James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Candidate Bernanke hits the campaign trail

Jul 27, 2009 19:36 UTC

JamesPethokoukiscrop.jpgIf Ben Bernanke were running TV ads, taking polls and holding town hall-style meetings, it wouldn’t be any clearer that he’s conducting an explicit reelection campaign for another four-year term as Federal Reserve chairman come next January. Oh, wait a second, he just did hold an unprecedented town hall meeting. And it was one worthy of a presidential candidate charming primary voters in Iowa.

At the Kansas City Fed last night, Bernanke answered a couple dozen questions from 190 area residents for a three-part public television broadcast. Like a veteran politico, he tossed out the occasional platitude (“The best way to have a strong dollar is to have a strong economy”), railed against Washington (“I don’t think the American people want Congress running monetary policy”), gave a riveting and heroic personal narrative (“I was not going to be the Federal Reserve Chairman who presided over the second Great Depression”), and got downright folksy when talking about too-big-too-fail (“When the elephant falls down, all the grass gets crushed as well”).

Message to America: Ben Bernanke, a pharmacist’s son from Dillon, South Carolina, feels your pain. Now it’s not as if previous Fed chairmen haven’t campaigned for another four-year hitch. But the usual modus operandi is to curry favor with the Electorate of One — the president — who will be doing the renominating. And the precise mechanism has been a growth-friendly monetary policy.

Of course, the Fed has already been, to use Bernanke’s town hall phrase, “putting the pedal to the metal” to bolster the fragile economy and financial system. And that’s sure been to Wall Street’s liking. A Reuters poll last month found that economists rated Bernanke at eight out of 10 for his handling of the financial crisis.

But Bernanke’s smart to try and also get Main Street on his side. Obama, for instance, might prefer a more dovish Fed chair, such as San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen, who’ll worry more about unemployment than inflation as the 2010 and 2012 elections near. Bernanke’s pushback against Obama’s proposals for a consumer financial protection agency is also another sign of his independence.

Plus, the president could desire to make more diversity history by nominating the first woman Fed chair — while leaving it to aides to rip Bernanke in background briefs to reporters. (“He was part of the Fed team that left rates too low for too long and failed to regulate Wall Street.” “Remember, he called the mortgage crisis a $100 billion problem.” “Bernanke was way too slow to ease in 2007.”) What’s more, Bernanke has to worry about a Congress where populists in both parties have been critical of his role in providing bailouts to Wall Street banks and AIG, as well as Bank of America’s takeover of Merrill Lynch.

So if Bernanke wants to keep his job, the PR campaign should continue. More TV interviews like the one he did on 60 Minutes in March. Maybe a televised town hall meeting in each Fed district. How about a Chairman’s Blog? And if we start heading into November and Obama still hasn’t renominated him? Two words: Oprah Winfrey.

COMMENT

To say that Mr. Bernanke is campaigning for himself personally is a gross mischaracterization.
Mr. Bernanke is campaigning for the Federal Reserve to keep its job.
The Fed is under pressure from HR1207 & S604. Audit the Fed then End it.

Posted by A. Fisher | Report as abusive

Are corporate profits about to take off?

Jul 27, 2009 18:42 UTC

Jim Paulsen of Wells Capital Mangement points out that companies have cut to the bone in preparation for near-depression. This could result in some spectacular profit numbers ahead (and check out the chart below) — assuming no near-depression:

Second quarter earnings reports have reflected this new trend where a number of companies have thus far surpassed earnings estimates even though sales remain weak. As economic recovery brings renewed top-line growth, corporate profits may continue to amaze and outpace expectations during this recovery. Chart 4 illustrates a fairly good “leading indicator” (by one year) of profit growth based on profit leverage. The dotted line is the multiplicative sum of the business productivity index, the labor unemployment rate and the factory unemployment rate. Essentially, when businesses focus on “rightsizing” (by improving productivity and purging payrolls and factory capacity), about one year later, corporate profits have tended to rise. The dotted line leads profit growth (solid line) by one year and currently forecasts about a 45 percent advance in nonfinancial profits in the coming year! Did the surge in fears produced by the subprime debt crisis cause U.S. businesses to act in ways
which may now lead to a “profit leveraged” bull market?

