When Federal Reserve chief> Ben Bernanke told Congress Wednesday that the U.S. economy is unusually uncertain, his comments may have introduced more questions about the economic outlook than answers.
The chairman didn t offer any new insight regarding monetary policy decisions, says Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at Davidson. And Bernanke left investors without a single new clue as to when the Fed might unwind its strategy of quantitative easing under way for nearly a year, he says.
Bernanke "acknowledged the Fed believed the economy was growing, but at a slower rate than forecasted six months ago, Dickson says.
Investors did not cheer this testimony. The chairman s speech triggered a 30-minute 160-point selloff in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The next day, stocks recovered their losses and then some, as strong earnings from large-cap bellwethers and a promise from Bernanke that the Fed will act if the economy does not continue to improve overshadowed a weak unemployment report.
The volatility suggests investors are grappling with what, if anything, has changed in the Fed s economic outlook. Market and economic leaders are mixed. Some say the horizon has grown bleak enough for immediate action. Others are saying that the message should remain the same.
Here are two takes on the state of the economy and what it means for investors.
Who s talking: Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute
The gist: The unemployment rate is not poised to improve and something should be done about it.
In his own testimony to the House Committee on Financial Services, Mishel predicts growth will remain slow for the foreseeable future and that the impact of the recession on the labor market could be felt for years.
The nation s current jobs crisis is severe and there will be continued high unemployment perhaps as high as current unemployment through the end of 2011, Mishel says, adding that we should not and need not accept it.
Mishel says the only workable solution is an array of large and effective federal jobs initiatives, beginning with continued support for the unemployed, relief to state and local governments, direct job creation and a commitment to sizable and ongoing public investment. Although those initiatives would add to the U.S. deficit, Mishel says that is unavoidable and in this case desirable.
The United States is undergoing the worst economic downturn in 70 years, and the damage and suffering it is causing will last many years beyond the official end of the recession, he says.
Who s talking: Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors
The gist: Bernanke s testimony offered nothing new. Even though investors didn t hear what they wanted hints of a more proactive approach the fundamentals of the recovery remain strong.
After Bernanke s testimony, Orlando says Federated s senior executives discussed it and agreed that we didn t hear anything that we didn t already know about haven t heard a thousand times.
Because the majority of investors are worried about a double-dip recession, many were disappointed Wednesday when Bernanke didn t give an extraordinarily proactive report or hint at reactivating policies used earlier to lift distressed markets, Orlando says. He said we ve hit a soft patch, and structurally, we ll come out of it later in the year or next year, he says.
We all know that the employment cycle is going to take a long time, that housing has fallen off a cliff with stimulus behind us, and that the consumer is taking some time off, Orlando says. We believe [the softness] was engineered by the roll off of stimulus and census hiring and we need to work through this and get the noise to fade.
Investors have been pouring money into bond funds, accepting dismal yields, as an effort to find a safe haven in the market. But Orlando says nothing that Bernanke said made him consider a more bearish or defensive strategy.
At Federated, executives involved in cash, bonds and equities discussed asset allocation, and across the firm, they voted unanimously to maintain a strong overweight position in equities, he says.