On July 21st , Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the Full committee of the House Financial Services Committee for his semiannual Humphrey Hawkins Hearing on Monetary Policy.
Mr. Bernanke’s testimony is summarized as follows and copy of the written statement is available on the committee’s web site at:
Mr. Bernanke’s early responses to the Wall Street Journal (wsj) were cited by Barney Frank (D., Mass.), the Committee’s chairman as his opening statement. Mr. Bernanke’s quotes on the WSJ also became some of the lawmakers concerns.
Expansion of GAO audit
According to the WSJ’s article “Bernanke Heads to Congress Battling Calls to Tame the Fed”, Mr. Bernanke strongly opposed the proposal to audit the Fed, calling it "self-defeating and dangerous." He said that the risk is that if investors see the Fed facing new political oversight, they will doubt its ability to take unpopular steps to fight inflation -- one of the Fed's top jobs. Fearing inflation, bond investors will push interest rates up, hurting the weak economy.
The first firework quickly came when Rep. Texas, Ron Paul asked Mr. Bernanke to respond to his quotes. Also, according to Mr. Bernanke’s testimony, he expressed his concerns that the legislation could compromise Fed’s independence. “In doing so(expand the audit authority of the GAO), the Congress carefully balanced the need for public accountability with the strong public policy benefits that flow from maintaining an appropriate degree of independence for the central bank in the making and execution of monetary policy,” said Mr. Bernanke.
Bernanke asserts that the Fed’s program to purchase Treasury securities isn’t an active intervention but a common open market operation aimed at making it easier for the government to issue debt. But, Mr. Paul worried that the program would cause inflations.
Although there are a lot of critics of Fed’s efforts in the credit crisis, Mr. Bernanke started his report by giving some good news. “More recently, the pace of decline (the U.S. economy) appears to have slowed significantly, and final demand and production have shown tentative signs of stabilization…. Consumer price inflation, which fell to low levels late last year, remained subdued in the first six months of 2009.” Also, Mr. Bernanke indicated “Consumer spending has been relatively stable so far this year, and the decline in housing activity appears to have moderated.”
Some improvement has been seen in the credit markets. “Interest rate spreads in short-term money markets, such as the interbank market and the commercial paper market, have continued to narrow. The extreme risk aversion of last fall has eased somewhat, and investors are returning to private credit markets.”
However, the high unemployment rate is still a headache of the Fed. “Job insecurity, together with declines in home values and tight credit, is likely to limit gains in consumer spending. The possibility that the recent stabilization in household spending will prove transient is an important downside risk to the outlook,” said Mr. Bernanke.
Small Business Concerns
To ease the consumer and small business tight credit, the Fed implemented the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF), an unusual Fed program. The loan facility will support the issuance of asset-backed securities (ABS) collateralized by student loans, auto loans, credit card loans, and loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Mr. Bernanke was asked if the Fed plan to extend its $1 trillion TALF to back securitizations for commercial real estate loans. Mr. Bernanke said that there is a significant amount of commercial real estate loans coming up for refinance “and they may not get done.”
The most common criticism of the program was the lack of clarity around the requirement that any underlying ABS collateral be "newly or recently issued exposures to US-domiciled obligors." Although Mr. Bernanke noted that “the Fed is urging banks to help creditworthy borrowers refinance”, some critics worried that unclear credit requirement will repeat the mistake of the credit crisis.
Several lawmakers expressed their concerns about the role of the Fed. Although the Obama administration has proposed promoting the Fed to the role of systemic risk regulator, the Fed’s power to regulate consumer products will be placed by a new consumer protection agency. Mr. Bernanke implicitly mentioned some conflicts of power of shift. Mr. Bernanke tells lawmakers that the Fed “would be interested” in keeping its consumer-protection responsibilities.
“If I were writing it, I would keep the consumer protection with the federal banking agencies, with additional measures to ensure a strong commitment,” he said, arguing that the Fed is “well-placed” to regulate consumer products offered by the financial firms it supervises. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” he added.
Although stocks dropped first right after Bernanke’s testimony, Mr. Bernanke proved to help stocks push higher today. The Dow Jones industrial average extended its longest rally in two years, climbing 68 points, or 0.8 percent, to close at 8,916.(sources Google Finance).
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