Yeah, well we're not Norway, and don't you forget it
A few notes from around the markets today:
-- As Federal Reserve meeting days go, this one was fairly uneventful for markets. Blue-chip stocks finished modestly higher and Treasury bond yields were mixed after the Fed, as expected, kept its key short-term rate at 2%. It was the first Fed meeting without a change in rates since August.
The central bank suggested in its post-meeting statement that the economy wasn't in such bad shape after all. "Although downside risks to growth remain, they appear to have diminished somewhat," the Fed said -- obviously discounting the abysmal consumer confidence survey results reported Tuesday.
-- "Inflation has been slightly higher than expected and there are prospects that inflation will move up further," the central banker said. "We give weight to preventing the higher rate of inflation from becoming entrenched."
The Fed's Ben S. Bernanke? No, that was the Norwegian central bank's deputy governor, Jan F. Qvigstad, in a statement today after the Norges Bank raised its benchmark interest rate to 5.75% from 5.5%.
Bernanke & Co. continue to talk a good game about inflation concerns, but other central banks are taking action by tightening credit, the usual step to show you're serious about damping price pressures. Norway's rate hike followed similar moves recently by China, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, India and South Africa.
Who cares what other central banks do? The dollar does. It slid today against many other currencies after the Fed's statement. (There go your hopes for that Oslo pub-crawl tour.)
It was just a few weeks ago that Bernanke strongly signaled the need for a rebound in the dollar to combat rising prices of imports, including oil. Yet there was no mention of the greenback in today's Fed statement, notes Joe Battipaglia, chief investment officer at brokerage Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in Florham Park, N.J.
Never mind, Dr. Bernanke?
-- The Fed's relatively upbeat take on the economy must not have been persuasive to investors in financial-company shares, which have been battered by expectations of mounting loan losses. The BKX index of 24 major bank stocks jumped as high as 65.44 early in the session, a 4.9% leap from Tuesday's finish. But the index gave almost all of that back by the closing bell, ending at 62.62, up just 0.4% for the day.
That's still above the 10-year closing low of 60.87 reached Monday. But as Jay Shartsis, head of options trading at RF Lafferty & Co. in New York, reminds: "Every time the financial stocks look like they can't possibly go any lower, they go lower."
The BKX is down 29% year to date, compared with a 10% drop in the Standard & Poor's 500 index.