The U.S. central bank held the line on policy today, making no change to its near-zero interest rate or its $85-billion-a-month asset-buying program known as quantitative easing, or QE, The Globe and Mail’s Kevin Carmichael reports.
What investors were looking for was a signal on when it could begin to pull back, and Mr. Bernanke later told reporters it could happen “later this year” as the economy improves.
“The fundamentals look a little better to us,” he said.
“Our purchases are tied to what happens in the economy. If we overestimate what is happening, we will adjust to that. We have no deterministic or fixed plan.”
North American stocks tumbled in response, the fear being that the Fed could “taper” the program before the recovery is ready for that.
The Dow Jones industrial average sank by more than 200 points, or almost 1.4 per cent, while the S&P 500 dropped almost 23 points, also 1.4 per cent, and Toronto’s S&P/TSX composite fell just shy of 100 points, or 0.8 per cent.
Members of the central bank’s policy-setting group, the Federal Open Market Committee, also cut their forecast for economic growth this year to between 2.3 per cent and 2.6 per cent, a change from an earlier 2.3 per cent to 2.8 per cent.
Mr. Bernanke’s comments suggest the pullback on QE could begin in the fall, and end fully by mid-2014.
“Bottom line - no backing down, no turning back, the Fed will taper unless the data deteriorate,” said Kit Juckes, the chief of foreign exchange at Société Générale.
Poloz urges 'patience'
It wasn't just Mr. Bernanke front and centre today, but the new Bank of Canada governor as well.
As The Globe and Mail's Barrie McKenna and Tavia Grant report, Stephen Poloz gave his first speech since he took over the role, appealing for "patience" as an export-led recovery starts to take hold in Canada.
“Right now what we need most is stability and patience,” he said, according to the text of his talk to the Oakville Chamber of Commerce in Burlington, Ont.
Mr. Poloz expressed confidence that Canada is seeing early signs of the export-led pick up – particularly to the United States – that he said will eventually drive growth.
“The gathering momentum in foreign demand, especially in the United States, should help lift the confidence of Canadian exporters,” he said.
The timing of Mr. Poloz's speech raises some interesting questions.
Originally, former governor Mark Carney was to have been the speaker, but, of course, he has now left the post and Mr. Poloz took his place.
“The BoC had an opportunity to scuttle the date, and yet it chose not to and thus put itself smack in the middle of potentially far more important developments at the Fed this afternoon,” said Derek Holt of Bank of Nova Scotia.
“That particularly applies to the timing of the press conference right in between the Fed’s actions within a Fed meeting schedule that has been set last year.”
That begs the question of why the Bank of Canada stuck to the date and time for today’s speech.
“One might surmise that it’s to emphasize how the Fed is a constraint, but I doubt that,” Mr. Holt said.
“What is much more likely is quite the opposite in order to make a point on BoC independence in that the Fed schedule doesn’t dictate BoC actions notwithstanding limits to the BoC’s independence,” he added.
“If so, then this is mostly about optics since I don’t believe that the BoC would be able to front run the Fed on the tightening path at the front end by a greater margin than the current overnight spread.”
The Bank of Canada’s benchmark overnight rate now stands at 1 per cent, and isn’t expected to move until the second half of next year at the earliest, while the U.S. central bank’s Fed funds rate is near zero.
The Fed has pledged to keep it there until unemployment eases to 6.5 per cent.
How Greenspan moved gold, silver
Consider this another way to look at “irrational exuberance,” that famous emotion cited by Alan Greenspan at the height of the dot-com bubble.
The tone set in speeches by the former Federal Reserve chairman had the power to move gold and silver prices, new academic research suggests. The current Fed chief, Mr. Bernanke, has no such power, according to the findings published by the University of Edinburgh.
The researchers used text analysis software, Diction 6.0, to analyze some 400 speeches and comments between mid-1999 and mid-2012, looking at “certainty, optimism and realism” in the comments of the world’s most powerful central bankers.
Mr. Greenspan affected silver markets with his certainty, activity and realism, and gold prices with his certainty, says the recent study by Kristjan Thorarinsson and Arman Eshraghi.
“There is therefore evidence that the tone of voice in the communication from Alan Greenspan can move the gold and silver markets,” the authors said.
“Bernanke, however, does not move markets with the tone of his voice.”
