In Private, Bernanke Tells Horror Stories

Fed chair had a big reason for the rate cut: He thinks things are even worse than he has let on.

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People wondering why Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suddenly moved to reduce the bank borrowing rate by three quarters of a point should know that in private he has expressed growing pessimism about the economy. Whispers has learned that has told people in recent weeks that the economic situation some see falling into recession will be much worse than he has admitted to publicly.

We're told by those who've heard him that he says the first six months of this year will be "bad," an adjective that some interpret this as signaling there is better than a 50-50 chance for a recession. Even worse, the former Princeton prof believes the ensuing recovery will be "weak" because of persistent problems in the housing market that will result in subdued consumer spending. We checked in with his office, which says it doesn't comment on what the boss says in private. But it's certainly not comforting news considering that his recent public testimony was a bummer, like when he told Congress last week, "Recently, incoming information has suggested that the baseline outlook for real activity in 2008 has worsened and that the downside risks to growth have become more pronounced ... in particular, a number of factors, including continuing increases in energy prices, lower equity prices, and softening home values, seem likely to weigh on consumer spending as we move into 2008."