Global stock markets are once again rallying on the words of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Just two hours after the Fed released meeting minutes showing a split among policy makers, Bernanke told a meeting of economists that the Fed needs to continue its “highly accommodative monetary policy” for the foreseeable future.”
Then, U.S. stocks, which had just ended a lackluster session, took off, and the rally continued overseas and into today - the S&P500 is trading up about 1%.
“Bernanke made it absolutely clear that policy in his view was going to remain highly accommodative both looking at inflation and unemployment,” says Danny Blanchflower, a Dartmouth College economics professor and Bloomberg TV Contributing Editor.
The message was not what many in the market had expected. Investors were anticipating the Fed would start reducing asset purchases as early as this year, based on what they thought Bernanke had hinted at after last month’s policy meeting.
Bernanke said then that the Fed intends to taper its purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities if the economy continues to improve, then end those purchases once the unemployment rate hits 7%. Stocks sold off.
“The market misinterpreted what he [Bernanke] said last time,” says Blanchflower. “This is the Fed keeping going, no tapering... the idea that they were going to start tapering in September was for the birds.”
Blanchflower advises investors to “follow the data, look at the labor market… and look at the inflation data… It says do more stimulus.”
And those aren't the only things keeping the Fed's monetary pedal to the metal.
“It looks like the main growth areas in the U.S. are in the housing market, driven by the Fed, and are in the cars market because that’s where cheap loans have driven the cars market,” Blanchflower contends. “The Fed is putting stimulus in and it looks like that’s pretty much driving everything.”
In other words, the Fed is the only game in town when it comes to the economy.
In terms of a timeline for tightening monetary policy, Blanchflower estimates we’ll see some slowing of bond purchases in 2014, and rates not moving up perhaps until 2017 or 2018.
For those honing their Fed-watching skills, Blanchflower advises focusing your gaze on what happens in January when Bernanke’s term as chairman is up. The key will be whether there is “seamlessness” in the case of a transition to a new Fed chair.
Blanchflower would place his bet (in the case of a new Fed chair) on current Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, widely considered the frontrunner. And FYI, she’s thought to be even more dovish than Bernanke.
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