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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s address to the National Press Club on Thursday was a remarkable blend of hubris, claimed innocence, and warnings.
His opening remarks were condescending and patronizing to the journalists assembled:
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With the wholesale prices of orange juice and coffee increasing by 20 percent and 41 percent respectively just over the past six months, it’s not surprising to see the reflection in increased prices for them on grocery store shelves. Keith McCullough of Hedgeye asked “What’s for breakfast?” and then answered “Inflation.”
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When Austan Goolsbee, chief economic advisor to the Obama administration, was asked about the impact not raising the debt ceiling would have on the country, he said, “This is not a game. If we hit the debt ceiling, that’s essentially defaulting on our obligations, which is totally unprecedented in American history.” He continued:
The Cato Institute’s massive 262-page study, Downsizing Government, by Chris Edwards, is the most recent offering of suggestions and recommendations for cutting severely the size, cost, reach, power and influence of the federal government in the lives of American citizens. In general, those citizens welcome such suggestions, according to Rasmussen Reports, which announced that two out of three Likely Voters they polled “prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes rather than a more active one with more services and higher taxes.” Surprisingly this was supported by almost half of those Likely Voters who were also Democrats, along with 67 percent of unaffiliated voters, and 90 percent of Republicans voters.
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After nearly two years of investigation, reviewing millions of documents and conducting hundreds of interviews, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) released its report, pinning the blame for the Great Recession largely on Wall Street and alleged deregulation of the financial markets in the 1990s.
The report of the panel of 10 (six Democrats and four Republicans) was delayed by a month as the final report became more of a partisan attack on Wall Street and a push for more regulation of the financial markets. The Republicans ultimately decided not to endorse the report, but instead issued their own report on the cause of the financial crisis.
According to the official report issued today by the FCIC, blame for the financial meltdown beginning in 2007 can be placed on:
Tomorrow, millions of Super Bowl fans will most likely ignore the huge investment Chrysler is making in television ads in promoting its new 2011 models. Those ads are part of the vehicle manufacturer’s efforts to revive the company and start making some money.
Despite ending 2010 with a $652 million net loss, Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler’s chief executive officer, was determinedly optimistic, even though the company didn’t meet its net revenue objectives, and had to shut down some of its factories in December, despite providing more than $3,600 in vehicle incentives to move its older models off the showroom floors.
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One of the most-watched and highly regarded indices giving direction to the housing market is the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index published every month. Its latest report, announced on Tuesday, provides the clearest evidence so far that housing prices are continuing to fall and in fact may represent a significant double-dip in the housing market into 2011.
There were no surprises, only confirmations, in the report released on Friday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP): “States Continue to Feel Recession’s Impact.” As author Elizabeth McNichol stated, governors “across the country…face a daunting fiscal challenge. The worst recession since the 1930s has caused the steepest decline in state tax receipts on record. State tax collections…are now 12 percent below pre-recession levels.”
There are 44 states estimating budgetary shortfalls for next year (most states’ fiscal years start on July 1) totaling, preliminarily, more than
The conflicting news reports on the housing market can give the casual observer a headache: “December Sales of U.S. Existing Homes Jump to 7-Month High,” shouts Bloomberg. “Housing Starts Decline, [but] Building Permits Rise,” exults the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Google news drearily reports that “2010 Ends as 2nd Worst Year for Home Builders,” while CNNMoney.com warns that “Shadow Inventory Threatens Housing Recovery.”
It’s enough to “cross a Rabbi’s eyes,” as Tevye profoundly concluded in Fiddler on the Roof.
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Standard and Poor’s gave plenty of reasons for its downgrade of Japan’s credit rating yesterday such as increasing annual deficits and soaring national debt, an aging population, shrinking workforce, and a government in gridlock. With their national debt approaching $11 trillion and a gross domestic product of just under $5.5 trillion, Japan’s ratio of debt to GDP is now
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Back in August of 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the federal deficit for 2011 to be $1 trillion. On Thursday, after revising its assumptions, the CBO announced they missed the mark by $500 billion. The deficit number has been revised upward to $1.5 trillion, and could bring the national debt to $20 trillion by 2021.
When the Spending Reduction Act of 2011 was unveiled by House Republicans Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), U.S. News and World Report called it “eye-popping,” referring to the bill’s attempt to rein in government spending by $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Rep. Jordan, who is the Chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), explained the need for such sharp cuts:
Once Obamacare is repealed by the House, the attention of the 112th Congress will turn to the question of where government spending can be cut for the largest immediate impact. Several observers have weighed in with their thoughts, including Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, who have an article in today’s online Wall Street Journal. After reviewing the fiscal hot water the republic is already in, and discussing attempts to re-set government spending back to “base lines” such as 2009, 2008, or 2007, the authors get down to business.
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Keeping in mind that the “beige book” report from the Federal Reserve yesterday is only a compilation of anecdotal reports from businesses across the country, any conclusions in that report that the economy “continued to expand moderately,” and that it “continued to improve, on balance,” should be viewed with extreme caution. For buried in the report were the comments that “the housing sector remains a significant drag on the economy” and that “activity in residential real estate and new home construction remained slow across all Districts.”
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When Bloomberg polled so-called real estate “experts” about the housing market, they expected a slight pull-back in housing prices of perhaps 0.2 percent when compared to a year ago. Instead, the Case-Shiller Index showed prices dropped four times greater than expected: “The biggest year-over-year decline since December 2009,” according to the group.
This caused many of those observers to confirm the worse than expected result.
With the announcement by Reuters that former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker was going to resign shortly from the Obama administration came the temptation to reminisce about Volcker’s influence during the late ’70s and early ’80s when inflation exceeded 13 percent and interest rates on short-term government Treasury bills hit 21.5 percent.
Professor Alfred Kahn, best known as “the father of airline deregulation,” died last month at age 93. His obituary from Cornell reminded his students and friends of his surprisingly significant influence in rolling back oppressive government regulation of the airline industry in the late ’70s: “He was largely instrumental in garnering the support necessary for the federal legislation that deregulated the airline industry and was the first thorough dismantling of a comprehensive system of government control since 1935.” (Emphasis added.)
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Despite their huge numbers and cultural and financial impact on the economy, the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have largely been unwilling to face fiscal reality. Robert Samuelson, a frequent writer for Newsweek, noted back in 2007 that “We [he is a Boomer] are trying to pillage our children and grandchildren, putting the country’s future at risk in the process. On one of the great issues of our time, the costs of our retirement, we have adopted a policy of selfish silence.”
Numbering 76 million, controlling over 80 percent of personal financial assets and more than 50 percent of discretionary spending, they are turning age 65 at the rate of 10,000 every day. And reality is setting in.
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When the new House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (left, R-Wis.) announced that his budget committee would produce budgets for the agencies of the Executive Branch “that assume Obamacare has been repealed,” Ryan was using the most effective limitation provided by the Founders to keep the Executive Branch under control: its funding.
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Following the petulant pronouncement from the Obama administration’s chief economics advisor that any suggestion of not raising the debt ceiling was engaging in a “game of chicken,” two other establishment types noisily concurred.
Timothy Geithner, the U. S. Secretary of the Treasury, said that failure to raise the ceiling “could make it impossible for the U. S. to access global credit markets,” while Bill Gross, the co-CEO of PIMCO, the world’s largest bond fund manager, plainly implied that unless the ceiling were raised promptly, the U.S. could lose its coveted AAA credit rating: “Ultimately, if we continue a trillion-dollar-plus [annual deficit] then, yes, your credit rating will be threatened.”
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