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Bernanke Mixed Message Sends Nervous Tremors

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Muddled messages from the Federal Reserve and a sharp downturn in China’s manufacturing sector and in consumer confidence, sent global equity markets into a tailspin in overnight trading. Better than expected employment numbers in the US brought some stability back as the DJ average rebounded from a triple digit losses at the open. For the week ended May 11, 2013, claims for state unemployment benefits after the first week dipped by 112,000 to 2.91 million recipients, the lowest number of claimants in five years.

Japan’s Nikkei share index .N225 dipped 7.3 percent overnight following data from China’s manufacturing sector and news that the euro zone’s extended pattern of contraction looked more ominous. The Nikkei index had been up a stunning 45 percent this year.

Japan’s newest easing initiative has driven the value of the yen down and led to a very liquid economy that is sputtering for growth. Japan’s profits and growth are stagnant giving reason to question the fantastic gains in equities. It is increasingly clear that global markets are reliant upon quantitative easing that in many ways outweighs output.

Tobias Blattner, a European Economist at Daiwa Capital Markets, told Reuters; “All the global developments we see in the markets right now are purely liquidity-driven, they are no longer underpinned by fundamentals. We must learn to live with that kind of volatility.”

Yen and Euro Rise  

Analysts appeared confused by Bernanke’s statements before Congress. During his questioning, markets slipped immediately. After the Q&A following the Congressional hearing, markets recovered. However, the minutes of the Federal Reserve showed support for reducing Fed’s aggressive purchasing policy if certain factors came into place.

Bernanke told Congress that growth hit 2.5 percent during the first quarter and that employment was encouraging but still well below acceptable levels. He also explained that inflation was steady at about 1 percent, half of the red flag milestone set by the Federal Reserve. Inflation has benefited from reduced energy consumption and pricing.

The dollar-yen dipped as low as 1.01.45 before rallying to 101.68, a 1.4 percent fall from Wednesday’s levels. The euro also made headway against the dollar, trading at $1.2894, a 0.3 percent gain for  the day.

Euro zone weakness is weighing heavily on global manufacturing.

Bernanke Leaves Analysts On Edge

One of the purposes of the Fed’s purchasing program is to increase wealth. Equity markets have been big beneficiaries from this strategy. Americans are saving at the highest rates in 4 years. Recent good news from the National Association of Realtors points to gradual recovery in the housing market.

Bernanke explained the impact of the Fed’s $85 billion monthly bond purchases;  “Monetary policy is providing significant benefits. Monetary policy has also helped offset incipient deflationary pressures and kept inflation from falling even further below the (Fed’s) 2 percent longer-run objective.”

The Federal Reserve’s minutes showed that several board members advocate reducing the purchasing program as early as June. This sent tremors through the equity and bond markets. The benchmark 10-year treasury bond climbed over 2 percent for the first time since March. Japan’s 10-year bonds climbed to 1 percent.

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