"If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottage princes' palaces." — William Shakespeare
Bernanke came. Bernanke went. Bernanke will be back real soon.
If you were hoping that the Chairman of the Fed would restore a modicum of calm to the wild ride that has been Wall Street these last four weeks, you got your wish.
However, as in most things, it is a question of degree.
True, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) pulled out of a month-long tailspin, breaking a consecutive string of four weeks of losses. The Dow ended the week at 11,284 for a five-session gain of 3.4%. It was joined by similar gains in the other major indexes, with the S&P 500 Index (SPX) landing at 1,176, up 4.7% for the week, and the Nasdaq Composite (COMP) soundly beating them both, impressively rising 5.9% over five sessions.
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Normally, that kind of week would be a major cause of celebration. But keeping things in perspective, admittedly a tricky thing to do given the extreme volatility of the recent market activity, the Dow recovered only 4% of its recent 16% correction. So really, the past week could be viewed as the start of a Bullish push upwards, or it might just as easily be a mere stop on the way to a continued round of wild 300-500 point swings in either direction, of which there have been no less than seven in the last three weeks alone.
If you take a quick look at how last week unfolded, it would seem to indicate that, for the most part, anyway, the equity markets were anticipating something of a positive nature from Bernanke's turn at the podium at Jackson Hole. When Ben finally did pontificate on Friday, Wall Street seemed to respond with a collective "Huh?" and promptly shed about 200 points. It did recover fairly quickly, however, and ended the day in the green by 134 points.
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So, by most interpretations, investors gave a thumbs-up to the Fed Head for what he had to say.
But what did he actually say? Not much, beyond announcing that Congress was dysfunctional, the economy was improving, though not as fast as he'd like, and maybe, just maybe, he might still toss the market a bone when he returns to the podium at next month's regularly scheduled Fed meeting.
So, in a kind of incestuous relationship, the expectation of Bernanke's comments being positive led Wall Street higher, which, in turn, made it less likely he would actually need to say anything much of consequence.