The tiger is getting a new rider

So TheBenBernanke, as cartoon strips call him, is heading for quieter pastures and one Janet Yellen, his deputy, is likely to take the reins at the United States Federal Reserve from February next year.

The job, as everybody knows, is so important to the world economy, that Yellen had better make sure she gets every syllable right as she communicates her intended actions to out­siders, lest she provoke a global financial run of one kind or another.

Witness when Bernanke in May used the word "taper", provoking a rush of cash from emerging markets as bond rates rose in the US, threatening an emerging market crisis from Jalalabad to Jo'burg.

Currencies tanked. Emerging ­markets that had saved the world economy from global fallout following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 were in real, big trouble.

So, if your livelihood depends on knowing where to put money, you'd better understand Yellen-speak.

Teams of suits have being ferreting out every word she has ever spoken, even finding stuff she wrote at high school, to make sure they have the definitive angle on the new Fed boss.

Business as usual
The smart money is saying that she is a dove, something like her present boss. Money will stay cheap, this view holds.

It will be business as usual, nothing hawkish, no quick ramping up of interest rates or, to be more precise, slashing back on the monthly $85-billion of bond ­purchases which the Fed has been making to juice the US economy.

It is worth remembering that $85-billion a month amounts to a neat $1-trillion a year. Given that the US's gross domestic product (GDP) is $15-trillion, that's a lot of juice.

With global GDP currently at $71-trillion, Bernanke's $1-trillion spending spree is enough to shake things up globally.

Emerging markets, South Africa included, have benefitted as Bernanke's purchases have depressed interest rates in the US, leading investors to chase better returns in developing economies.

Yet, even though Bernanke acknowledged that the US economy continued to show improvement, he surprised markets by not beginning the taper. His September missive is oblivious to a world beyond the US's borders.

Gordhan explains it
It was left to our finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, in an interview with the Financial Times this week, to explain what's going on.

Gordhan said that the turbulence of the last three months showed that domestic (US) considerations alone could not be the sole determinant of tapering.

There was now a better understanding that careful calibration was required, but emerging economies also had to build their own defences as unconventional monetary policy is unwound.

These included better management of fiscal deficits and debt. Developing countries had to build "greater confidence in our economies and their growth prospects".

One analyst likened Bernanke's surprise delaying of the taper to riding a tiger: it decides if and when you get off. But in his case he will soon be off; the tiger is getting a new rider.

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Kevin Davie

Kevin Davie is M&G's business editor. A journalist for more than 30 years, he has worked in senior positions at most major titles in the country. Davie is a Nieman Fellow (1995-1996) and cyberspace innovator, having co-founded SA's first online-only news portal, Woza, and the first online stockbroking operation. He is a lecturer at Wits Journalism. In his spare time he can be found riding a bicycle, usually somewhere remote.

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