Inside the FOMC Circus

02/03/2012 8:45 am EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Jim Jubak, Senior Markets Editor for, explains the new format for the FOMC announcements, and why last week’s meeting raised more questions than it answered.

I watched the Fed’s Open Market Committee announcement on January 25, and I kept wanting to pound the computer and yell at it: "TMI, TMI, too much information Ben Bernanke." Nobody knows what to do with the new transparency.

OK, so today we got the new format. Apparently the way it’s going to work is we’re going to get an official press release from the Fed, and with it an indication of what they are doing—keeping rates the same, not keeping rates the same—and the usual 200 words of gobblely gook that you can’t interpret about where they see the economy going.

What they said this time, though, was that they were going to keep interest rates at an extremely low level. Not until the middle of 2013, which is where they were before. New announcement was the end of 2014. So that’s the big news.

Then we’ve got Bernanke coming on and giving his press conference. The press conference was basically people asking, "So, if you’ve got signs the economy is getting better, why is the Fed extending how long it’s going to keep rates near zero or .25% for another year, year and a half?"

Bernanke basically said, "We don’t trust what the short-term data is telling us about strength and we’re really worried about Europe. So we’re going to play it extra, extra, extra safe."

Then the new element to this, the third layer of the cake, is that we’ve got kind of poll numbers about how various people in the Fed on the open markets committee feel about a long-term trends and interest rates, etc. This is where the stuff gets really hairy, because what we had when we polled these people was we discovered that therwere some people who actually wanted to push out rates at this low level until 2015.

So you go OK: A, do any of these guys know anything about what’s going on in the economy of 2015? And the answer to that is probably no. So should we take this into account or not? And B, isn’t this really just an indicator of the Fed being really, really spooked about the state of the economy and the global economy right now?

I would say that’s the case. That’s what this is a good indicator of, and that’s what I’d watch for as we go through this circus in future months.

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