Tales from the Trail

Romney looks to give Bernanke the boot

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke attends the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) meeting during the spring IMF-World Bank meetings in Washington April 21, 2012.

“I’d be looking for somebody new.”

Those words from the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may give Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke some pause – or at least thinking about some other job prospects if the GOP frontrunner wins the Nov. 6 election.

As we report,  Romney, a former business executive who’s made the economy the cornerstone of his campaign, has made it clear that if he wins the White House he will try to replace Bernanke. The Fed chief’s term ends in January 2014 – a year after the next president takes office. Although Bernanke was nominated by Republican President George W. Bush, Democratic President Barack Obama give him second term in 2009.

Bernanke, who was back in the spotlight on Wednesday as he defended current U.S. monetary as being on track, has been both vilified and revered for his role amid the Great Recession that began in 2008. Critics contend he is pursuing a reckless money-printing binge that exposes the world’s largest economy to a dangerous inflation risks while his defenders credit him with bold moves to stimulate growth that prevented a repeat of 1929-level depression.

Romney is signaling he wants the Fed – and the economy — to take a different direction. And that means giving Bernanke the boot, he says.

Washington Extra – Moonshot no more

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich bows his head in prayer before speaking at First Redeemer Church while on a campaign tour in Cumming, Georgia, February 26, 2012. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Earth calling Newt: When the biggest news of your presidential campaign is the penguin biting your hand at the zoo, it’s probably time to pack it in.

Even though Newt Gingrich’s odds of winning the Republican nomination were about as long as those of realizing his dream for a moon colony, the 68-year-old seemed to enjoy himself to the end. “I never got the sense that he was quote-unquote down,” said adviser Charlie Gerow. “I got the sense on a couple of occasions that he was tired. Really tired.” And really in debt. His campaign spent $4.3 million more than it brought in.

Washington Extra – Easy money

Some great news for all you borrowers today from the Fed. Interest rates are likely to remain around zero until at least late 2014. That’s later than previously expected, and to put things in perspective, it’s nearly two years into the term of the president who will be elected in November.

What it tells us is that the economy is still very vulnerable. Ben Bernanke said as much today: “I don’t think we’re ready to declare that we’ve entered a new, stronger phase at this point.” He left the door wide open to further Fed stimulus via bond purchases.

And Bernanke was almost apologetic about what this interest rate outlook means for another large swathe of the population: the savers. Take Maggie Smith, not the actress but a 74-year-old from New Jersey who watches her interest income on savings stagnate while home and car costs go up. After more than five years of rock-bottom rates, it’s no wonder she feels like she’s “being punished” for being prudent.

Washington Extra – One more for the road

Jon Huntsman is in. Well, technically, the Republican announced that he will announce that he is in next Tuesday.

“I intend to announce that I will be a candidate for the presidency a week from today,” the former U.S. ambassador to China said at a Thomson Reuters event in New York.

He advocated “getting our own house in order” to improve ties with China. “As we have a very weak economic core, we are less able to project the goodness and the power and the might of the United States,” Huntsman said.

What’s on Ben’s mind?

We’ve created a quick and dirty word cloud of what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in his historic press conference this afternoon. Words he used more often are larger than less-used words. For bonus points try to find the word “jobs” in there:

Update: Looks like Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein took note of our our cloud. Thanks for the links guys  - we’re glad to help out anytime!

Word cloud created using Wordle.net.

 

Bernanke and the media — Round One coming up

The Federal Reserve needs to burnish its image, but press conferences aren’t entirely a public relations exercise.

For Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the emphasis on greater openness predates the financial crisis. After his notoriously cryptic predecessor Alan Greenspan, Bernanke has made the Fed more open and his own statements easier to parse.

Many economists, Bernanke included, believe financial markets function more smoothly when the Fed makes its intentions, and its expected reaction to twists and turns in the economy, crystal clear.

Washington Extra – Fed speak

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.

Washington Extra – Happy Thanksgiving

dinnerHappy Thanksgiving! Washington Extra will return on Monday.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

U.S. vows unified response to North Korea, eyes restraint

The U.S. urged restraint following a North Korean artillery attack on South Korea and vowed to forge a “measured and unified” response with major powers including China.

For more of this story by Phil Stewart and Andrew Quinn, read here.

N.Korea pulls U.S. back to a “land of lousy options”

North Korea‘s artillery attack on South Korea poses the second test in three days of Washington’s vow that it will not reward what it deems bad behavior with diplomatic gestures, and underscores that options are limited without serious help from China.

For more of this analysis by Paul Eckert, read here.

Bernanke’s plea for fiscal help goes unanswered

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s unusually blunt plea for fiscal help will probably go unanswered, leaving the economy too limp to put people back to work any time soon. Bernanke has warned that the country is on an economic trajectory that will leave millions unemployed or underemployed for many years, and he said there were limits to what the central bank alone could do to help.

Washington Extra – Under fire

benHe is not quite the loneliest man in the world, but Fed chairman Ben Bernanke must be feeling in need of a friend these days. First those nasty Tea party types stormed the capital with their distinctively un-Fed-friendly views. Dismiss them as extremists if you will, but they seemed to have been joined by an array of world leaders in their criticism of quantitative easing, the Fed’s purchases of U.S. government debt in an attempt to stimulate the economy.

The rest of the world fears the Fed’s action amount to a backhand form of competitive currency devaluation. Many Republicans fear the Fed is enabling profligate U.S. budgetary policy. Even Fed governors and regional presidents are uneasy. Governor Kevin Warsh warned on Monday the Fed was not “a repair shop for broken fiscal or regulatory policies” and that the Fed could lose its “hard-earned credibility – and monetary policy can lose its hard-earned sway – if its policies overpromise or underdeliver.” Dallas Fed Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher then chimed in, calling quantitative easing “a bridge loan to fiscal sanity.”

In the end, the effects of the Fed’s latest move on economic growth may not be that dramatic. Its effect on the Fed’s long-term credibility, though, are less clear, and perhaps more worrying.

Washington Extra – Dinner party ideas

ron_paulCongress might not get much done in the next two years, but boring it won’t be. Certainly not with Ron Paul as likely head of the monetary policy (aka Fed oversight) subcommittee in the House.

Today, Paul the elder told Reuters correspondent Andy Sullivan that he was looking forward to his new “very, very important” role. The Fed, he said, was ”way too independent” and “totally out of control.” Quantitative easing – the Fed’s controversial program to purchase government securities – is not just lousy economics and lousy monetary policy, he said, it is “central economic planning at its worst.” More here.

Expect more fireworks from other conservative Republicans in the coming Congress, people who believe the Fed is enabling excessive government borrowing through its purchases of government debt, that it is printing money to finance the deficit. Then there is Darrell Issa, likely head of the oversight committee, with the subpoena power to be at least as much of a thorn in Ben Bernanke’s side than either of the Paul clan. It will be interesting to see if any of them can get under the skin of the normally unflappable Fed chairman.