Monday, May 01, 2006

Oh Lord, Please Don't Let Ben Be Misunderstood.

Some days I wonder if I know anything about investing at all.

It seems there's a bit of a conundrum going on about what Ben Bernacke might have said the other day, what exactly he meant, and did he know what he meant, etc, etc. And you know what, I thought he was pretty clear.

This is the important bit of his testimony:

The FOMC will continue to monitor the incoming data closely to assess the prospects for both growth and inflation. In particular, even if in the Committee's judgment the risks to its objectives are not entirely balanced, at some point in the future the Committee may decide to take no action at one or more meetings in the interest of allowing more time to receive information relevant to the outlook. Of course, a decision to take no action at a particular meeting does not preclude actions at subsequent meetings, and the Committee will not hesitate to act when it determines that doing so is needed to foster the achievement of the Federal Reserve's mandated objectives.

Does it mention a timeframe? No. Just the possibility of pausing. Some people apparently took it as hinting at an imminent pause. Um... I dunno, I guess I'm too unsophisticated to see that. It rather seems like that would be reading something into it that isn't there. The rest of the testimony goes into the usual suspects; inflation, housing, energy, etc.

Perhaps people are so used to the circular talk of Greenspan, they were thrown off by the plain speak of Bernacke. In fact, unlike Greenspan, you don't even have to try to parse it or paraphrase it, it's pretty clear on it's own. Which is why I'm a little perplexed by the whole issue. And I think we've got more interesting things to worry about.

Bernacke has a rather nasty job ahead of him, and I don't mean in guiding the markets to exactly what he's doing every step of the way.

No, he gets to try to do the economic equivalent of driving a semi out of control fire truck from the back end, which is to say he has to use short term rates to try to move long term rates enough to thread the needle, just enough to put the brakes on inflation, which nobody really has a great read on, while not inadvertantly triggering a crackup of some sort, perhaps in housing, which nobody really has a great read on either.

Keep an eye on that, that's the real issue, not whether the market or various participants think he is or isn't handling communicating with them well.

Anyway, on a more important topic, Leggo my Diamond Offshore..