Back in the early 1980s, when I was a young cub reporter fresh out of college covering the bond market for a Wall Street trade newspaper, I used to scratch my head over how traders and investors would try to discern what the next Federal Reserve move would be. Obviously, not much has changed since then.
Back then, however, the Fed rarely said anything, and when it did, its words would be couched in the famous “Fed speak,” in which the chairman – Alan Greenspan was the best (or worst) at it – said a bunch of gobbledygook that few people could understand but spent countless hours trying to decipher.
In my innocence, I asked one of the senior reporters, “Why doesn’t the Fed just tell us what it intends to do instead of making everybody guess?” I don’t remember ever getting a good explanation.
The problem with that type of “communication” – or lack of it – is that investors are prone to make panicky, knee-jerk reactions to whatever the Fed eventually does.
Since then, the Fed, to its credit, has made a real, concerted effort to become “more transparent” in its communications and avoid surprises as much as it can. The process started with Ben Bernanke, and Jerome Powell has really run with it, holding a press conference after every Fed meeting, or 10 times a year, rather than quarterly as his immediate predecessors did. That’s on top of the countless public speeches and congressional appearances he makes, plus those of the other members of the Fed’s Board of Governors and the presidents of the regional Fed banks, those with a vote on monetary policy.
Now, it seems, we’re at the point where the Fed is confusing the markets by having too many voices say too many things, rather than confusing the markets by saying as little as possible. Which situation is better, I’m not sure.
Case in point: Continue reading "Silence is Golden"