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Today’s bleak consumer confidence number is undoubtedly bad news for the economy. The bigger than expected drop suggests that consumers have lost confidence in the recovery, which will drive down home prices and consumer spending.
Consumer confidence is typically our “first look” at the state of the economy. While most government aggregated data come out with a two-month lag, or more, consumer confidence hits with just a one month lag. Studies have shown that consumer confidence is a good predictor of consumer spending numbers. Basically, people surveyed seem to be good at accurately reading their own economic situation, and those surveyed accurately reflect the broader economy. When consumer confidence drops to such deep unexpected levels–today’s were the worst in 27 years–then it is a flashing red-light about the economy.
There wasn’t anything good about today’s numbers. Every part of the survey was awful. On jobs, the optimistic folks who say jobs are plentiful fell to 3.6 percent from 4.4 percent. The pessimistic people who said jobs are hard to get increased to 47.7 percent from 46.5 percent. The gauge of expectations for the next six-months fell to 63.8, from 77.3 the prior month. The share of people who believe their incomes will increase over the next six months fell to 9.5 from 11 percent. The share of those expecting more jobs fell to 12.4 percent from 15.8 percent.
Echoing the kind of trades that nearly toppled the American International Group, the increasingly popular insurance against the risk of a Greek default is making it harder for Athens to raise the money it needs to pay its bills, according to traders and money managers.
“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house — you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.
As Greece’s financial condition has worsened, undermining the euro, the role of Goldman Sachs and other major banks in masking the true extent of the country’s problems has drawn criticism from European leaders. But even before that issue became apparent, a little-known company backed by Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and about a dozen other banks had created an index that enabled market players to bet on whether Greece and other European nations would go bust.
With uncharacteristic bluntness, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke warned Congress on Wednesday that the United States could soon face a debt crisis like the one in Greece, and declared that the central bank will not help legislators by printing money to pay for the ballooning federal debt.
Recent events in Europe, where Greece and other nations with large, unsustainable deficits like the United States are having increasing trouble selling their debt to investors, show that the U.S. is vulnerable to a sudden reversal of fortunes that would force taxpayers to pay higher interest rates on the debt, Mr. Bernanke said.
"It's not something that is 10 years away. It affects the markets currently," he told the House Financial Services Committee. "It is possible that bond markets will become worried about the sustainability [of yearly deficits over $1 trillion], and we may find ourselves facing higher interest rates even today."
Mr. Bernanke for the first time addressed concerns that the impasse in Congress over tough spending cuts and tax increases needed to bring down deficits will eventually force the Fed to accommodate deficits by printing money and buying Treasury bonds — effectively financing the deficit on behalf of Congress and spurring inflation in the process.
Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, asked Mr. Bernanke directly whether the Fed would consider such a strategy, especially since IMF officials endorsed it.
"We're not going to monetize the debt," Mr. Bernanke declared flatly, stressing that Congress needs to start making plans to bring down the deficit to avoid such a dangerous dilemma for the Fed.
"It is very, very important for Congress and administration to come to some kind of program, some kind of plan that will credibly show how the United States government is going to bring itself back to a sustainable position."
Last edited by NEPatriot; 02-26-2010 at 12:25 PM..
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