Conflicting messages from the Fed in Jackson Hole

Mark Garrison Aug 31, 2012

Jeff Horwich: Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has now delivered his much-anticipated speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Central bankers from countries around the world have come to the retreat to fish, barbeque, and — yes — the hear what the chairman has to say.

It seemed like Bernanke had a void to fill. Lately members of the Fed board have been giving conflicting signals about what the Fed should do. The Fed’s own meeting minutes from last month set off a flurry of speculation. There was some hope Bernanke might clear things up.

Here’s Marketplace’s Mark Garrison on whether he delivered.

Mark Garrison: Let’s be honest, monetary policy can get a bit dry. So reporters try to spice up their stories about Fed speeches, make them sound like war movies. The Fed has powerful weapons – will it use them? Or is the Fed out of bullets? And will Bernanke pull the trigger?

But if anyone was expecting the thrills and drama of a summer action movie from the Jackson Hole speech, they were disappointed. The language was cautious, but not at all weak. Bernanke says unemployment is a “grave concern.” And he says the Fed won’t rule out aggressive action in the future.

One worry about future Fed moves is that throwing around lots of money could cause inflation. Bernanke said today that it appears to be under control. Rod Smyth of RiverFront Investment Group says he’s got support in that view.

Rod Smyth: All central bankers have concluded that the risks of inflation, while worrying, are less than the risks of near-term recession.

No aggressive moves from the Fed today, but they might not be far off. Next Friday brings unemployment numbers. And the week after that, the Fed meets. Watch for potential fireworks then. In New York, I’m Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

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