Stocks rose Friday after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke used a closely-followed speech to express optimism about the economic recovery but offer no hint that the central bank would intervene, as it did after his last such talk.
Bernanke said there was little the Federal Reserve could do and placed the onus for on the Congress and the Obama administration to get their fiscal house in order.
Most of the economic policies that support robust economic growth in the long run are outside the province of the central bank, he said in prepared remarks.
Notwithstanding the severe difficulties we currently face, I do not expect the long-run growth potential of the U.S. economy to be materially affected by the crisis and the recession if -- and I stress if -- our country takes the necessary steps to secure that outcome, he said before discussing how Congress and the White House should focus on fiscal policy.
To achieve economic and financial stability, U.S. fiscal policy must be placed on a sustainable path that ensures that debt relative to national income is at least stable or, preferably, declining over time. As I have emphasized on previous occasions, without significant policy changes, the finances of the federal government will inevitably spiral out of control, risking severe economic and financial damage. The increasing fiscal burden that will be associated with the aging of the population and the ongoing rise in the costs of health care make prompt and decisive action in this area all the more critical.
Treasuries rose and the S&P 500 index, which was already down before and shortly after Bernanke began speaking, rose slightly to 1,161.59, as did the Nasdaq composite and the Dow Jones industrial average.
The price of gold for December delivery, the most actively traded contract on the CME Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, jumped $20.60, or more than 1 percent, to $1,783.80 from Thursday's closing price of 1,763.20 an ounce.
Bernanke's speech confirmed gold analysts' upbeat view of the yellow metal's prospects.
The Fed is in a tight spot. Though they may hold off as long as possible, I believe they will be forced either to institute another round of bond buying, or to come up with some other form of stimulus, said Mike Getlin, executive vice president of Merit Financial. Either way, it equates to printing more money, which will be price positive for gold.
The ICE U.S. Dollar Index rose once Bernanke began speaking but then leveled out.
A year ago, when Bernanke last spoke at the Jackson Hole, Wyo., symposium, his speech laid the groundwork for what turned into a $600 billion buying spree of U.S. government debt. That initiative, which increased the central bank's balance sheet to $2.3 trillion in longer-term securities, boosted the price of Treasuries and injected lots of money that energized the stock market. The buzz lasted into early 2011.
But in the past four weeks the stock market has fallen more than 13 percent, Commerce Department figures released Friday show the economy advanced in the spring at a 1 percent annual rate and unemployment remains stubbornly above 9 percent. Worst of all, some economists see a double-dip recession coming.
So far in August, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index has fallen 10 percent -- a figure that papers over some of the gut-wrenching daily drops and mind-bending volatility.
But stock market investors spent much of this week driving share prices higher on the premise that the Fed would have to begin to snap up more bonds to push borrowing costs lower. The S&P rose nearly 5 percent through Wednesday before the reality began to set in Thursday that Bernanke was unlikely to lay out any bold policy initiatives.