Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, said those dueling levels were confusing.

"It gets complicated when you start putting those numbers in," she said.

Bernanke's clear statement Wednesday that there was no "preset course" for ending the bond purchases helped clarify the situation, Swonk said.

Investors didn't show much reaction to Bernanke's comments. The Dow traded in a roughly 50-point range, gaining 18.67 points, or 0.12%, to 15,470.52.

Gregory Daco, senior economist at IHS Global Insight, said Bernanke succeeded in clarifying Fed policy.

"This particular exercise was heavily focused on the fact that future Fed decisions [on stimulus] would be conditional on economic data," Daco said. "I think he convinced me."

Bernanke said communicating Fed policy was challenging. But failing to give some advance indication of the Fed's plans risked financial markets moving in the wrong direction, he said, noting that it could cause a severe reaction when the Fed began scaling back its stimulus.

The recent market swings based on Fed statements showed how volatile the situation is, he said.

"I think it's been very important that we communicate as best we can what our plans and our thinking is," he said. "I think the markets are beginning to understand our message and that the volatility has obviously moderated."

He acknowledged that having numerous Fed officials expressing their opinions could muddle the message.

"There's a lot of different views, and I think there's a benefit to having a lot of different views," Bernanke said. "On the other hand, if people are looking for a single signal, it can be a little confusing."

Bernanke said he thought the Fed was "doing a reasonable job of communicating our intentions and our plans in the context of a complex monetary policy strategy."

Lawmakers noted the hearing could have been Bernanke's last appearance before the committee as Fed chairman. His second four-year term ends in January, and he's not expected to seek a third term.

Members of both parties thanked Bernanke for his service.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a former pastor in the United Methodist church, noted all the compliments paid to Bernanke and joked: "In my business, it's called a eulogy."

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com