"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Morning News

First off, there just isn't a whole lot in the way of major market measures this week. Jobless Claims on Thursday (expecting 425k new claims, down from 11/27's 436k new claims), International Trade (expecting a $44.0 billion trade deficit for October, unchanged from September), Consumer Sentiment (expected to be up 0.4 to 72.0), and the Treasury Budget (where a budget deficit of $140.4 billion is anticipated for November). That's all Thursday and Friday as well, so all we have to hang the blame on until then is the news.

And what a weekend for news it was! The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, "Big" Ben Bernanke himself, gave an extremely rate interview to 60 minutes. The interview is already over the news, so I probably don't need to say a lot about it. You can watch it several different places (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxSv2rnBGA8&feature=player_embedded, for instance). A few of the things we learn are that he is extremely concerned about unemployment (expecting it to take 4 to 5 years to get back to normal), that he's far more concerned about deflation than inflation at the moment, that he doesn't think we'll see a double-dip recession unless we have a "very high unemployment rate for a protracted period of time", and that he doesn't think the current economic "recovery" is self-sustaining.

Oh, and to be fair to Big Ben, you know how all the headlines are talking about how the Fed is going to be buying more than $600 billion in Treasuries? Yeah, that was in response to a question about whether or not he could visualize a scenario under which the Fed buys more Treasuries. His response was, "Oh, it's certainly possible. It depends on the efficacy of the program. It depends on inflation. And finally it depends on how the economy looks" was not exactly the "yes, we will be shoveling dollar bills out of helicopter windows above major US metropolitan areas beginning tomorrow" that it has been made out to be. It was a reasonable (if vague) answer to a hypothetical (and vague) question.

Republican Senator Joh Kyl, on "Face the Nation" yesterday, indicated that negotiators are near a deal on extending the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone (not just the non-rich) in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. "Deal" should probably be understood to mean "Republicans make demands and the Democrats - terrified of the fact that they will no longer be the majority party in January - roll over". But hey, extended unemployment benefits will benefit the 11.39% of the populace that is currently out of work, and maintaining the Bush tax cuts should make the markets happy. Why? Because it's a rare Wall Street broker that does not qualify as "rich".

Oh, and since we haven't had one of these in a while, we have... drum roll please.... North Korea Crazy news! President Obama spoke with Chinese President Hu Jintao by phone on today. Our President asked Beijing to work with the US and other not-so-crazy nations to "send a clear message to North Korea that its provocations are unacceptable." President Hu has toed China's current line of not assigning blame for the deaths caused by North Korea shelling Yeonpyeong Island, and is quoted as telling President Obama that we need "dialogue, not confrontation; peace, not war".

Which would probably work better if we weren't talking about North Korea here.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang has indicated that it is willing to restart the 2005 six-party talks (between North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States). Beijing and Moscow are willing. The other three nations involved would like a few more guarantees that North Korea will actually negotiate in good faith. Rather than, say, sending a member of the People's Glorious Revolutionary Atomic Mushroom Brigade to kidnap the delegates, hold them in a tropical island with a giant laser on it, and demand "one billion dollars and a throne made of gold dust and moon rocks for the Dear Leader" for their safe return. Which seems to be more North Korea's style.

Lawmakers optimistic about deal on tax cuts (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6B150O20101206?pageNumber=1)
China's Hu tells Obama Korea tension could go (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6B50KX20101206)
US, allies, plot North Korea strategy -- without China (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6B50SG20101206)

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