"The bottom line is that monetary policy isn't going to be loosened any time soon," observed Paul Ashworth, senior international economist at Capital Economics in London. "The best that can be said is that it isn't going to be tightened for a couple of years either."
Investors appeared to want more from Bernanke on Wednesday: After the chairman issued his remarks about the "unusually uncertain" outlook for the economy, stock indexes sold off fairly violently. Speculation mounted that Wall Street was anticipating some form of stimulus indications, such as eliminating interest payments on excess reserves or more buying of mortgage-backed securities.
But the day's market reaction seemed in retrospect to be more knee-jerk in nature. As the chairman took the hotseat for his second day of testimony, investors largely ignored his remarks and instead focused on a fresh round of solid earnings reportsthat signaled that corporate America is rebounding even if little else shows significant signs of improvement.
The thrust of Bernanke's response, in fact, may not even have been geared toward investors specifically.
Some observers saw him instead preparing Congress for the need, sometime in the future, for more stimulative measures should the economy continue to languish.
"Much of what he said was geared for Congress—a reluctant, recalcitrant Congress—to (get it to) approve anything having to do with fiscal stimulus," said Quincy Krosby, general market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, N.J. "If he had been a cheerleader and the market went up, and then the data continued to be weaker, he loses credibility."
So what, then, does Wall Street really want?
A popular story making the rounds earlier this week was that the Fed was looking for ways to buck the Dodd-Frank financial reform lawand loosen capital requirements for banks. The measure would be geared toward helping free up money for loans, something desperately needed by small businesses that have been hit with strict collateral requirements for financing.
Indeed, Bernanke issued a 19-page addendum with his remarks, titled "Addressing the Financial Needs of Small Businesses," that apparently fell short of assuaging investor concerns. The document arose from a series of 40 meetings over the past six months at each of the Fed branches to address the needs of small business.