9:38 AM, Feb 25, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Obama administration’s line on the economy appears to be that it has finally turned the corner and things are truly humming. And maybe so. But there are signs of trouble amid all the good cheer.
In consumer sentiment, for instance, as Reuters reports that:
U.S. consumer confidence fell more than expected in February [as] consumer attitudes fell to 96.4 from an upwardly revised 103.8 in January. The February reading was the lowest for the index since September, and was below economist expectations for a reading of 99.6 ...
And what about producers?
Well, as Rich Miller of Bloomberg reports:
Tucked away in last week's report on industrial production from the Federal Reserve was an important piece of news: Manufacturers, miners and utility companies don't seem as optimistic as monetary policy makers are that 2015 will be a markedly better year for the economy. Industrial producers are scaling back their expansion plans for this year even as Fed officials forecast faster economic growth. Since less investment is often interpreted as diminishing confidence for future demand, the two outlooks are a little hard to square.
And, of course, Janet Yellen has said that things are not yet so robust that the Fed can begin tightening. So the stock market hits new highs, the recovery sputters on and, as the New York Times reports, Ms. Yellen tells Congress that:
“There has been important progress … However, despite this improvement, too many Americans remain unemployed or underemployed, wage growth is still sluggish and inflation remains well below our longer-run objective.”
12:00 AM, Aug 2, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
At last, some good news about the U.S. economy. Sort of. The government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reckons the economy grew at an annual rate of 4 percent in the second quarter of the year (data subject to revision). If that rate continues, five years of a lackadaisical recovery would be replaced by a growth rate more consistent with past recoveries. The government also revised its estimate of a 2.9 percent decline in the economy in the first quarter to a less-disastrous drop of 2.1 percent. But hold the bubbly. Put the quarters together and the -2.1 percent first quarter combined with the +4 percent second quarter means that the tepid growth rate that has characterized the economy for too long was essentially unchanged in the first half of the year.
For better or worse.12:00 AM, Jul 12, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
All good things must come to an end. And bad things, too, if you believe that the Federal Reserve Board’s bond buying program was a mistake. The minutes of its June 17-18 monetary policy committee meeting, published a few days ago, reveal that these purchases, largely credited with keeping long-term interest rates lower than they would otherwise have been, will come to an end in October.
12:00 AM, Apr 19, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
A few weeks ago I suggested that we now know when Federal Reserve Board chair Janet Yellen will raise interest rates: never. Her first formal monetary policy speech can be read to support that view, or at least that “normal” interest rates are what the Economist describes as “a distant prospect.” It will take more than the recent spate of good news to stay Yellen from her course.
12:00 AM, Apr 5, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
We now know the approximate date when Federal Reserve Board chair Janet Yellen will feel comfortable ending the Fed’s near-zero interest rate policy: never. Those who were led to believe by her first press conference that she has shed her dove’s feathers for those of an inflation hawk, circling over the markets, poised to raise interest rates, got it wrong. She has her heart set on keeping rates low enough to eliminate “slack,” borrowing a term often used by Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. And “slack” is a many-dimensioned concept when applied to labor markets.
12:00 AM, Feb 15, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Janet Yellen made her first appearance before Congress since assuming the chair of the Federal Reserve Board and produced the yawns she was seeking, even thanking several of her interlocutors for calling her “unexciting.” Knowing that some Fed critics are seeking to rein in the bank’s independence (several of these critics would like to eliminate the Fed entirely), Yellen offered to stay for as long as necessary—six hours, as it turned out—in the hope that demonstrating such heightened transparency will head off legislation to politicize the central bank. The examples of Japan and Britain, where the central bankers have become aligned with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, respectively, apparently do not appeal to her.
12:00 AM, Dec 21, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Years ago, when Americans began visiting Europe in significant numbers, they invariably returned with trophies ranging from cashmere sweaters (Britain), silk scarves (France), several inches on their waistlines (Italy), and assorted knick knacks.
12:00 AM, Dec 7, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
“Everything’s coming up roses,” a mother reassures her daughter in Gypsy, the 1959 musical chronicling the rise of burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee.
9:30 AM, Nov 30, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Our economy is increasingly policy-driven, at least in the near- and medium-terms. What Congress and the president do or don’t do, what incoming Federal Reserve Board chairman Janet Yellen does or doesn’t do, will be important determinants of our growth, inflation, and job creation rates. So here is an attempt to see through the mist of obfuscation that is a feature of political and policy-making discourse, and spy the contours of future policy.
7:04 AM, Nov 19, 2013 • By JEFFREY BELL
The nomination of Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve has come down to this: a referendum on quantitative easing and zero interest rates. The money-printing program that Ben Bernanke started five years ago this month remains Yellen’s answer for how the economy will get back on solid ground. Yet in her appearance at Thursday’s Senate Banking hearing, a bipartisan group of senators expressed dismay that Fed money printing has widened the wealth gap while fueling potential asset bubbles.
12:00 AM, Oct 26, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
“The thrill is gone,” famously warbled B.B. King among others. And so it is for watchers of the U.S. economic scene. The eighteenth partial government shutdown is over, World War II veterans can legally visit the monument to their bravery, hikers can trek through national parks, and the National Institute of Health can resume its cancer research—all impossible to do when the Obama administration prevented amelioration of the hurt inflicted by the shutdown in order to maximize voter anger at the Republican party.
12:00 AM, Oct 12, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Janet Yellen, dubbed “Ms. QE Infinity” by some wags because of her support for printing money to create jobs, and her willingness to pierce the Fed’s long-held 2 percent annual inflation ceiling, will have more to worry about than monetary policy when she steps into Ben Bernanke’s ample shoes on February 1. There is the small matter of regulating the nation’s banks, a chore made difficult for her by two unrelated facts.
12:00 AM, Sep 28, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
If not Janet Yellen, who? Larry Summers wanted the job, but couldn’t win the support of leftish Democrats and feminists. Former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who can have Ben Bernanke’s job as chairman of the Federal Reserve board for the asking, is said to have told the White House that he doesn’t want the post.
12:00 AM, Sep 7, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
It’s not that anyone here in Washington begrudges Britain, and to some extent Spain, their fledgling recoveries. But President Obama and other proponents of more government spending aren’t delighted that those nations’ austerity programs seem to be paying off in renewed growth rather than in the perpetual recession the Keynesian try-another-stimulus-crowd in the White House has been predicting. Conservatives are saying that the austerity sauce for the British roast beef would be just as tasty on the U.S. hot dog.