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Bernankes Strong Signal to Senate

Bernankes Strong Signal to Senate Bernankes Strong Signal to Senate

In his testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sent a strong signal that he backs continuation of the central bank's $85 billion bond-buying program. "In the current economic environment, the benefits of asset purchases...are clear," Bernanke said, “Monetary policy is providing important support to the recovery while keeping inflation close to the FOMC’s 2% objective.” He said if the Fed’s asset purchases can promote growth, this will lower the deficit and “dwarf” any reduction in Fed’s remittances to Treasury. Bernanke said, “Inflation is currently subdued, and inflation expectations appear well anchored: neither the FOMC nor private forecasters are projecting the development of significant inflation pressures.”

Bernanke said that he does not see any sign that the Fed's ultra-loose monetary policy is creating a bubble in equity markets. “We do not see the potential costs of the increased risk-taking in some financial markets as outweighing the benefits of promoting a stronger economic recovery and more-rapid job creation,” he said. Earnings are very high and equity holders are being risk-averse in their behavior, Bernanke said. The Fed has a tight eye for bubbles in financial asset markets, is trying to ascertain who would be hurt if the Fed was wrong and if, an asset class was in a bubble and the bubble burst. "We do not rule out that, if these problems become sufficiently worrisome, that they would be taken into account in our monetary policy," he said. Bernanke said the central bank “remains confident that they have the necessary tools to tighten monetary policy, when the time comes to do so.”

Bernanke asked the White House and Congress to defuse the sharp automatic spending cuts known as the sequester that are expected to go into effect Friday and warned that the plan would create a “significant” burden on the economy in the short run.

A hypothetical write-down of Italian debt would not inflict serious damage on U.S. financial institutions, "Our assessments of our banking exposure to Italian and Spanish debt is that it is moderate," Bernanke said. Serious concerns about Italy's ability to remain in the euro would have broader, more unpredictable and more concerning effects on global stock and bond markets as this would put more pressure on banks than direct losses from Italian debt holdings, he said.

Bernanke gave his support to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to revive the economy and end deflation. Bernanke gave his opinion to the Committee, "I support their attempts to get rid of deflation." As a result of the policies, the yen has lost value over the past few months and Bernanke's comments signal he is not concerned about a so-called currency war.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index released Tuesday posted a non-seasonally adjusted 0.2% increase during December, following a 0.1% decline in November and with a seasonal adjustment, home prices rose 0.9% during December. Per the index, home-prices saw the largest year-over-year gain since 2006, with increases in 19 of 20 cities. From the same period in 2011, when looking at longer-term trends, December's prices were up 6.8%. The only city with a year-over-year decrease was New York, falling 0.5%. According to Case-Shiller data, despite housing-market gains, home prices remain nearly 29% below a bubble peak in 2006. David Blitzer, index committee chairman at S&P Dow Jones Indices said, "Home prices ended 2012 with solid gains."

U.S. Commerce Department reported on Tuesday that during January, seasonally adjusted new U.S. home sales jumped 15.6% to an annual rate of 437,000, marking the highest pace of activity since July 2008. Additionally reported, seasonally adjusted new U.S. home sales for December were revised up to 378,000 from an initial read of 369,000. New home buyers in January steered toward less expensive properties, moving median price of new homes to fall more than 9% to $226,400 from $249,800. Compared to a year ago, new home sales are nearly 29% higher. In the West, new home sales rose a whopping 45.3% and in the Northeast new home sales rose 27.6%. The supply of new homes for sale fell to 4.1 months - for the lowest level since early 2005 - at the current sales rate from 4.8 months during December.

The Conference Board reported on Tuesday that the consumer-confidence index rose to 69.6 in February, striking the highest level in three months. From a prior estimate of 58.6, reading for January was revised to 58.4. Higher payroll taxes and fiscal uncertainty caused the index to plunge in January, as consumers concerns soared. In February consumers' expectations rose to 73.8 from 59.9 in January. Present situation confidence rose to 63.3 from 56.2. Lynn Franco, economic indicators director at the Conference Board indicated that the shock effect appears to have subsided this month.


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Feb 26, 2013


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