This afternoon, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will hold a press conference. It's not only the first of four Fed pressers scheduled for this year--it's the first scheduled press conference the Fed has ever held. It comes at the conclusion of the Federal Open Market Committee's monthly two-day meeting, and ever since the press conference was announced in March, people have been wondering what Bernanke was planning to say.
We'll know for sure at 2:15 p.m. when it's scheduled to begin, but in the meantime there's been no shortage of predictions. Most people agree that Bernanke won't reveal anything dramatic--indeed, choosing your words carefully is a big part of the job of a Fed Chairman. A video produced by the Associated Press notes that Bernanke's responses "will likely have to be guarded, given the impact his words have." Annie Lowrey echoes the point in a smart Slate essay--she quotes a Goldman Sachs release that indicates people will even be paying attention to Bernanke's "body language," and jokingly admonishes him, "Shoulders back, Ben!"
Lowrey also writes that "the press conference itself is meant to be the news," and calls it "mostly a symbolic gesture"--an assessment that doesn't deter David Leonhardt, at The New York Times, from calling on reporters to really grill the hell out of Bernanke, especially on the subject of the unemployment rate. "We should ask hard questions," wrote Leonhardt yesterday in a column that was subsequently widely cited. "We shouldn't let him get away with the evasions and half-answers that members of Congress too often allow Fed chairmen."
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If Neil Irwin at The Washington Post is right, we could hear some hard questions today--and if Bernanke gives non-answers, it will at least be easy to tell. "When Bernanke testifies before congressional committees, his questioners more often use the opportunity to give a mini speech than to get actual information from the Fed chairman," Irwin writes. "Expect reporters to ask shorter, more focused questions that would be harder for Bernanke to evade (or at least would make it more obvious if he did evade)."
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But even if Irwin's prediction of more pointed, more specific questions is borne out, Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic thinks we'll still hear a lot of same-old-same-old--not because the Fed will be evasive, but because they'll have little new to report. Indiviglio expects the Fed to "stay the path" on its reinvestment program, on quantitative easing, and on keeping interest rates at their current levels. The only real question here, he says, is whether we'll get the FOMC's latest economic projections today, or a few weeks down the line.
All in all, few people appear to expect fireworks this afternoon. But it seems safe to guess that everyone will be watching anyway.