Bank Regulators Testify on Wall Street Reform Act
On Thursday, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chair Sheila Bair testified before the Senate Banking Committee on implementation of the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act. The most salient piece of testimony came from Fed Chairman Bernanke who said the central bank is set to finally publish this summer tighter rules for big financial firms that pose a risk to the economy. The new rules will likely include more stringent requirements for large banks and financial companies, including stricter standards on capital and leverage ratios.
Treasury Auctions Will Exceed Debt Limit Monday
This week, the Treasury Department auctioned $72 billion in three and ten-year notes. When the notes are formally settled Monday, this will cause the U.S. Government to officially exceed its federal borrowing ceiling. As of Tuesday, total debt subject to the limit was $14.274 trillion. The Obama administration has asked Congress to raise the limit, warning that failure to act could lead the government to default by August 2nd. The federal budget deficit widened in April, with the government spending $ 40.49 billion more than it collected.
Bipartisan Housing Reform Bill Introduced
On Thursday, two members of the House Financial Services Committee — Rep. John Campbell (R., Calif.) and Rep. Gary Peters (D., Mich) — introduced legislation to replace troubled government-seized housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and set up as many as fifteen or twenty private firms that would buy loans, then package and sell them with explicit government guarantees. The bill does not specify whether the new mortgage companies should hold a portfolio of mortgages the way Fannie and Freddie currently have on their books. It also seeks to limit taxpayer liability by creating a private sector financed reserve fund to cover any losses. The fund would be capitalized by assessing a special guarantee fee to buyers of the packaged mortgage securities. It also would seek to recoup any taxpayer funds spent to bail out the firms through a special assessment levied on the firms.
April Unemployment Rises to 9%
On Friday, the Department of Labor announced that the United States economy added 244,000 jobs in April, but the unemployment rate rose to 9 percent from 8.8 percent in March. The jobs numbers beat forecasts estimates of an expected gain of 185,000 jobs.
Bank Regulators to Testify on Dodd-Frank in Senate
The Senate Banking Committee announced that next Thursday, May 12, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Chairman Sheila Bair, Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, Acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin will testify on the implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial oversight law. The hearing is slated to focus on monitoring systemic risk and promoting financial stability and will likely include questions over a recent settlement bank regulators entered into last month with large banks over mortgage servicing abuses.
Roemer Is Newest Rumor to be Next Commerce Secretary
As current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke prepares to depart for his new assignment as Ambassador to China, former Representative and current Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer’s name has surfaced as Locke’s possible successor. Roemer was an early backer of President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Obama is also rumored to be considering current U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt for the position.
Q1 GDP Slows to 1.8%
On Thursday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that the U.S. GDP growth rate in the first quarter of 2011 slowed to an annual rate of 1.8 percent, compared to a rate of 3.1 percent in fourth quarter 2010 and 3.7 percent in first quarter 2010. The Bureau cited a combination of lower-than-expected economic data, global energy uncertainty, and concerns about the budget deficit as causes of the growth rate decelerating.
Bernanke Announces Rates to Stay at Near Zero, Ends Bond Buying Program
On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke held his first quarterly press conference in which he said that the economy and job market are improving moderately, but the housing market and other factors such as gas prices continue to be a drag on growth. He announced that the Fed plans to end the $600 billion treasury bond-buying program in June and will leave interest rates at their current levels. The event followed a two-day meeting of the Fed’s policymaking committee at which the central bank indicated continuity in its strategy. The Fed’s bond buying program known as the second round of quantitative easing, or “QE2,” will expire as scheduled at the end of June. The Fed also maintained its near-zero target for short-term interest rates, where it has been since December 2008, and indicated that it expects to keep rates “exceptionally low” for “an extended period.”
Debt Ceiling Vote
The vote to increase the U.S. government’s borrowing ceiling beyond the current limit of $14 trillion has become the hot topic in Congress. While the Treasury Department’s original estimate was that the ceiling would need to be raised by mid-May, the Department is now saying it could hold out till July but would need to take extraordinary measures. While the measure is expected to easily pass the Senate, the question remains whether the House can pass such a bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said this week that he will not guarantee a vote on bill to raise the debt limit, much less passage of such a bill, without cuts in discretionary spending and alterations of entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid. Congress returns next week from its two week recess, and House Republicans plan to hold a series of meetings to gather feedback from their Members about the debt ceiling.
