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Tuesday August 17, 2010 - 19:20:11 GMT
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If Inside the Fed looks anything like the Outside View, It is Ali v Frazier…Thrilla in Manila

Since the FOMC meeting last Tuesday, looking at the FOMC statement and reaction in markets one could not help but think the Fed is a few meetings away from QE2…expanding the balance sheet…the new form of easing (forget the Fed funds rate or IOER).   FOMC meetings are meant to convey consensus…unity of purpose and action.  Hoenig is the lone dissenting vote to present an image of unity…for the institution and in support of the Chairman. 


But after Hoenig’s nuclear response to the consensus thinking Monday (see below…Greenspan would have had him tried for treason back in the day for this insubordination), and today’s remarks from Minneapolis Fed President Kocherlakota (completely downplayed the significance of the Fed decision to reinvest and say the market got it wrong), one gets the sense that there is a real battle being waged inside the Fed and it is spilling over into the streets for all to see.  Maybe Bullard fired the first shot just days ahead of the FOMC meeting (what happened to the blackout rule?) with his tour de force embracing QE to avoid a Japan-like outcome.  Bullard went where no FOMC member has gone before.  To be read, heard and seen in two short days he published a paper, held a conference call with the press and spent 2 hours on the set of Squawk Box to make his case.  


And if not for the Hilsenrath article in the WSJ a few Monday’s ago, we may not have had any clue on what Bernanke was thinking as his H-H testimony in late July was a far cry from what the FOMC statement read like and more importantly from what the FOMC did…chose not to let the balance sheet shrink with maturing (and prepayment) on GSE MBS and GSE debt. 


Surely the Bernanke consensus, which still rules the day on policy, is eager to see the Senate confirm Yellen, Raskin and Diamond (Diamond has been held up by the GOP with the assertion he lacks monetary policy expertise…he just happens to be one of the world’s best know academic economists from MIT) to boost its ranks.


Indeed more than a few are waiting for Bernanke to retake control over the policy debate rather than letting the likes of Bullard, Hoenig and Kocherlakota fire salvos.  But as each day passes and no word from Bernanke (nothing scheduled for the Chairman between now and September 20 FOMC apart from Jackson Hole at the end of the month…something could come up…and only other main release is August 31 when the minutes of the August FOMC meeting are published). 


Maybe Bernanke will feel compelled to go back to Hilsenrath (presumably was source for the first article on Fed considering reinvesting to maintain balance sheet size) for another look this way for markets, press and public. (I could not help but notice that Bullard gave an interview to Hilsenrath and was published today.)    


We know that Bernanke thinks the current outlook is fraught with unusual uncertainty.  But it also appears to be the case that the Fed itself is becoming a contributing source to that uncertainty and this is heightened by the very public fight underway in the press.  I admire Bernanke’s efforts (and success) to make the Fed more about the institution than about the Chairman (ending the cult of the “infallible” Greenspan), but when the outlook is filled with usual uncertainty and FOMC members are openly campaigning for their point of view in the public domain, perhaps it is time to exercise some authority and enforce some discipline…a little centralism.  He would best serve this purpose by scheduling (accepting) a public event in the very near-term, ahead of the August 31 FOMC minutes. 


Until then it is the Thrilla in Manila meets the Rumble in the Jungle…Ali, Frazier and Foreman all in the ring with fists flying.


David Gilmore




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