Bond and stock investors alike are struggling to find some broad theme on which they can base their investment propositions. A problem is getting too close to the data, which, according to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is ‘noisy.’ In his testimony before Congress Wednesday and Thursday Mr. Bernanke issued a balanced assessment of the economy with moderate growth and easing inflation. He said that he sees stabilization in the housing sector, and pointed to increasing strength in manufacturing and consumer spending.

Investors have gradually moved away from the notion that the Fed is ready to cut interest rates while some think they may be near raising them. The economy has slowed, but will it continue to slow sufficiently to squeeze out inflation? Sure housing and autos are in the basement. Just yesterday, the National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes in 2006 dropped 8.4%, the biggest droop in about a quarter century according to the WSJ. Also yesterday, Ford reported a staggering net loss of $5.8 billion during the fourth quarter, dragging its shortfall for all of 2006 to $12.7 billion.  General Motors said it would delay filing its fourth quarter and 2006 earnings results as it "will restate its financial statements, primarily due to pre-2002 tax accounting adjustments," according to its statement also in the WSJ.

The government revised its estimate of how fast theUSeconomy grew in the third quarter from 1.6% to 2.2%. Stocks did very well mid week as investors were cheered by faster growth in the economy which drives corporate profits higher. Bonds on the other hand slid on the news as stronger economies can mean higher inflation. 

“Economic moderation seems to be underway” which “should help to limit inflation pressures over time” said Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in his prepared comments to the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday.  He noted the importance of “forward-looking” and taking a “longer-term” view as rate increases take time to affect the economy.  It may be that Mr. Bernanke and his Fed may have raised rates as far as they are going to for the foreseeable future.