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Bernanke Testimony: Market Awaiting QE3 Clues & Libor Grilling


As stocks drift aimlessly through the summer, many traders will be looking for guidance from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke when he delivers his semiannual report to Congress on over the next two days. The two questions are: whether or not there's any reason to expect something we haven't heard before, and whether or not there's enough of a potential trade to make sitting through the tedious presentation worth the effort.

Jim Bianco of Bianco Research says Bernanke is going to try to have it both ways, as usual. "He's going to try and say nothing," Bianco says in the attached video. "He's going to try to leave the door open to QE3 without committing to it." The feeling is that Bernanke would prefer to stimulate now, with yet another economic recovery failing, but his hand is stayed by sharp divisions within the Fed Committee. "He doesn't want to have to force [QE3] through and have a bunch of Fed members come out and criticize their own decision."

No one's betting on actual action from the Fed. Semiannual testimony isn't the venue for such a decision, and the numbers aren't quite bad enough to warrant the move. That leaves Fed watchers literally watching the Fed Chair for gestures, tics, and verbal cues that could indicate potential action. Almost every time Bernanke speaks on the public record, he says something to the effect of: "We're ready to stimulate as the situation warrants."

Bernanke isn't going to say anything specific regarding when he'll push for more stimulus, but he can indicate the metrics he's watching most closely, allowing traders to "fill in the blanks." If the Chairman seems fixated on unemployment, more import will be placed on every available piece of jobs data. Should Bernanke express concerns over inflation, the Street will regard it as evidence of a decreased probability of Fed action.

Away from the stimulus side, Bernanke is certain to be grilled about the LIBOR scandal. LIBOR itself is somewhat arcane, but the news released last Friday afternoon wasn't so complicated. "Barclays (BCS) told the Fed in 2008 that they were rigging LIBOR," says Bianco. "As far as we can tell, the Fed did nothing about it; they just watched it unfold for the next four years."

Bernanke has passed the buck in terms of regulatory control in the past, but Bianco notes that the Fed has both monetary and regulatory control. As such, the Federal Reserve had an obligation to do something other than keep it a secret when it learned of the corruption of the LIBOR market. Doing nothing may have been excusable at the height of the financial crisis, but certainly not as markets stabilized.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is the body most often associated with bank regulation. Indeed it was the president of the NY Fed that raised the issue of LIBOR manipulation in an email to the Bank of England. The person sending the note was Tim Geithner, now serving as the U.S. Treasury Secretary.

If you're looking for a trade, tune in to Bernanke for a read on QE3. If you want the drama, watch for LIBOR. Either way, Bernanke's testimony will be the most tedious, must-see TV you'll ever be forced to watch.