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Greenspan Speak

Ours is an age of celebrity, where the worlds of South American

dictators, Madonna, Dennis Rodman


Bill Gates

all merge. (Gates even co-starred with Rodman in a


(MSFT:Nasdaq) promotional video shown at November's Comdex.) Even Fed celeb

Alan Greenspan

made the pages of


magazine last week, with word of his engagement.

But the real scoop on Greenspan is that he's a failure as a celebrity. Why? Because he's a lousy quote. This morning the whole market -- the bond market in particular -- was awaiting something quotable from the Fed Chairman. This is a standard rite, as Senate Budget Committee Chair

Pete Domenici,

a New Mexico Republican, opened the floor to three hours of testimony from Greenspan this morning.

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Hoping against hope, some traders thought that Greenspan might actually


something. But they don't get it. Greenspan


says anything. He studiously avoids saying anything.

There was a time when I used to join this Greenspan watch and marvel at the long, convoluted sentences that stream from his alledgedly carefully prepared text. Dryly, he rambles on with just the slightest New York accent: ''However, at a time when the working-age population is expanding relatively slowly and unemployment is already low, this economic growth is appreciable indeed.'' No! Say it isn't so! "Appreciable Indeed"? Don't stop.

What about the economy? ''¿Retained considerable vigor, with few signs of the imbalances and inflationary tensions that have disrupted past expansions¿job insecurity¿At some point in the future, the trade off of subdued wage growth¿for job security has to come to an end¿ the relatively modest wage gains we've seen are a transitional rather than a lasting phenomenon. The unknown is how long the transition will last. Indeed, the recent pickup in some measures of wages suggests that the transition may already be running its course.''

Whoa. I must have dozed off. Three hours of this. Can you imagine? Just once, I would like to see a senator, at the conclusion of this marathon recitation, say to the Fed Chairman, respectfully "What?"

Of course Greenspan raised the bar when, for the first time in his nine years as Fed chair he actually said something quotable in December. "Irrational exuberance" will now be with us forever. But how can this same guy talk for three hours and not say didly? I can hardly talk for three minutes without sticking my foot in my mouth. This is no accident. Greenspan's comments are carefully prepared so as to say nothing.

Nonetheless, the markets sat still this morning, awaiting no word on nothing. The Canadians were the first to budge, when the Canadian dollar strengthened against the U.S. dollar mid-morning. Arbitrage traders said that Greenspan's failure to say anything negative must be regarded as a positive.

Right. I say we nominate

Ted Turner

as Fed chair so at least we can look forward to hearing something.

By Cory Johnson