Shutdown Averted, House Passes Budget, Debt Ceiling Vote Next
Last Friday night, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and President Obama came to an agreement to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, averting a possible shutdown. On Thursday, the House passed the legislation by a bipartisan vote of 260-167. 59 Republicans voted against the bill, and 81 Democrats voted for it. Hours later, the Senate acted with far less suspense but again on a bipartisan 81-19 roll call. With over six months of the current fiscal year already completed, the funding bill reduces the spending level by nearly $38 billion below what it was when the new Congress began in January, making it the largest one-year cut from the President’s budget request in the nation’s history.
This Friday, the House approved a fiscal year 2012 budget resolution drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), which imposes $5.8 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. The final tally was 235-193, with four Republicans and every Democrat opposing it. The GOP resolution will not be approved by the Senate, and budget resolutions do not go to the president or hold the force of law. However, Ryan has said that the GOP will deem his budget as the ceiling for spending for 2012. For this reason, the most important aspect of the resolution is the allocation it gives to the Appropriations Committee for next year: $1.019 trillion in non-emergency spending. This number will play a big role in a looming spending fight in the fall. If Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on appropriations spending by September 30, the end of the current fiscal year, the government will shutdown.
Congress will now turn to the issue of raising the so-called “debt ceiling,” or the statutory limit on federal debt. The U.S. government had $14.216 trillion in total debt outstanding as of Monday, and the cap is $14.294 trillion. The U.S. Treasury Department released a statement saying the ceiling is projected to be breached in the next 30 days, although it could make adjustments to postpone default until early July. On Thursday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he wants a clean vote to raise the debt ceiling, but Republicans have insisted they want the vote paired with other budget reform measures.
Fourth Quarter GDP Released
On Friday, the Department of Commerce announced that the U.S. economy grew at a 3.2% rate in the fourth quarter, an improvement from the 2.6% pace in the prior period. For all of 2010, GDP grew by 2.9% after contracting by 2.6% in 2009. The report showed that fourth quarter numbers were boosted by strong personal spending, reflected in the best holiday retail sales since 2006. The report also showed U.S. exports accelerated while the rate of import growth slowed. Company investments also helped the economy, although business spending for equipment and software slowed.
IMF Report Criticizes US Debt
On Thursday, the International Monetary Fund issued a report criticizing the U.S. response to its rising public debt. The IMF report focused on criticism that the United States is falling behind on a promise it made to other top economic countries to halve its budget deficit by 2013. At a gathering of the world’s top economic leaders in Canada last summer, U.S. officials promised to reduce the deficit to roughly 6 percent of gross domestic product. However, according to data released this week by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), recent tax cuts and expected spending will keep the annual deficit this year at about 10 percent of GDP.
Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Releases Final Report
On Tuesday, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) releases its final majority and dissent reports. The majority report concluded that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by the Fed’s ” pivotal failure to stem the flow of toxic mortgages,” the SEC ” [not] requiring more capital and halted risky practices,” and banks ” recklessly taking on too much risk, with too little capital, and with too much dependence on short-term funding.” The dissent report signed by FCIC Vice Chair Bill Thomas and Commissioners Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Keith Hennessey criticized the majority’s report for being ” more an account of bad events than a focused explanation of what happened and why.” The dissent also focused it blame for the crisis on policymakers who “poorly designed government housing policies that distorted market outcomes and contributed to the creation of unsound mortgages.”
December Unemployment 9.4%
On Friday, the Labor Department announced that the United States economy ended the year with 9.4% unemployment in December. The agency also revised estimates from October and November saying that 210,000 jobs were created in October instead of 172,000 and 71,000 in November, instead of 39,000.
Obama Appoints Daley, Sperling To Key Posts
On Thursday, President Obama announced that William Daley will serve as his new chief of staff. Daley is the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration and brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Daley replaces interim chief of staff Pete Rouse, who will become a Counselor to the President. Rouse replaced Rahm Emanuel, who stepped down to make a run for mayor of Chicago. On Friday, President Barack Obama also announced that Gene Sperling will be the new Director of the National Economic Council replacing Larry Summers. Sperling had previously served as Counselor to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council and National Economic Adviser for President Clinton.
Tax Reform Debate Gains Steam
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the Senate Finance Committee would hold hearings on tax reform in the near future. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) followed Reid’s comment by saying that he also welcomed discussions about how to improve the country’s tax code. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) also said that tax reform was one issue that he believes could garner bipartisan support and hopes the President addresses it in the State of the Union at the end of the month. While tax reform was initially thought to be a second or third tier issue, it could now become the next big issue for Congress to tackle this year after the debate on raising the national debt ceiling.