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Bernanke Talk Gives Bulls, Bears Equal Treatment

Wednesday, 28 Mar 2007 | 2:37 PM ET
Peter Schacknow
Peter Schacknow

Bernanke’s Delicate Steps: As usual, the Breaking News Desk got the honor of keeping close track of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s appearance before Congress today -- and writing the onscreen graphics (also known as "dekos") to accompany him.

I’m proud to say I managed to sum up his most market-moving words in a mere 34 dekos -- 14 from his testimony, 20 from his Q&A, and not a single misspelling in any of them! If you think this is a trivial accomplishment -- well, it might be. But the possibility of putting a screw-up on the air for all to see is mighty scary.

Monitoring any type of Congressional testimony can be arduous. But judging by Bernanke's past few appearances, you’ve got to admire his ability to address issues in a straightforward manner -- while still providing fodder for both the bulls and the bears simultaneously. What follows are a few examples of what I mean, with bull versus bear characterizations that are all mine, of course:

Bulls: The subprime problem seems “contained.”

Bears: The subprime problem has helped make near-term housing prospects uncertain.

Bulls: Inflation expectations appear contained.

Bears: Fed’s biggest concern is that inflation won’t ebb.

Bulls: Recession doesn’t appear imminent.

Bears: Economic uncertainty has increased.

Just a few examples of “something for everybody.” The bears had the upper hand, but the market did cut its losses substantially after the chairman finished his appearance.

I Love Ticker Trivia: I have an undying fascination with ticker symbols. Don’t ask me why, but I do. Luckily, others share my fascination, so when retailer Federated Department Stores announced it would adopt the ticker symbol “M” after it changes its corporate name to Macy’s, I immediately launched a full-scale investigation of M’s history. It didn’t take all that long, and it turned up some facts that were interesting to ... well, at least me.

Turns out that the magic M has been the subject of much discussion in the past. Neither “M” nor “I” have been in use, and there’s been speculation that they were being reserved for the day when Microsoft or Intel would decide to defect from the Nasdaq to the NYSE.

That day hasn’t arrived, and judging by today’s news, no one at Microsoft ever made a reservation for “M.” The NYSE told CNBC’s Robert Hum that no tickers are “reserved,” and any open symbol is available for eligible customers.

“M,” by the way, hasn’t been used since the late 1980s, when it was the ticker for MCorp, a financial services holding company that was split up and sold. That will come in handy the next time you appear on Jeopardy, believe me.

“I” remains available for Intel, should it ever make the move. Microsoft, on the other hand, would have to make do with a different symbol. Unless, of course, it decides to buy Macy’s.