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Ben Bernanke remains cautious in House remarks

Federal Reserve Bank Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill February 29, 2012 in Washington, DC. Bernanke was testifying about the Fed's Semiannual Monetary Policy Report.

Jeremy Hobson: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will be back on Capitol Hill today, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee. He spent yesterday offering his assessment of the U.S. economy to lawmakers in the House Financial Services Committee.

He said things are going better than expected in the job market, but that the recovery is uneven and modest. And he made no announcements about new Fed programs to boost lending.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer joins us now live from Washington with more. Good morning, Nancy.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: Good morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: So tell us a little bit more about what exactly Bernanke said.

Marshall-Genzer: Well he's always careful what he says when he testifies before Congress. Maybe he's trying not to really say anything, so he won't scare Wall Street. But, as you said, it was clear that he's still worried about the economy. He said, sure things have been looking up lately, but until we see faster growth, the unemployment rate just isn't going to come down. In fact, Bernanke said he'd be surprised if the sharp drops in unemployment we've been seeing continue. And he said consumers are still pretty cautious.

Ben Bernanke: Real household income and wealth were flat in 2011, and access to credit remains restricted for many potential borrowers. Consumer sentiment, which dropped sharply last summer, has since rebounded, but remains relatively low.

So a mixed picture from the Fed chairman. What is clear is he was very cautious about what he said.

Hobson: Very cautious. And, of course, Wall Street listens to his words very closely. There was even a stock market drop while he was talking yesterday. Why is what he says so important?

Marshall-Genzer: He's a smart guy, Jeremy. And he has economic data the rest of us don't. And he has the power to change things, although he was pretty clear yesterday that the Fed isn't planning another big economic stimulus program, like the big bond buying spree that started in 2010 and 2011.

Hobson: Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer in Washington, thanks Nancy.

Marshall-Genzer: You're welcome.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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