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COMMENT

I understand rightsizing leading to an increased bottom line, but so far there is no indication of a top line growth; and the top line growth is the only indicator of a growing economy. We’re far from it and it appears everyday we’re closer to a jobless recovery [jobless stabilization].

Posted by Hank Reardon | Report as abusive

A quick look at Chimerica/Americhina

Jul 27, 2009 14:33 UTC

Here are three chart to give a feel for the current state of the US-China economic relationship (via the econ team at Action Economics):

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Prof. Copper and the V-shaped recovery

Jul 27, 2009 14:03 UTC

Ed Yardeni takes note:

The S&P 500 is one of the ten components of the Index of Leading Economic Indicators. It seems to be forecasting a robust V-shaped economic recovery. This has got to be the most contrary scenario of all right now. Everybody is hung up about the anemic outlook for employment. I am too. So what is the S&P 500 seeing out there? How about yet another global bubble boom? This one is led by China, where M2 was up 28.5% y/y in June. Professor Copper seems to agree with this outlook. The price of this basic metal rose to $2.52 a pound at the end of last week, the highest since October 7, 2008. China’s Dow Jones Shanghai Composite is up 53% since March 6, well ahead of the S&P 500. It actually bottomed on November 4, 2008, and is up 122% since then to 383.78. That’s certainly an impressive meltup. Even more impressive would be if it recovers back to its record high of 588 on October 16, 2007. Anything is possible in a bubble.

China’s tax-cut success story

Jul 27, 2009 14:00 UTC

Chinese and American officials meet today in the latest edition of the “strategic dialogue” between the two nations. Here is an interesting 1998 take from Alvin Rabushka of the Hoover Institution about the role of tax policy in China’s economic ascent.

In 1978, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping launched economic reforms that set China on a path of rapid growth. … Deng’s reform package included the establishment of coastal economic zones, increased investment by foreigners, liberalized trade, and a free market in agriculture. But the application of supply-side tax policy was the main component. In 1978, total government revenue consumed about 31 percent of GDP. Deng’s policies reduced China’s tax burden relentlessly, year in and year out. By the end of 1995, the tax burden had fallen to 10.7 percent of GDP, a cut of more than 20 percentage points, or two-thirds in relative terms.

Tax cuts fueled the privatization of the economy. Deng’s policy of massive tax reduction shifted one-fifth of all resources from government hands to the emerging town and village enterprises and private firms, which productively used those resources. The private sector grew faster than the country’s 10 percent annual average. Since the government didn’t tax away the private sector’s prosperity, the fruits of growth were plowed back into expanded activity. This had a snowballing effect, speeding the transformation toward private ownership.

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COMMENT

You are forgetting something very important; in opening agriculture to the free market, China has essentially impoverished the vast majority of its rural populace… we’re talking about 700m (out of 900m) living in third world conditions. While it’s true, the boom in major cities like Shang’hai is staggering, it has come at an equally staggering price of basic humanity. And I think that is the fundamental problem with conservative thinking… the overall economic bottom line is more important than overall standards of living. There needs to be balance between the two – that’s the whole basis of society! – and China, and America, certainly are not striking a proper balance now. Yes, taxes are high, but if not for the high taxes it is very possible to imagine starving masses in the street seeking ‘justice’ re: French Revolution. I don’t want to sound so nihilistic, but there I think it’s closer than a lot of us like to believe. Leave taxes, trim fat, shut down lobbying, and pay off debts – THAT is a longterm solution, not cutting taxes to nearly nothing and hoping for the best.

Posted by the Shah | Report as abusive
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