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  D.F.'s Column Archive
February 15, 2006
When Alan Opes His Lips, Let No Broker Bark

He spoke.


OK, granted, he doesn’t actually have a job or any power over anything. But he spoke!

Call your broker. Call your mother. Call Paris Hilton. People need to know that Alan Greenspan had something to say about something.


The erstwhile Federal Reserve Board chairman, just days into his retirement, probably didn’t think it would make a whole lot of difference if he showed up at a dinner for bankers and top hedge fund clients of Lehman Brothers – a guy’s got to eat – and while he was there, why not give his opinion about interest rates and the economy?


I always do.


But for some reason, my opinions don’t send people scurrying to their phones. And I have a job. In fact, I have more than one, which is more than one more than Alan Greenspan has. But Wall Street doesn’t quite seem to have caught on about that – and if I were Greenspan, I’d have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that maybe they never will.


Anthony Karydakis, chief fixed income strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, told The Financial Times: "By 7.30 a.m., two people [from Lehman] had called us. Greenspan qualified his remarks in a number of ways, but people tried to keep only the soundbites.”


Mr. Greenspan’s comments about this, that and the other thing have long had the effect of getting people a little overheated. Interest rates sure are low, Alan says over breakfast. The housing market goes ballistic. Deficits are a concern, Alan says over lunch. Forty million American send in voluntary contributions to the Treasury by 3 p.m. Inflation looms, Alan muses over dinner. Wal-Mart reports a run on salsa.


Protectionism would be bad for the country, Alan remarks to a man on the street. Union halls go up in flames across the nation.


This was all true when he was the Powerful Chairman Of The Federal Reserve Board. Now he’s just an old guy killing time in the afternoon until 4:30 when the early bird special starts at Grandma’s Diner. Is this going to go on forever?


It’s entirely possible that Wall Street just needs a few days to get used to Greenspan’s new status as Mr. Andrea Mitchell. But to listen again to Mr. Karydakis, one is not so sure:


"I thought it was somewhat innopportune on Greenspan's part to go to a forum that he knew could cause ripples. It was inevitable, and Greenspan should have known that. If he didn't, he could be accused of naivete."


Other traders echoed the theme that Greenspan was violating an unwritten blackout on discussing such matters before his successor, Ben Bernanke, presents the Fed’s monetary policy to Congress. But all Greenspan did was give his opinion on some economic issues – not disclose the policy.


And yet, in post-Greenspan America, that appears to be enough to melt phone lines, crash e-mail servers and overheat Blackberrys like nothing since Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.


Alan! Stop talking about stuff! You’re causing ripples!


And now that he doesn’t actually have a job, he only has that much more time to talk, and cause more ripples. What if he starts talking about other things?


I heard a rumor (OK, I’m starting the rumor) that he likes the Blue Jays as a dark horse in the American League East this year. Phones go nuts in Vegas! I heard Greenspan said clothes get really clean if you wash them in Cranberry Snapple. Red tinted jeans everywhere! Oh, and those chunks in bleu cheese dressing? Dead spiders. I heard that from Alan Greenspan. More croutons with that?


Perhaps it’s a sign that the Fed has a little too much power when we all hang so determinedly on every word its chairman says. When we can’t stop doing it, even after he retires, it may be a sign that we need to spend a little more time thinking about stuff like – I don’t know – paint, maybe.


In fact, if you want to paint your house, Alan Greenspan says it’s best to mix it with ground-up sea shells. So chop chop, get on that.


It causes ripples.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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