail on how the central bank could stimulate the U.S. economy.

The chairman said the Fed was “prepared to employ” stimulus at the next meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) Sept. 20 to 21.  But he did not say what he would do.

He also described what economists have been saying for months: the country has weak consumer demand, while the business sector is stronger.

“Bernanke issued his second consecutive awaited speech in which he more or less said nothing,” said Guy LeBas, Janney Capital Markets’ chief fixed income strategist.

LeBas said he expected the Federal Reserve chairman to be restrained in his policy implications. The Fed chair didn’t allude to recent reported disagreement among the Federal Reserve Board of Governors about how to respond to the weak economy.

“The Committee also continues to anticipate that inflation will moderate over time, to a rate at or below the 2 percent or a bit less that most FOMC participants consider to be consistent with the Committee’s dual mandate to promote maximum employment and price stability,” Bernanke said.

Later at 7 p.m. EST, President Obama will speak to a joint session of Congress to announce his plan to spur jobs. Though LeBas had expected Bernanke’s comments to capture more market attention because the content of Obama’s speech has been partially leaked.

However, there has not been much reaction in the stock and bond markets. Ten-year Treasury bills are trading at around 2 percent, in line with pre-speech levels. Stocks traded lower.

LeBas said he expects the Federal Reserve will reinvest the $15-$30 billion of monthly proceeds from its $2.5 trillion securities portfolio but that appears to be on the table for its next meeting this month.

LeBas said the policy is appealing because it will bring down mortgage borrowing costs, freeing up consumers’ wallets, and he predicts moderate though “ultimately unimpressive” economic results.

One concern is consumers are currently choosing to save rather than borrow and spend.

“Any amount of lower rates won’t affect this decision, as it’s driven by a changing consumer attitude, not just financial decision-making,” according to LeBas. “As a result, I think we’ll see the Fed manage to lower long term interest rates without seeing much economic benefit.”

On a less serious note, for his last comment during the Q&A session after the speech, Bernanke was asked what he thought of actor Paul Giamitti’s portrayal of him in the film, Too Big to Fail.

“I didn’t see that movie. I saw the original,” Bernanke joked.

Bernanke added he generally liked the work of Giamatti, who requested to meet the Fed chair.

“I found out his father was the commissioner of baseball, Bart Giamatti, so what do you think we talked about during the whole lunch?” Bernanke said.





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