Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Fed speak

March 24, 2011

Has hell frozen over? Are pigs flying? Is the sun rising in the West?

Don’t rub your eyes, it’s real. The Federal Reserve chairman, that oracle of monetary policy, will hold FOUR news conferences a year. AUSTRALIA

The first will be on April 27 after a two-day FOMC meeting. It marks the first time in the nearly 100-year history of the central bank that a Fed chief will deign to hold a regular media briefing. It’s almost too tantalizing to contemplate.

After years of reading the tea leaves following these monetary policy setting meetings, reporters will actually get to ask questions of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke immediately after THE DECISION is made.

We’re guessing it would be a bit too much to expect that he would give a thumbs up or down to indicate which way rates are going, but we can now ask him THE QUESTION (and then parse the answer).

Bernanke-speak tends to be a bit clearer than Greenspan-speak, but all Fed chairmen are adept at obfuscation when required.

Still, the doors have opened, the questions will be asked, and let’s see how the answers are given.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Few Americans see Obama as strong military leader

Only 17 percent of Americans see President Obama as a strong and decisive military leader, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the United States and its allies began bombing Libya. Nearly half of those polled view Obama as a cautious and consultative commander-in-chief and more than a third see him as indecisive in military matters.

For more of this story by Arshad Mohammed, read here.

Obama struggles on Mideast policy as crises mount

President Obama is struggling to fashion a coherent Middle East policy that can span the launching of military action in Libya and a hesitant response to repression elsewhere. It has not been easy to strike a balance between pragmatism and principle, with diverging national interests at stake in each conflict and an overworked Middle East policy team absorbed with crisis management. Brian Katulis, a Middle East expert at the Center for American Progress, said: “They are doing the best that they can, but even folks in the White House and the National Security Council only have 24 hours in a day.”

For more of this analysis by Andrew Quinn, read here.

OCC may pursue its own foreclosure pact

The primary regulator for the largest banks is preparing to move ahead on its own settlement with lenders over foreclosure practices and may announce a deal in the next few weeks, according to a source familiar with the process. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s possible split from other authorities would mark a dramatic shift away from efforts for a coordinated settlement with major mortgage servicers.

For more of this exclusive story by Dave Clarke and Joe Rauch, read here.

Fed, in historic shift, to brief media on policy

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will start holding regular media briefings on monetary policy next month, a historic shift to greater openness at the traditionally secretive central bank. Bernanke will kick off a program of four-times-a-year news conferences on April 27 following a regularly scheduled two-day Fed meeting on monetary policy, the central bank said. It will be the first regularly scheduled briefing by a Fed chairman in the history of the nearly 98-year-old central bank.

For more of this story by Mark Felsenthal, read here.

Durable goods orders fall, job market healing

Orders for long-lasting manufactured goods fell in February as companies scaled back investment plans for a second month in a row, suggesting a cooling off in business spending. Economists said while the weak manufacturing report posed a risk to first-quarter growth, they cautioned against placing too much weight on it, noting the data was in stark contrast to other upbeat surveys on factory activity.

For more of this story by Lucia Mutikani, read here.

AT&T mega merger bad sign for spectrum reform

AT&T’s $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile casts doubt on the government’s ability to swiftly deliver policy to meet the booming demand for wireless services. Wireless companies have long lobbied for help to deal with what they see as a looming “spectrum crunch” as more consumers turn to mobile devices to surf the Web. The move could slow legislation needed to free up spectrum for auction to wireless carriers, a potential thorn in the FCC’s agenda.

For more of this analysis by Jasmin Melvin, read here.

The revolution in central banking

Since the early days of the financial crisis in 2008, the European Central Bank, the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have all been forced to adopt policies that just a few years ago they would have dismissed as preposterous. And the Bank of Japan responded to the Sendai earthquake and tsunami by doubling its own asset-purchase programme, to keep the banking system of the world’s third-largest economy on an even keel.

For more of this special report by Mark Felsenthal, Pedro da Costa, Paul Carrel, David Milliken and Alan Wheatley, read here.

U.S. nuclear plants not reporting all defects-report

Nuclear power plant operators have not been consistent in flagging defects they find in parts used in some of their most critical safety components because of confusing regulatory guidance, a watchdog said. The report by the office of Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission comes as global scrutiny is riveted on atomic energy safety, but the audit was completed in January, well before the nuclear plant crisis in Japan.  By law, operators have to report any incidents caused by failure of components.

For more of this story by Roberta Rampton and Ayesha Rascoe, read here.

What we are blogging…

Appropriately enough, it’s National Tsunami Awareness Week

The U.S. government has announced this as National Tsunami Awareness Week, starting just days after a disastrous tsunami powered over Japan’s northeast coast. Not that anyone necessarily needed reminding. This is the second observance of Tsunami Awareness Week. It’s too soon to tell if there might be a pattern emerging: last year’s observance came not long after a giant wave hit the Chilean port of Talcahuano following an 8.8 magnitude quake along Chile’s coast.

For more of Deborah Zabarenko’s post, click here.

From elsewhere…

NATO clinches deal to take over Libya military ops

NATO clinched agreement to take over command of all allied military operations in Libya from the United States after days of sometimes heated wrangling with Muslim member Turkey. “Compromise has been reached in principle in a very short time,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters. “The operation will be handed over to NATO completely.” The deal came after a four-way telephone conference between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the foreign ministers of Turkey, France and Britain.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/David Gray (pig dives into a pool during Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, April 17, 2003)

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