Thursday, March 31, 2011
Exit Fed credibility...Enter the Midas touch???
Bernanke to brief the press
Federal Reserve to join Bank of England and European Central Bank in holding monetary policy press conferences
Author: Claire Jones
Source: Central Banking | 25 Mar 2011
Categories: Monetary Policy
Topics: Federal Reserve, Bernanke, Greenspan, monetary policy
The Fed said on Thursday that the chairman will hold the quarterly briefings "to present the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) current economic projections and to provide additional context for the FOMC's policy decisions".
The central bank added: "The introduction of regular press briefings is intended to further enhance the clarity and timeliness of the Federal Reserve's monetary policy communication."
The Fed has long come under fire for its opacity. Alan Greenspan, Bernanke's predecessor, was seen as particularly obfuscatory, with the man himself famously quipping: "If I turn out to be particularly clear, then you've probably misunderstood what I said." Bernanke has already been more proactive, appearing on the CBS television network's 60 Minutes show twice with mixed results.
There had been some indication that the FOMC was considering press briefings before Thursday's statement, with the January minutes stating that officials "noted the importance of fair and equal access by the public to information that could be informative about future policy decisions, and they considered approaches to address this issue".
The decision to hold the briefings comes at a time when the Fed is particularly unpopular with the American public.
Indicative of this was the decision made by the state legislature in Utah earlier this month to pass a bill that allowed gold and silver coins minted in the US to be used as legal tender. The bill, which is now awaiting the signature of the state's governor, was supported by lobby groups who believe that the central bank is eroding the value of the dollar.
"At one level, the Utah Senate's gold and silver tender law represents a curious sideshow event. But at another level, it is quite serious because it represents the American public's growing distrust and dissatisfaction with the Fed," Steve Hanke, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, told CentralBanking.com. "By trotting out the Fed's favourite inflation metric – the core personal consumption expenditures, which excludes food and energy items – and stating that the Fed is keeping the inflation rate well below the upper end of the target range, chairman Bernanke has lost his credibility."
Hanke added: "No American who spends a big chunk of their budget on food and gasoline believes a word that chairman Bernanke utters. In consequence, the chairman is less popular than the taxman."
However, the briefings may not be intended to sweeten the public mood. "The exercise is more about speaking to financial markets. It's more about transparency than goodwill," Lou Crandall, the chief economist at Wrightson ICAP, a research firm, told CentralBanking.com. Commentators note that at present it can be difficult to discern what the FOMC consensus view is, as those members that are furthest from it are usually the first to speak after rate votes. "The briefings will go some way to resolving one of the communication timing issues they have. The members that are least happy with the decision are the most likely to give their views before the minutes of the meeting are out."
The Bank of England's governor holds press briefings every quarter to mark the release of the Bank's Inflation Report. The meetings held around the time of the quarterly reports' release have become the focus for policy changes, with each of the expansions of the asset purchase programme taking place on these occasions. The European Central Bank (ECB) president, his deputy and, on occasion, a national central bank governor meet the press after each governing.
However, in other ways, the Fed is more transparent than both the ECB and the Bank.
It is the only one of the three to reveal how rate-setters voted straight after each meeting, with the Bank waiting three weeks until the publication of the minutes and the ECB not doing so at all. The Fed is also alone in publishing a full transcript of all its monetary policy meetings, albeit with a five-year delay.
In 2011, briefings will be held on April 27, June 22 and November 2. The briefings will be broadcast live on the Federal Reserve's website. For these meetings, the FOMC statement is expected to be released an hour and forty-five minutes earlier than for other FOMC meetings at 12:30 local time.