There's a key market-moving event this week investors can't miss: the semi-annual Ben Bernanke monetary policy testimony before Congress on Wednesday (House) and Thursday (Senate).
Congressional legislation known as Humphrey-Hawkins (now expired) required the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee to report to Congress on both the state of the U.S. economy and monetary policy twice a year (February and July). The Fed Chairman testifies before Congress in conjunction with the report.
Traditionally, it had been one of the most important public appearances by the Fed Chairman, back when speeches were rare. But now with news conferences after many Fed meetings, these appearances are less important.
However, this time may be different, as it will be Ben Bernanke's last time in front of Congress before his term ends in 2014. The testimony may once again be a market moving event due to the market's recent concern about the Fed's 'tapering' of quantitative easing (QE).
Which Ben Will Deliver the Monetary Policy Testimony?
The markets have been confused lately by seemingly contradictory statements coming from various Fed members and particularly from Bernanke himself.
In fact, Bernanke's actions lately remind me of Batman villain Two-Face, aka former District Attorney Harvey Dent.
For example, one time he said that winding down QE may happen as soon as the middle of next year. But then, like last week, he flips saying the Fed will not taper the $85 billion a month bond purchasing plan until the U.S. economy is stronger.
He said, "highly accommodative monetary policy for the foreseeable future is what's needed [for the economy]."
Bernanke added that there would not be an automatic rise in interest rates either when the U.S. unemployment hit the Fed's target of 6.5%.
These statements sent the stock market solidly higher with both the S&P 500 and the Dow Industrials nearing their record highs. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average hit new record highs Monday closing at 1,682.50 and 15,484.26.
Traders believe the 'Bernanke put' was back in play. That is, Bernanke will do everything he can to keep stock prices higher.
So which Ben Bernanke will testify before Congress this week? Accommodative Ben or Tightening Ben?