There he goes again. Just in time for his 81st birthday, former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan is showing once again who's still the boss when it comes to commanding the attention of markets, here and around the globe. And this time, he's putting odds on his predictions.
In an interview with Bloomberg that coincides with his March 6 birthday, Greenspan now says he believes there is a "one-third probability" of a recession this year. It's a pretty clear pronouncement for a man who used to be called "Opaque Al" because of his abstract remarks. Indeed, Greenspan went on to explain why he believes this economy doesn't have the staying power of the last expansion.
The trouble is, Greenspan gave the interview a week too late. Instead, he chose to use the "r-word."
As you might remember, Old Greenie has carved out a lucrative post-Fed career dispensing his economic wisdom for as much as $150,000 a pop. This time, Greenspan's listeners got their money's worth. As word of Greenspan's speech leaked out, stocks began selling off around the globe — first in China, then Europe, and finally in New York, where the Dow fell 416 points on February 27.
Last week, Greenspan defenders said that his remarks were taken out of context, but as his latest interview shows, the bearish interpretation of many investors was right on the mark. It's just that the average investor didn't get to hear what the former Fed Chief had to say directly, hence the confusion about what he was really saying.
Which raises the question on the minds of many investors: is it unseemly for 81-year-old Greenspan to earn millions with statements that last cost investors about a trillion dollars in lost market value? Even though he is out of office, is Greenspan somehow violating the public trust, much in the way a former CIA chief might if his paid remarks warned of an impending threat from a sworn U.S. enemy?
Tough questions, but there's no doubt that there has been a bull market in outrage over Greenspan's comments. As Gary Kaltbaum of Kaltbaum Associates put it: "Two words, Mr. Greenspan: shut up."
Adding to the considerable consternation is that this isn't the first time private citizen Greenspan has been criticized, both for his remarks and for the venue in which he chose to express them. Remember the private meeting with fewer than a dozen top clients of Lehman Brothers a year ago? As word leaked out, those remarks jolted markets as well.
When Greenspan was Fed Chief, he knew all too well that even a few words taken out of context could rock world markets — think back to "irrational exuberance?" Now, with no cameras trained on his every word, Greenspan's words need to be chosen with even greater care. Not only would a little more discretion on Al's part please the markets, it would make Ben Bernanke's job a whole lot easier as well.
Meantime, the Greenspan speech-making machine continues to roll on — that is, when he's not working on his book due out this in September. It's to be called "The Age of Turbulence," and given the events of late, it could be a best-seller.
Terry Keenan is anchor of Cashin’ In and is a FOX News Channel business correspondent. Tune in to Cashin' In on Saturdays at 11:30am and find out what you need to know to make your money grow and keep what you already have!