Fed Chairman's Trip to Hostile Territory - TheStreet

SAN FRANCISCO -- Conferences make strange bedfellows.

Federal Reserve Chairman

Alan Greenspan's appearance at The Greenlining Institute's Annual Economic Development Summit in Oakland, Calif., Thursday was indeed strange for many reasons. The chairman will presumably be on more familiar turf Friday when he appears at the 2002 Outlook Conference sponsored by the Bay Area Council, a policy group representing 275 major employers in the region.

Friday's event is certainly more widely anticipated by Wall Street, which is expecting "Greenspan will indicate that the Fed will retain its bias toward further

rate cuts," Tony Crescenzi, chief bond market strategist at Miller Tabak, commented on BondTalk.com. "Market participants appear to believe that Greenspan will indicate that while the economy is showing signs of stabilizing, there remain considerable uncertainties that cloud the economic outlook."

Crescenzi suggested such expectations contributed to the bond market's rally Thursday, which pushed the yield of the benchmark 10-year Treasury note below 5% for the first time since Dec. 5.

The Greenlining Institute strives to assist minorities and economically disadvantaged groups, notably in the area of affordable housing, and the chairman

said little about the economy and nothing about the fed funds rate at the organization's conference, as was widely expected.

Chairman in a Strange Land

The event was strange because the warm embrace Greenspan received from the attendees was matched, and possibly exceeded, by the one given to California Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) best known as the lone dissenter to

House Resolution 64, which authorized military response against alleged perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Speaking at the lunchtime assembly in the Jewett Ballroom at the Marriott Hotel, Lee discussed the critical issue of economic stimulus. In a moment of classic Bay Area liberalism, Lee said a stimulus package that addresses the need for extended unemployment benefits and improvements to transportation and education is needed vs. the one being proposed by Republicans that promotes "corporate welfare" and "more tax cuts for the rich."

The congresswoman then offered some pleasant thoughts about Chairman Greenspan, who returned the favor when he took the podium. But the chairman didn't go near the issue of economic stimuli, by either Congress or the central bank. Instead, he spoke about the benefits minorities and other economically disadvantaged groups achieve through homeownership and education about finances, and how the entire economy benefits when financial institutions lend to those groups

Reporters hoping for a crumb about monetary policy went hungry, even as the actual lunch served was pretty decent by ballroom standards.

The event was also strange because The Greenlining Institute has not been sparing in its criticism of the Fed chairman. The nonprofit group gave him a grade of "D" for failing to use his authority to end predatory lending last February. In July, the organization

suggested that

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

chairman Sandy Weill "controls Greenspan and the Federal Reserve" after the Fed chieftain gave his "summary approval" to Citigroup's acquisition of Banamex of Mexico.

But maybe the chairman's willingness to go into Greenlining's "enemy territory" suggests there's hope that maybe someday he'll agree to answer questions from those who've

criticized him on other issues.

As with today, there's no planned Q&A with Greenspan at Friday's event. Nevertheless, I remain ever hopeful.

Aaron L. Task writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to

Aaron L. Task.