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Ben Bernanke speech: Federal Reserve ready to act if economy worsens

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, expressed tempered optimism about the economy in a major speech Friday. Stocks rose slightly following his comments.

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Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is seen on the veranda of the Jackson Lake Lodge at the start of the annual Federal Reserve conference, in Jackson, Wyo., Friday.

Reed Saxon/AP

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Ben Bernanke sought to reassure financial markets Friday on two fronts: that the Federal Reserve sees growth ahead for the US economy and, at the same time, that the Fed stands ready to provide more economic support if needed.

The Fed chairman, in a major speech, spelled out what he sees as the central bank's policy options to help lift an economy burdened by high unemployment and low consumer and business confidence. He spoke at an annual late-summer conference for central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

His words didn't spark either a major rally or a rout on Wall Street. Stock indexes rose modestly by mid-day as investors digested Mr. Bernanke's comments.

"I expect the economy to continue to expand in the second half of this year, albeit at a relatively modest pace," Bernanke told the conference, according to a text released by the Fed. That slow pace, he added, means that "the prospect of high unemployment for a long period of time remains a central concern of [Fed] policy."

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