PhillyInc: For some, Bernanke is the week's big speaker

Sorry, Mitt Romney. The speech most eagerly anticipated by the financial world this week will be given Friday morning in Jackson Hole, Wyo., not Tampa.

But truth be told, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke isn't likely to generate sound bites the way the speakers at the Republican National Convention have.

Of course, Bernanke's audience is an annual gathering of central bankers organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, not a convention hall full of GOP faithful.

So there's no need for pithy quotes like the one vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan lobbed about the Obama presidency: "It began with a housing crisis they alone didn't cause. It ends with a housing crisis they didn't correct."

Or the high-minded idealism proffered by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her speech: "We must continue to welcome the world's most ambitious people to be a part of us. In that way, we stay perpetually young and optimistic and determined."

No, after rereading Bernanke's Wild West speeches from 2010 and 2011, I'd have to say they were far from wild and about as far from the campaign trail as you can get.

Instead of Obamaisms like "Yes, we can" or "Change we can believe in," Bernanke seems fond of long and winding passages like this one from Aug. 26, 2011:

"Bouts of sharp volatility and risk aversion in markets have recently reemerged in reaction to concerns about both European sovereign debts and developments related to the U.S. fiscal situation, including the recent downgrade of the U.S. long-term credit rating by one of the major rating agencies and the controversy concerning the raising of the U.S. federal debt ceiling."

Whew. You'd need a long bumper sticker for that to fit.

That said, for weeks, financial-market participants have made no secret of their expectation that Bernanke would announce a third round of the Fed program known as "quantitative easing" in his 2012 Jackson Hole speech.

After all, he announced QE2 at the same venue in August 2010, right?

Well, not quite. In that speech, he discussed three policy options that the Fed could undertake, including what would become QE2, in an effort to lower interest rates. The actual QE2 policy action wasn't announced until November.

Here's one phrase that probably excited investors two years ago: "I believe that additional purchases of longer-term securities, should the FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee] choose to undertake them, would be effective in further easing financial conditions."

Someone alert Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

But you can't dismiss investors' reactions to Bernanke's Jackson Hole addresses in previous years. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 164.84 points, or 1.65 percent, to close at 10,150.65 on Aug. 27, 2010, after his QE2 speech. Last year, the Dow rose 134.72, or 1.21 percent, to 11,284.54 on Aug. 26 after his remarks, which largely centered on long-term prospects for the U.S. economy.

It's worth remembering that investors were eagerly anticipating that Bernanke would announce QE3 at last year's Jackson Hole conference. That didn't happen. Given that global markets had been reeling from Washington bungling over increasing the U.S. debt ceiling, the speech dealt with longer-term prospects for the U.S. economy.

This year, the Dow stands at 13,000.71, and Reuters polls show economists and investors are now skeptical the Fed will announce QE3 at its September meeting or that Bernanke will talk it up Friday.

Of course, that won't prevent Fed-watchers from hanging on his every word, but whether those words inspire anyone to "tear down this wall" or "keep hope alive" is very much up in the air.

 


Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter.

Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at www.phillyinc.biz.