Ben Bernanke thinks his former colleagues at the Federal Reserve will be reluctant to raise interest rates anytime soon.
One of Wall Street's favorite pastimes is trying to discern hidden meaning in language tweaks from Fed officials. But Bernanke, the central bank's former chairman, thinks doing so under current conditions will only lead investors astray.
In part, that's because most Fed officials have been wrong on their economic forecasts over the past several years. They anticipated that economic growth would be stronger, while both the unemployment rate and the natural level of interest rates would be higher.
Chastened over their forecasting errors, Fed officials will be less likely to tip their hands on how they see the future, both in terms of growth and whether they will hike rates.
"It has not been lost on Fed policymakers that the world looks significantly different in some ways than they thought just a few years ago, and that the degree of uncertainty about how the economy and policy will evolve may now be unusually high," Bernanke wrote this week in his most recent blog post for the Brookings Institution, a think tank he joined after leaving the Fed in 2014.
"In general, with policymakers sounding more agnostic and increasingly disinclined to provide clear guidance, Fed-watchers will see less benefit in parsing statements and speeches and more from paying close attention to the incoming data," he added.
Bernanke's successor, Janet Yellen, long has professed that the Federal Open Market Committee over which she presides is "data dependent." However, it's often been unclear which data Yellen and her colleagues watch, as unemployment has fallen well below the Fed's target level, the economy has managed steady if less-than-stellar growth, and stock market levels set new records, spurring worries of asset bubbles.