Tag Archives: Economics reporting
by Liz Hester
Time waded into the U.S. health care debate with a 24,105-word cover piece called “Bitter Pill,” billed in the news release as, “the longest single piece ever published by a single writer in TIME.”
Author (it’s like a book) Steven Brill “spent seven months analyzing bills from hospitals, doctors, drug companies and every other player in the American healthcare ecosystem, following the money to find out exactly how and why we are overspending, where the money is going and how to get it back,” Time’s PR department said.
The story is shocking. In fact, frankly, I found it a bit formulaic and repetitive. Brill seems to use every record, interview and detail he unearthed. This piece screams for an editor or at least to be part of a series. After several hours of reading the at times dense copy, I felt like I’d been beaten over the head with the point that healthcare is outrageously expensive and we’ve done nothing to fix a broken system. (I couldn’t have written this in seven month, so take my opinion for the little it’s worth.)
That criticism aside, it’s an outstanding piece, full of details, examples and bumbling hospital PR people attempting to defend pricing that’s on average marked up 150% and considered a beginning point for negotiations.
Here’s the ending to the piece and the part I found the best summary of Brill’s findings:
Obamacare does some good work around the edges of the core problem. It restricts abusive hospital-bill collecting. It forces insurers to provide explanations of their policies in plain English. It requires a more rigorous appeal process conducted by independent entities when insurance coverage is denied. These are all positive changes, as is putting the insurance umbrella over tens of millions more Americans — a historic breakthrough. But none of it is a path to bending the health care cost curve. Indeed, while Obamacare’s promotion of statewide insurance exchanges may help distribute health-insurance policies to individuals now frozen out of the market, those exchanges could raise costs, not lower them. With hospitals consolidating by buying doctors’ practices and competing hospitals, their leverage over insurance companies is increasing. That’s a trend that will only be accelerated if there are more insurance companies with less market share competing in a new exchange market trying to negotiate with a dominant hospital and its doctors. Similarly, higher insurance premiums — much of them paid by taxpayers through Obamacare’s subsidies for those who can’t afford insurance but now must buy it — will certainly be the result of three of Obamacare’s best provisions: the prohibitions on exclusions for pre-existing conditions, the restrictions on co-pays for preventive care and the end of annual or lifetime payout caps.
Put simply, with Obamacare we’ve changed the rules related to who pays for what, but we haven’t done much to change the prices we pay.
When you follow the money, you see the choices we’ve made, knowingly or unknowingly.
Over the past few decades, we’ve enriched the labs, drug companies, medical device makers, hospital administrators and purveyors of CT scans, MRIs, canes and wheelchairs. Meanwhile, we’ve squeezed the doctors who don’t own their own clinics, don’t work as drug or device consultants or don’t otherwise game a system that is so gameable. And of course, we’ve squeezed everyone outside the system who gets stuck with the bills.
We’ve created a secure, prosperous island in an economy that is suffering under the weight of the riches those on the island extract.
And we’ve allowed those on the island and their lobbyists and allies to control the debate, diverting us from what Gerard Anderson, a health care economist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says is the obvious and only issue: “All the prices are too damn high.”
It’s scary. The rising cost of health care, premiums and limits to coverage are only going to become bigger issues for business journalists. Health care is a huge driver of the U.S. economy. Paying attention to the companies that make the products, how they’re sold and how insurance companies pay for care will be a big driver of coverage.
Here are just a few of the facts from Brill’s story:
According to one of a series of exhaustive studies done by the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm, we spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia. We may be shocked at the $60 billion price tag for cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy. We spent almost that much last week on health care. We spend more every year on artificial knees and hips than what Hollywood collects at the box office. We spend two or three times that much on durable medical devices like canes and wheelchairs, in part because a heavily lobbied Congress forces Medicare to pay 25% to 75% more for this equipment than it would cost at Walmart.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 10 of the 20 occupations that will grow the fastest in the U.S. by 2020 are related to health care. America’s largest city may be commonly thought of as the world’s financial-services capital, but of New York’s 18 largest private employers, eight are hospitals and four are banks. Employing all those people in the cause of curing the sick is, of course, not anything to be ashamed of. But the drag on our overall economy that comes with taxpayers, employers and consumers spending so much more than is spent in any other country for the same product is unsustainable. Health care is eating away at our economy and our treasury.
The health care industry seems to have the will and the means to keep it that way. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the pharmaceutical and health-care-product industries, combined with organizations representing doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, health services and HMOs, have spent $5.36 billion since 1998 on lobbying in Washington. That dwarfs the $1.53 billion spent by the defense and aerospace industries and the $1.3 billion spent by oil and gas interests over the same period. That’s right: the health-care-industrial complex spends more than three times what the military-industrial complex spends in Washington.
When you crunch data compiled by McKinsey and other researchers, the big picture looks like this: We’re likely to spend $2.8 trillion this year on health care. That $2.8 trillion is likely to be $750 billion, or 27%, more than we would spend if we spent the same per capita as other developed countries, even after adjusting for the relatively high per capita income in the U.S. vs. those other countries. Of the total $2.8 trillion that will be spent on health care, about $800 billion will be paid by the federal government through the Medicare insurance program for the disabled and those 65 and older and the Medicaid program, which provides care for the poor. That $800 billion, which keeps rising far faster than inflation and the gross domestic product, is what’s driving the federal deficit. The other $2 trillion will be paid mostly by private health-insurance companies and individuals who have no insurance or who will pay some portion of the bills covered by their insurance. This is what’s increasingly burdening businesses that pay for their employees’ health insurance and forcing individuals to pay so much in out-of-pocket expenses.
