Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a historic press conference this afternoon--"historic" in the sense that the Federal Reserve had never held a scheduled press conference before. Economy wonks have been looking forward to this for weeks, even though no one really expected Bernanke to say anything dramatic. And indeed, that prediction largely came true: Bernanke's presser was a subdued affair, lasting just under an hour. Here are some of the instant reactions from learned members of the commentariat.
The Takeaways. First off, the Fed expects less growth this year: it's revised its expectations downward, for both 2011 and 2012, by tenths of a percentage point. That's somewhat discouraging. On the other hand, it's also revised its unemployment expectations downward: the prediction for 2011 is now 8.4 to 8.7 percent, compared with the January estimate of 8.8 to 9.0 percent.
Bernanke also confirmed that QE2, its current round of quantitative easing, will end in June as scheduled. He also seemed to signal that there won't be a QE3--Floyd Norris at The New York Times thinks Bernanke was very clear on that point, while Robert Wenzel at Economic Policy Journal argues that Bernanke left himself "plenty of wiggle room."
The Reviews. Many econ bloggers took time out from their analyses to play critic. The Atlantic's Daniel Indiviglio praised Bernanke for keeping his cool, writing that he "seemed poised" and was "doing pretty well up there staying on message and not deviating."
But Paul Krugman at The New York Times called Bernanke's performance "disheartening," and seemed dismayed that Bernanke isn't taking a more aggressive tack to combat unemployment. Krugman wrote that Bernanke appears "intimidated by the inflationistas, and... looking for excuses not to act." Ezra Klein at The Washington Post echoed this sentiment, offering a much more colorful set of remarks that Bernanke could have made--including plainspoken admissions that "the economy is terrible, we should be doing more, and Congress should be doing much more."
Meanwhile, some observers saw room for a little more showmanship. "This man does not have a future as an inspirational speaker," remarked Floyd Norris at the Times. On Twitter, Reuters's Felix Salmon joked that "he's trying to bore the journalists into submission."
The One-Liners. When faced with a 57-minute conference about monetary policy, you pretty much have to make some jokes or the whole thing could get unbearable. Foreign Policy's Daniel Drezner tweeted, "OK, I'm listening to Bernanke's soothing voice and.... .zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." National Journal's Jim Tankersley observed that "if you had 'transitory' in the Bernanke drinking game... you're screwed," but "if you had 'anything remotely controversial' in the drinking game, so far, you're good. Like, bone-dry good."
Slate's Annie Lowrey, eyeing the real-time viewer counter on the Federal Reserve's video player, noted that the "number of people watching the conference online peaked closer to 15k, now falling"--which she chalked up to "declining interest rates." (Har har.) Ezra Klein clowned around a bit on Twitter: "'Last question will be from Galactus, Eater of Worlds. Galactus, please go ahead.' #sorry #gettingbored." And the liveblog team at The Wall Street Journal proved a formidable bunch of cut-ups, repeatedly joking about the "piano" Bernanke was sitting at (in fairness, the table did look a lot like a piano) and suggesting that the first question should have been, "Where is your birth certificate, Chairman Bernanke? What are you hiding?"
Finally, at one point Steve Liesman of CNBC prefaced his question by thanking Bernanke for holding the press conference. This prompted Business Insider to do a bit of molehill-mountain conversion, tweeting that Liesman "embarrasses himself with slobbery congratulations to Ben Bernanke" and later putting up a post of the quote-unquote embarrassing moment. Note: if someone at Business Insider ever offers you a glass of water, don't thank them for it, as it will be taken as a sign of weakness.