Ben Bernanke

Risk assets like global equities have had a very bad day, but they are still trading fairly close to their highs for the year. This is surprising, given the continuing slowdown in the global economy, and the failure of policy makers in Europe and the US to come to terms with the serious problems facing them.

Particularly worrying is the growing evidence that the US economy is struggling even to hold unemployment constant, while fiscal and monetary policy have both become moribund for the time being. The markets still seem confident that US growth will spontaneously reignite in coming months, without requiring any help from expansionary policy. If they are wrong, there are few signs that US policy would be able to respond quickly or coherently. Read more

The US employment numbers for May seemed to surprise the markets, but in fact they confirmed what we already knew from a string of earlier data releases, which is that the economy has slowed very markedly in recent months. The debate now is whether this slowdown has been triggered mainly by transitory factors – the fallout from the Japanese earthquake, stormy weather, and a spike in gasoline prices above $4/gallon – or whether it reflects a more fundamental malaise in the economic recovery.

The equity markets have remained fairly upbeat about this, and most economists are still strongly of the view that this is just another mid-cycle slowdown of the sort which occurred last year. This still seems to be the most probable outcome (as I will argue here on Sunday). But what if this optimism is wrong? Is there a Plan B? Read more

Following yesterday’s live blog on FT Alphaville, here are some quick final reflections on the Bernanke press conference: Read more

In preparation for Chairman Bernanke’s press conference on Wednesday, my friends at FT Alphaville asked me to respond to a series of questions on US monetary policy – first predicting what the Fed Chairman will say, and then commenting on what he should say. During the press conference itself, I will be participating in a live blog session over at Alphaville. Read more

The past week has seen new highs for the year in many major equity markets, including the US. However, oil prices have continued to climb in ominous fashion, and there have been some weaker signals from the initial economic activity indicators which have appeared for the month of April. In the US, for example, the important Philadelphia Fed index fell sharply, housing data continued to bump along the bottom, and initial unemployment claims were disappointing. Next Thursday will see the publication of the US GDP figures for 2011 Q1, which are likely to report quarterly annualised growth at only around 1.5 per cent, sharply down from the previous quarter. So why has the US economy slowed, and should we be worried about it? Read more

Many investors fear that the Fed’s impending exit from QE2 will have a very damaging effect on the financial markets. Whether they are right will depend on the nature of the exit, and its impact on bond yields. Read more

The financial markets remain torn between their concerns over “black swans” (exogenous shocks from oil prices, food prices, and the Japanese earthquake) and the improving state of the global economy.  Read more

Today’s hawkish statement from the ECB means that a rise in interest rates from 1 per cent to 1.25 per cent is almost certain to be announced next month. Only a major discontinuity in Europe’s financial markets can now prevent it. The key question is whether this rate increase is just an isolated event, which proves to be mistaken and is therefore rapidly reversed – like the infamous quarter point rise announced by the ECB in July 2008, when the world economy was already in recession. Or does the ECB announcement definitively mark the low point for global policy rates? If so, it will prove to be the first step of the central banks’ “exit” process, and the start of a lengthy period of monetary policy normalisation. Read more

The combination of a rapidly growing economy, and a surge in oil prices, has raised questions about the strength of the doves’ hand at the Fed. Previously in firm control, the doves had until yesterday been silent about the recent mixture of strong GDP growth and rising headline inflation. Was the case for exceptionally easy monetary policy beginning to fray at the edges? Not in the mind of New York Fed President Bill Dudley, who is among the most eloquent spokespersons for the dovish standpoint. Read more

This week, the dramatic events in Egypt failed to unsettle the global financial markets. Not only do investors believe that Egypt itself is not critical for global oil prices, they also seem to believe that there will be relatively little contagion to the more important oil producing states elsewhere in the Middle East. Read more

The era in which central bankers could apparently do no wrong ended emphatically in 2008. Since then, they have attracted plenty of criticism as they have adopted a succession of unconventional policies to stabilise the world economy and financial system. Read more

Both the Federal Reserve and the ECB are now purchasing government debt in large scale. Yet neither of them seems at all eager to admit that they are doing anything unconventional with their monetary policy. In fact, some of the recent statements by both Ben Bernanke and Jean-Claude Trichet are not as straightforward and transparent as they might have been. Read more

Most forecasts for growth in the US economy have been revised upwards in recent weeks, and the financial markets have eliminated fears of a double dip recession, at least in the imminent future. A string of encouraging economic data have underpinned this rise in optimism.  Read more

Today’s publication of the latest FOMC minutes will probably unveil significant downward revisions to the Committee’s inflation and gross domestic product forecasts for 2011, as well as a large upward revision to its unemployment forecast. More interestingly, the minutes will show whether the FOMC is broadly united on the strategy of quantitative easing which it has now adopted.  Read more

If he were still alive today, what would Milton Friedman think of his disciple, Ben Bernanke? This is a matter of some concern to the Fed Chairman. Read more

After a week which has been replete with important economic and political news from the US, the bulk of the incoming information has confirmed what we knew already. The Fed has embarked on QE2, more or less exactly as expected. The Republicans took the House but not the Senate, and the President’s initial reaction suggests that the Bush tax cuts will probably be extended, which was the central case before the election. And the economy continues to grow at a pace which is neither fast enough to bring unemployment down, nor slow enough to threaten a double dip. While all of this was broadly as expected, there have been some interesting (and mostly encouraging) developments which are worth noting.

So what do we know today that we did not know a week ago? Three things: Read more

In this blog in the Wall Street Journal, Sudeep Reddy reminds us of a Bernanke speech in 2004, in which the now-chairman of the Fed used a golf analogy to justify making a series of gradual changes in monetary policy when the authorities are unsure about the effectiveness of the policy weapon in use at the time. Read more

The Federal Reserve broke a taboo yesterday when it said quite baldly that inflation in the US is now below the level “consistent with its mandate”. In other words, it is too low. This is a very big statement for any central banker to make, since the greatest feather in their collective cap is that they successfully combated inflation after the 1970s debacle.  Read more

Although the US economy is no longer quite as dominant as it once was in the global economy, there is no sign that the Federal Reserve is losing its primacy among the major central banks – at least, not as far as the financial markets are concerned.  Read more

The much awaited speech by Ben Bernanke at Jackson Hole was largely a holding operation. He did not deviate much, if at all, from the tone of the statement issued after the August meeting of the FOMC, which is understandable given that his policy committee contains several members who do not want the Fed chairman to offer any strong hints about further policy easing at this stage.  Read more