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.

Think brussels sprouts and cauliflower are agricultural commodities? Think again.

While the financial bailouts tossed to automakers, banks and other groups during the recent economic crisis left a funny taste in the mouth of some Americans, one former U.S. regulator hopes efforts to prevent another panic doesn’t go rotten.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission is immersed in drafting dozens of rules to assist it in increasing oversight of the once opaque over-the-counter derivatives market, widely blamed for exacerbating the recent financial crisis. USA/

Among the rules it must craft is what the definition of an agricultural commodity is? Of course, corn, cotton, soybeans and livestock, among other items, fall into this realm.

The First Draft: Executive pay crackdown

For a quiet day, there was surprising consensus among editors about the top news — big-time bankers who got government bailout money are going to get their paychecks slashed.

The coverage was fairly straight, but there was a certain glee about the way the story made its way to the top spot in most newspapers.

“Pay slashed at bailout firms,” the Wall Street Journal headlined its story.

Tell us what you really think Senator Grassley

WASHINGTON – How outraged can they be?

U.S. lawmakers are clearly outraged by the $165 million in bonuses being paid to executives at bailed-out insurer American International Group. For the last two days, they’ve been talking about it in press releases,  at news conference and in speeches on the floor of the Senate and House.

But no one says it more colorfully and more bluntly than Republican Senator Chuck Grassley — so far.

grassley“From my standpoint, it’s irresponsible for corporations to give bonuses, at this time, when they are so sucking the tit of the taxpayer,” Grassley said at a news conference on Tuesday.

First Draft: Monday’s blue mood — AIG outrage

It’s on front pages, news shows and all over the Web: outrage at the bailout of AIG, AIG/ the troubled insurance giant that — so far — has gotten $173 billion in U.S. taxpayer money and has given out $165 million in bonuses to the very executives who brought the company to its knees.

A quick Web search of “AIG outrage” for March 2009 gets 190,000 hits, ranging from Al Jazeera (“Outrage against AIG set to mount”) to USA Today (“AIG bonus outrage plays Treasury officials for saps”). Part of the outrage stems from the Obama team’s contention that there’s nothing they can legally do to stop these bonus payments.

Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who heads the House Financial Services Committee, came up with a plan in an interview on NBC’s “Today”: AIG’s execs can keep their bonuses but they don’t have to keep their jobs. “These people may have a right to their bonuses but they don’t have a right to their jobs foever,” is how Frank put it.

Bold budget boosts bailout

USA-OBAMA/How do you buy $750 billion of toxic bank assets with only $250 billion of taxpayer money?

If you know to play U.S. budget rules like a violin.

President Barack Obama told Congress in passing this week he might need more money than lawmakers have already approved to stabilize banks and pull the economy out of the ditch. 

How much? His budget virtuoso Peter Orszag said on Thursday he could support buying up to $750 billion in bad assets but only needed to set aside $250 billion to do it.

Fed staff in trouble, but cited for raise, too

USA/It’s not just U.S. stocks that are on a roller coaster ride in reaction to congressional testimony by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other top officials.

Fed staff stock plunged on Wednesday when they put their boss in an awkward position during Bernanke’s testimony before Congress on the financial bailout and efforts to stabilize the swooning economy.

Rep. Scott Garrett testily reminded Bernanke that he was still waiting for answers for a letter he sent in December.

When is a housing crisis like venereal disease?

If you’re among those upset that your taxpayer dollars may be spent in volume to rescue people who — for whatever reason — can’t make their mortgage payments, Federal Financial Analytics analyst Karen Shaw Petrou recommends thinking about it this way:

“Preventing foreclosures has a lot in common with treating syphilis. In both cases, you help some who are undeserving, but – in an economic collapse or a public-health emergency – one acts nonetheless. ”

Just as in an serious epidemic, you’d take care of the problem and leave moral judgements to others, the right course of action is to take action to halt the housing crisis and leave the debate about moral hazard to economists, she wrote in a note to clients on Friday.

First draft: Wall Street CEOs, Geithner head to Hill for grilling

When Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made his long-awaited speech on Tuesday to unveil the administration’s bank rescue plan, the stock market tanked. Traders said the nearly five percent drop was caused by a lack of specifics in Geithner’s announcement that the government would spend up to $2 trillion to mop up bad bank assets and revive lending.USA/

The main newspapers had banner headlines about the biggest one-day drop for Dow industrials since Dec. 1.

So what will happen today when Geithner heads to Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Budget Committee? The market will also be watching as top Wall Street CEOs appear in a hearing with the House Financial Services committe to defend their use of $176 billion in taxpayer funds.

The First Draft: Friday, Jan. 9

FINANCIAL/

Who gets the billions?

The incoming Obama administration is preparing a major overhaul of the $700 billion financial bailout amid rising complaints in Congress that the payouts are not going to the right people.

The Washington Post reports that Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner and top Obama economic adviser Larry Summers have been looking at ways to broaden the bailout to include more help for homeowners facing foreclosure as well as to generate loans for municipalities, small businesses and consumers — and not just the financial giants that helped to create the mess.

Obama, meanwhile, is expected to formally announce his picks for top intelligence posts at a news conference around 10:45 a.m. EST. Obama’s choice to head the CIA, former chief of staff in the Clinton White House Leon Panetta, has drawn fire from some security insiders who complain that he lacks experience on intelligence matters.