US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's plan to increase transparency may have little short-term sway over investors who see financial carnage that will force the Fed to cut interest rates further.
Bernanke was to give a speech yesterday in which Fed watchers expected him to outline the results of a one-and-a-half year review of communications strategy. Officials have considered increasing their economic forecasts to four times a year, from two, and extending their horizon for projections to three years, said a person familiar with the matter.
Traders are betting the Fed is underestimating the fallout from the housing slump and bank writedowns of assets pummeled by subprime mortgage defaults. Investors ignored Bernanke when he said last week the risks between economic growth and inflation are "roughly" balanced, anticipating rate reductions at the next two Fed meetings.
"The market is unlikely to change its views on the basis on whatever the Fed might put out or what commentary they might have," said Charles Lieberman, a former New York Fed economist who's now chief investment officer of Advisors Capital Management LLC in Paramus, New Jersey. "The market's going to have to see some better data in order to basically join the Fed."
Bernanke was scheduled to speak on "Federal Open Market Committee Communications" at the Cato Institute in Washington yesterday morning, a research group holding an annual monetary-policy conference.
Bernanke, 53, set up a subcommittee headed by Vice Chairman Donald Kohn last year to review how the Fed communicates policy objectives. While officials said the discussions included setting a target for the inflation rate, the changes Bernanke is likely to announce will fall short of that objective, analysts said. The Fed chief favored a target when he served as Fed governor.
The Fed currently releases forecasts for economic growth, unemployment and inflation in the coming two years in February and July. Moving to four annual reports suggests the central bank may release updated predictions before Bernanke's semiannual testimony to Congress in February.
New forecasts would offer Fed officials a chance to reinforce their message that growth will accelerate by the middle of next year. Bernanke told lawmakers at a Nov. 8 hearing the Fed already anticipates growth will "slow noticeably" this quarter.
Investors are betting policy makers will have to add to their 0.75 percentage point of cuts in the benchmark interest rate to avoid a recession.
Futures contracts on the Chicago Board of Trade indicate an 82 percent chance the FOMC will cut the overnight lending rate between banks by a quarter point to 4.25 percent on Dec. 11. A fourth reduction at the Jan. 29 to. Jan. 30 meeting, to 4 percent, carries a 53 percent probability.
"The long-run forecasts don't really tell you about near-term policy," said Peter Kretzmer, senior economist at Bank of America Corp in New York, who used to work at the Fed.
While the Fed may stop short of introducing an inflation target, it could offer insight into the desired range by adding forecasts for price changes in three years' time. That's because, as Bernanke said last week, "in all but the shortest of terms, the Federal Reserve's policy determines how much inflation there is."
Moving to a full-fledged numerical goal may have proved unpalatable to Democrats, who have a majority in Congress. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts and other legislators have opposed a target, arguing it would diminish the Fed's so-called dual mandate. The central bank is also charged with attaining full employment.