Fed pulls back curtain, Wall St. reacts

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke addresses the Cato Institute's 25th Annual Monetary Conference on Nov. 14, 2007.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: Let me see if I can pick up the thread here and make sense of the day that was for you. Going in, it looked like one of those Yeah-not-great-but-not-terrible-either kinds of days. There were some murmurings about subprimes, which we'll get to in a minute, but the main event for everybody was the Federal Reserve. We told you last week that Chairman Ben Bernanke's decided to pull back the veil a little bit, and let the rest of us in on which way the Fed thinks the economy's going, and what that might mean for interest rates -- a topic near and dear, of course, to Wall Street's heart. To start things off, Marketplace's Bob Moon has been reading the minutes of the latest meeting for us. Hi Bob.

BOB MOON: Hello, Kai.

RYSSDAL: Let me make sure I am reading these tea leaves right. What we have on the one hand is Wall Street, not outright begging for a rate cut, but as close as Wall Street's gonna get. On the other hand, what we have the Fed here saying today, if I'm right, is um maybe not so fast.

MOON: That's right. I'm not saying the Fed put the chance of another interest rate cut on ice, but the temperature did turn noticeably chilly on Wall Street, just about the time that this new economic assessment came out. The Dow is actually in positive territory and it didn't take much more than a few minutes for investors to kind of speed-read through the minutes of the last monetary policy meeting, and figure out that there's a big disconnect between what the markets have been anticipating and what the country's central bankers have been saying behind closed doors. The analysts have been telling us, as you mentioned, that the market's already been pricing in an interest rate cut in December. It turns out Wall Street came much closer than investors realized to not even getting that second rate cut last month.

RYSSDAL: Well, don't keep us waiting here, man. What are they saying about a future rate cut?

MOON: Good question. The record of what went on at last month's meeting shows that the policymakers debated intensely whether they should wait for more evidence of damage from the housing slump, and the market turmoil and all that before deciding where rates should go. And while most members decided it was wise to buy themselves what you might call some "economic insurance" here, the minutes say that that was a very close call. You could say that we're now a month beyond that, that that's history, that things change, but as we've mentioned here in recent days, several of these policy makers have been sending strong signals, just lately, that the two cuts they've made are probably going to be enough.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, just to add to the confusion for a second here. They did actually use the word "fragile" -- talking about the financial sector, right?

MOON: That's right. That doesn't necessarily mean that these two rate cuts that they've already done won't take care of that.

RYSSDAL: Yeah. Last time we talked about this, last week, we addressed the issue of the economic forecast that the Fed is going to give. Was that a whole lot of sound and fury or is there actually something interesting in what they had to say today?

MOON: There's really not much in there to tip the Fed's hand one way or the other here. It's expecting slow economic growth, slightly higher unemployment and moderate inflation. Well, that sounds pretty much on balance to me in terms of the Fed's comfort zone.

RYSSDAL: So, eh, basically.

MOON: Yeah. Basically, we don't know.

RYSSDAL: Bob Moon, our senior business correspondent. Thank you, Bob.

MOON: Thanks, Kai.

RYSSDAL:By the time the closing bell rang today the major indices had gotten back all they lost thanks to the Fed -- and then some. The pieces came together like this: After the Fed said the economy's going to slow next year, the dollar tumbled to a record low against the euro. That bumped oil prices up, since it's traded in the ever-weakening greenback. Higher crude means good things for oil companies. ExxonMobile led the Dow back up today. It gained almost 4 percent.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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