The Housing Chronicles Blog: The honeymoon is definitely over for Ben Bernanke

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The honeymoon is definitely over for Ben Bernanke

One of the chief complaints about former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan were his particularly opaque statements about the economy, which led economists such as Mark Schniepp at the California Economic Forecast to translate (somewhat toungue-in-cheek) these messages into language the average person could understand at his many appearances at the First American Title Real Estate and Economic Outlook series, among others.

When Ben Bernanke was anointed Fed Chairman, he brought a different operating style to the job, promising more consensus among his colleagues and promising more open communication about the Fed's next moves.

So much for the honeymoon stage; looks like we're onto 'realization' (Stage 2) and 'rebellion' (Stage 3)!

According to the New York Times, writer Louis Uchitelle suggests that for many players on Wall Street the honeymoon is apparently over, as his critics are suggesting he's simply not tough enough for a job that sometimes requires bold moves:

Their quarrel is partly with the Fed’s reluctance to cut interest rates even more than it already has. But mostly those on Wall Street object to what they describe as the Fed’s failure to accompany each cut with a tough, blunt statement on the dangers ahead — embracing language that implicitly promises more interest rate cuts, and soon, to right the economy.

They also complain that Mr. Bernanke, a former Princeton University economics professor bent on building consensus among the Fed’s policy makers, appears to be reluctant to strong-arm his colleagues at the Federal Reserve the way his predecessors Alan Greenspan and Paul A. Volcker often did.

“Bernanke should be making stronger statements and then backing them up with decisive easing,” said Jan Hatzius, chief domestic economist for Goldman Sachs, who argues that the short-term benchmark interest rate the Fed controls should be cut to 3 percent by year’s end. The rate is now 4.25 percent, already down a full percentage point since mid-September.

Others -- mainly other economists -- don't agree.

Despite the criticism from Wall Street, which has a vested interest in lower rates, Mr. Bernanke has plenty of defenders, particularly among academic economists, who say he is exceptionally qualified for the task of steering the nation’s monetary policy...

Far more than his predecessor, Mr. Bernanke is trying to move away from top-down policy-making and toward actions and statements that reflect the differing views of the Fed’s 10 current policy makers. He is likely to outline his latest thinking in a speech in Washington scheduled for Thursday. His colleagues at the Fed also speak regularly, and their various voices add to the criticism from Wall Street.

Of course it's also important to keep in mind specific agendas as well:

And then there is self-interest. Wall Street traders and investment bankers are counting on drastic rate cuts to help make stock prices rise, says Albert M. Wojnilower, a consultant to Craig Drill Capital, a hedge fund. Rising stock prices, in turn, help lift year-end bonuses, which were relatively small this past year.

“It is easier for people on Wall Street,” Mr. Wojnilower said, “to cloak their personal desires in a national concern.”

Wow. You don't say! Shocking.

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