Their study looked at the impact on gold and silver prices from surprise monetary policy decisions, and the tone of voice of the past and current Fed chiefs.
“The study is valuable to market participants as it gives insight into how financial markets behave and what role gold and silver have in the world of finance,” the authors said.
“Commodity exchanges, central banks and governments that look to attain orderly and efficient markets should have an interest in information that explains how the precious metals respond to monetary policy and central bank communication,” they added.
“For investors, this can help them devise trading strategies and better diversify their portfolios.”
The researchers found that a 1-per-cent increase in the certainty of Mr. Greenspan’s tone could boost silver prices by 0.03 per cent, and the prices of gold company shares by 0.1 per cent.
“When the communication between chairmen is compared the results show that Greenspan has significantly more activity and realism whereas Bernanke has more optimism in his tone,” they added.
Given the study, which was also reported in The Financial Times, it will be worth watching closely this afternoon when Mr. Bernanke meets reporters after the Federal Reserve’s policy decision.
Investors are on edge, worried that the Fed will begin to pull back on its quantitative easing program too early. No change is expected today in the $85-billion-a-month asset-buying stimulus, but markets are watching for signals.
- Brian Milner in Economy Lab: All eyes on Fed this week for clues on stimulus
- Hints of Bernanke's departure add to Fed policy worries
Wind investors pull bid
Wind Mobile’s foreign investors are dropping their bid to formalize control over the small Canadian carrier, The Globe and Mail's Rita Trichur reports.
The move by Vimpelcom Ltd.’s Cairo-based subsidiary throws into question the future of Wind at a time when Ottawa is working to salvage its goal of ensuring at least four carriers in every regional market.
Orascom gave no official reason for its decision. Last week, The Globe and Mail reported its bid for control was being delayed over concerns about national security
Imperial to close refinery
Imperial Oil Ltd. will shut its 95-year-old Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, oil refinery after a 13-month search for a buyer came up dry, The Globe and Mail's Jeff Jones reports.
That was due to the brutal impacts of far too much production capacity on both sides of the Atlantic and the need to import expensive crude into the region to manufacture gasoline and other fuels.
Imperial said the plant had initially garnered interest among would-be acquirers, but after studying the configuration and relatively small size of the facility as well as shifting market dynamics, they came to the same conclusion as it did – that it cannot be operated profitably.
Fairfax in Greek deal
Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. is investing $244-million to become the largest shareholder of one of Greece’s top real estate companies, The Globe and Mail’s Jacqueline Nelson reports.
The Toronto-based insurer and investment manager is increasing its position in Eurobank Properties S.A. – a subsidiary of one of Greece’s top lenders, Eurobank Ergasias SA – which is focused on commercial real estate and privatizations in the country and its surrounding region.
A really smart phone?
Huawei Technologies Co. has unveiled a new smartphone for the beautiful you.
Actually, the more beautiful you.
The Chinese company now boasts what is believed to be the world’s thinnest phone, the Ascend P6, but it’s what it comes with that’s grabbing attention.
For those not in the know (like me, until I asked one of my kids), there are pictures known as “selfies,” pictures of yourself that you take yourself. These things are all the rage, and simple given that smartphones and other gadgets come with cameras and technology that can instantly post your selfie online.
Huawei’s new phone not only boasts front- and rear-facing cameras, it also comes with “auto facial-enhancing capabilities” to create “model-gorgeous shots you’ll want to share.”
That includes “object tracing focus, and instant facial beauty support” that can fix things like your skin tone and cut down on those wrinkles.
“Bold claims from Huawei,” analyst Ben Wood of CCS Insight said yesterday.
“Crank beauty level up to 10 and you can apparently look younger and more beautiful.”
(I’m not certain how many of the wrinkled generation are into selfies, but there you have it.)
The phones go on sale next month in Europe at a recommended price of €449, or almost $615, according to The Guardian.
Huawei is trying to compete with Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics in what has become a heated and competitive market, using Google Inc.’s Android system on its smartphones.
Mr. Wood said the Ascend P6 has is strong in design and quality, and at the right price “will attract buyers who’ve not considered Huawei before.”
(If you’re really wrinkled, you can always visit Dr. Robert Sigal of the Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery, who offers a “FaceTime Facelift” that’s aimed at making you look good on Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad FaceTime function.)
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