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Thu, May 11, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Markets await first move by Ben Bernanke's Fed

AP , WASHINGTON

After nearly two decades of decoding Alan Greenspan's famously opaque speaking style, financial markets are having to learn to interpret his successor -- US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. So far, the results have been a little rocky.

Wall Street widely expected Fed policy-makers would boost a key interest rate to the highest level in five years when they met yesterday.

It would be the 16th quarter-point increase in a credit tightening cycle that began nearly two years ago and would leave the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge each other, at 5 percent.

There is a wide split over what happens next. Some economists believe the Fed would stop with the funds rate at 5 percent, up significantly from the 46-year low of 1 percent in effect before the rate increases began.

Others think the Fed would only pause for a meeting or two and then raise rates one or two more times. And still a third group thinks there won't be any pause as the Fed continues a steady march toward higher rates.

Part of the blame for the confusion is being assigned to Bernanke, who took over as Fed chairman on Feb. 1.

He roiled markets over the past two weeks, first with testimony before the Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill on April 27 that the markets read as a strong signal that the Fed was going to pause in its string of rate increases, and then the next week when he told a reporter that the markets had misinterpreted his comments.

Economists said that the incident showed that there is a new Fed chairman with a different speaking style. Some analysts said the problem was that investors misinterpreted his comments.

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