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August 26th 2009

Forex Markets Indifferent to Bernanke Nomination

Earlier this week, President Obama officially nominated Ben Bernanke to a second four-year term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Board of Governors. The reaction was relatively muted, perhaps because most pundits had already anticipated the news. Bernanke himself probably sealed his own re-appointment with the public relations campaign he embarked on last month, ostensibly to offer a rationale for his response to the credit crisis. “In a profound departure from the central bank’s tradition as an aloof and secretive temple of economic policy, Mr. Bernanke has plunged into the public spotlight to an extent that none of his predecessors would have contemplated.”

Most of the sound-byte reactions came from politicians, and focused on whether he deserved another term, rather than the potential ramifications of his re-nomination. Heavyweights Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd both offered tepid support. Ron Paul referred to the news as irrelevant. Meanwhile, “European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet on Tuesday said he was ‘extremely pleased’ by President Barack Obama’s decision.”

The reactions from investors, likewise, ranged from ambivalent to moderately supportive. Equity markets rose to a 2009 high the day after  the story broke, while the Dollar fell slightly. The re-appointment was deliberately awarded five months ahead of schedule in order to help the president’s credibility with investors. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look it), the fact that the markets didn’t react much, shows that they don’t really care. In other words, “President Obama overstated matters when he said that Mr. Bernanke had kept us out of a Great Depression” not only because “this remains to be seen,” but also because the ebbs and flows of GDP are contingent on more than just monetary policy.

Regardless of how much credit Bernanke actually deserves, he will certainly have his work cut out for him in his second term. “Bernanke’s Next Tasks Will Be Undoing His First,” encapsulated one headline. At some point, the Fed must raise interest rates, return credit markets to normal functioning, and remove hundreds of billion of dollars from the money supply.

But this is easier said than done: “If the Fed shifts too quickly from the role of savior to that of strict disciplinarian, it risks aborting the recovery and tipping the nation back into a recession, essentially repeating mistakes made in 1937 after the economy had begun to rebound. If the Fed moves too slowly, it risks the kind of intractable inflation it experienced in the 1970s and fueling another bubble.”

The consensus is that, for better or worse, he will err on the side of price stability, perhaps at the expense of economic growth. “A Fed chaired by Ben Bernanke will follow a policy uncomfortably tight as the 2012 election looms into sight. Bernanke has espoused a commitment to low inflation over his entire career,” argued one economist. Meanwhile, the markets aren’t expecting rate hikes at least until 2010, although Bernanke, himself, has conveyed a sense of optimism – and hence hawkishness – about a quick exit from recession.

What does all of this mean for the Dollar? It’s impossible to say exactly, and depends largely on whether Bernanke can unwind the easy money policy of the last year just as deftly as he deployed it.And of course, there is the wild card of the US National debt, and the potential for a loss of confidence to induce a run on the Dollar, which even Bernanke would be powerless to solve.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, News, US Dollar | 1 Comment »

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  1. Dollar Under Pressure on All Fronts | Forex Blog Says:

    […] concluded a recent post with a reference to the X-factor in forex markets: the US National Debt. In fact, the surging debt […]

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