All ears on Bernanke's language at press conference

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks during a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

UPDATED REPORT

JEREMY HOBSON: Today the Fed will wrap up its two day meeting in Washington with a short written statement. We don't yet know the exact wording but it'll probably tell us the Fed is going to finish up its $600 billion bond buying program on schedule and keep interest rates low for a while longer.

How do we know that?

Because the last thing the Fed wants to do is shock us.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh explains.


EVE TROEH: Each quarterly written statement from the Fed is only a few words different than the last one. But economists like Rob Carnell with ING know what words to listen for and predict the market based on tiny changes.

ROB CARNELL: You know as one adjective gets slightly upgraded or downgraded, that's as much as you've got to go on, so you have to be quite a master of the English language as well.

Carnell says the Fed knows bankers are listening. The last thing Ben Bernanke wants to do today -- in his first press conference as Fed Chairman -- is shock the markets.

Guy Lebas with Janney Montgomery Scott says the event only gives the Fed and Bernanke the appearance of transparency.

GUY LEBAS: So we'll hear a lot of "it depends" and "if this, then that." However we're not going to get a good idea of what the Fed is outright going to do.

But investors will look for signs nonetheless -- a raised syllable or hand gesture, even the length of his beard.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.


ORIGINAL REPORT

JEREMY HOBSON: Today the Fed concludes a two day meeting in Washington. And chairman Ben Bernanke will hold a press conference. We don't actually know what the Fed will do, but Bernanke will probably tell us he's going to wrap up the Fed's $600 billion bond buying program on schedule. And keep interest rates low for a while longer.

How do we know that?

Because the last thing the Fed wants to do is shock us.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh explains.


EVE TROEH: ING economist Rob Carnell says Ben Bernanke's statement today will only be about a dozen words different than the last time the Fed released its official statement. But guys like Carnell know what twelve words to listen for because they constantly track everything Bernanke says in public, and make predictions on the tiniest changes in word choice.

ROB CARNELL: You know it's one adjective gets slightly upgraded or downgraded, so you have to be quite a master of the English language as well.

Carnell says the Fed knows bankers are listening, and chooses its words wisely. The last thing Bernanke wants to do is shock the markets with surprising news. But Carnell says with this first-ever press conference there's a wild card in how Bernanke delivers his lines.

CARNELL: There's always the off chance that he doesn't give a particularly smooth performance, maybe gives a nuance the wrong way of what he actually intends.

And that uncertainty is why markets have been nervous leading up to this press conference, even if bankers already know the script.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...