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Markets await Bernanke’s next steps for Fed

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Jeremy Hobson: First to the Fed chairman Ben Bernanke who is about to start testifying on Capitol Hill, and the big question is: Will he signal that more monetary stimulus is on the way? 

For answers let’s bring in Juli Neimann, analyst at Smith, Moore & Company, she is with us live as always from St. Louis. Good morning.

Niemann: Good morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: So what do you think Juli, more stimulus on the way?

Niemann: Well, what will happen, what’s going to put the pressure on him? The economy, the global economy is really weak — retail sales are still falling, the International Monetary Fund is cutting their global growth rate forecast, and inflation is still low. No one wants to use the ‘r’ word: recession. So once again the call there is, just don’t stand there, do something.

The problem is interest rates are already near zero globally, not just here in the United States, but lower interest rates everywhere. And if you use quantitative easing techniques now, you get very little effect, except to get the confidence fairy flying around the financial markets again, we want a rally. But this is Uncle Ben’s last tool and he has to save it just in case the congressional clowns once again decide to take us off a financial cliff at year end. 

Hobson: All right, so maybe he will hold off, and we’ll make sure the congressional clowns — that’s your term Juli. But the Fed’s move, of course, can impact the value of the dollar. There are couple of big companies — Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola — saying they are being hurt right now by exchange rates. What do you make of that?

Niemann: Well the dollar is weaker this week because oil and gas is up here, so exchange rates are going to move back and forth here. Ideally, a weak dollar stimulates foreigners to buy our stuff because it’s cheaper due to more bang for the buck. But that’s not the major factor for big profit margin swings like this. The real reason is substitution.

When economies are going into a slump, people are really fearful about their jobs. Spending focuses on the necessities, and you shift to those lower cost acceptable substitutes. So you don’t have Johnson & Johnson baby powder, you get the save-a-lot baby powder. And you have Coca-Cola big case soda, it goes to Kool-aid. Exchange rates are not the real reason, the real reason is no strong demand for your product.

Hobson: Juli Neimann, analyst at Smith, Moore & Company. 

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