Mr. Bernanke has given market bulls exactly what they wanted: commentary on the economy and inflation that is neither too hot nor too cold. Key points traders are focusing on:
--"...the U.S. economy seems likely to expand at a moderate pace this year and next..."
--weakness in housing has not spilled over to other sectors of the economy
--consumer spending continues to expand "at a solid rate"
--inflation pressures have abated "somewhat"
The upshot is that the Fed is on hold--no rate hikes or cuts in the near future. The impact on the stock market is clear. Since mid-January, when economic data began to suggest that a "soft landing" (slower but moderate economic growth, easing of inflation pressures) was clearly materializing, cyclical stocks--which tend to do better when the economy is expanding--have outperformed consumer stocks and the broad market.
This is happening again today, as Bernanke's testimony enforces the soft landing hypothesis. As a result, the new high list is peppered with classic cyclicals: Honeywell, Dupont, CSX, Deere, truck maker Paccar are all at new highs. Financials are also hitting new highs: JP Morgan, PNC, and insurers like MetLife, Cigna, and Hartford are at highs today.
Bernanke is extremely popular on the Street; the vast majority feel he has done a good job steering the economy to slower but sustainable growth, and that he has really found his footing.