There’s also the doctors’ perspective that needs to be covered. Many in small towns don’t have access to the care they need simply because it’s not lucrative enough to remain a small town doctor with a general practice.
This story is an interesting (and long) way to advance the conversation on health care costs. I hope for Time’s sake it gets the attention a work of this undertaking deserves. And I hope for all of us that it helps spark real reform of an obviously broken system.
by Chris Roush
John Walcott is team leader for national security and foreign affairs at Bloomberg News. Previously, he was the chief content officer and editor-in-chief of SmartBrief.
He has been McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief, foreign editor and national editor of U.S. News & World Report, national security correspondent at The Wall Street Journal and a correspondent at Newsweek.
Walcott is the inaugural winner of the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard and was also the Knight Ridder Washington bureau chief.
His work has won the Edward M. Hood Award and the Freedom of the Press Award from the National Press Club and three Overseas Press Club awards.
Walcott spoke with Talking Biz News by email about Bloomberg News’ four-part series on the sequestration. Today’s story in the series, by David Lerman and Nick Taborek, is about the $37 billion program to build the U.S. Navy’s Littoral combat ship, which has been derided by critics at the “Little Crappy Ship.”
Friday’s story will focus on the F-35 fighter jet.
The idea was to avoid the “daily commodity” story — reporting about the dealmaking and what got cut — that is running in many media outlets.
Instead Bloomberg News activated a team of reporters/editors in Washington to examine the big-picture historical context of defense spending. There are four stories running as a result of this work, none of them specifically about “sequestration.”
How did Bloomberg develop the idea of covering the defense budget cuts this way?
We’d been discussing the mismatch between the changing nature of warfare and a number of dubious weapons programs since the middle of last year and the March 1 sequestration deadline gave the effort the urgency it needed.
We decided to launch a four-part series, taking a closer look at whether some of the nation’s largest weapons programs make sense.
Reporters on Bloomberg’s Pentagon and contracts teams had been reporting all along on the problems plaguing the LCS, the F-35 and other new weapons, using their own sources and congressional and defense department reports. So when we launched this project back in December, we had a substantial head start on many of the major elements.
At the risk of sounding like a Christmas song, nine Bloomberg Washington Bureau reporters from those two teams and the politics team, three graphic artists/reporters, two people from the design team in New York, and at least that many editors pulled this together in a month.
How often did the “team” get together to talk about their reporting and where it was going?
There were three or four formal team meetings, but more important is the fact that the reporters and the graphic artists were in touch with one another constantly, so a great deal of the coordination was bottom-up and frequent rather than top-down.
What are the logistical hurdles in pulling off a series like this?
Assembling reliable data to support a series such as this is always a challenge, especially at a company that compiles as much data as Bloomberg does. Coordinating the reporting, the travel, the stories, the graphics, the design, the headlines and the other elements of a big package such as this requires constant attention. I think that one of the keys, especially on subjects as complex as the defense budget, is to make sure that at some point near the end of the process, an editor who isn’t familiar with or invested in the stories takes a hard look at everything.
How were the stories assigned?
This was that rarest of things in Washington these days: an exercise in common sense. We simply put our heads together and assigned the stories to the reporters and editors who were best equipped to do them well.
When did you begin to realize the magnitude and importance of the series?
Even before we launched it, we’d been discussing the major elements of this series for more than a year. On an almost daily basis, we talked about the questions about the cost overruns and flaws in the LCS and the F-35 and about whether the need justified those costs. We discussed the outsize role that congressional and industry lobbying plays in shaping the defense budget and the absence of a hard look ahead at what defending the nation — and against what threats — will require over the next decade or so. I guess we should thank the Congress for kicking us into gear with the prospect of sequestration.
Why not just cover the budget cuts and hearings as they are announced? What does presenting the information in this way do for the readers?
At a time when so many Americans may be affected by the mandatory across-the board budget cuts, the whole of this story is much greater than the sum of its parts, as I think you’ll see when you read the last story, on the F-35, on Friday. It was high time, we thought, to step back from the day-to-day news and try to paint the big picture, the fact that no one has made much of an effort to square the nation’s defense spending with its defense needs.
How much time was spent editing the stories, and what were the biggest issues with cohesiveness among the stories?
The reporters would tell you that too much time was spent editing their stories, and ordinarily, I’d agree. In this case, though, it was critical to make some fairly obscure material understandable to readers who don’t bathe in it every day and to make sure that all the assertions were supported by data, experts or both. Cohesiveness wasn’t a big problem, frankly, because of the way the series was laid out, with an opening big-picture story and then more detailed looks at three parts of it, the politics, the LCS and the F-35.
What is the significance of these potential cuts for the average person?
If they live in a place such as Marinette, Wis., where one version of the LCS is being built, the effects of significant cuts to the program could be painful. As the stories report, though, the defense industry has mastered the art of spreading the supply chain for major programs to as many congressional districts as possible, and in the case of the LCS and the F-35, overseas, as well, so the effects on workers could literally ripple as far as Australia and Japan.
Has Bloomberg uncovered a different way of presenting what has been in the past humdrum news events?
I’m not sure spending billions of your tax dollars and mine or building weapons on which the lives of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines depend has ever been humdrum. If it has, maybe that’s partly the fault of the way that we in the media have covered — or failed to cover — these issues, but I hope that, yes, we’ve found a compelling way to present a dollars and sense issue.
Anything else you want to say about how the series was put together from a journalism perspective?
I don’t think there’s any more important role for journalism than holding accountable those in power, whether it’s political, economic, military or even religious, social or, yes, media power. We have new tools available to help us do that in clear and compelling ways, and I hope we’ve taken advantage of them in this series, but that’s for our customers and readers to decide.
by Liz Hester
Minutes from the Federal Open Markets Committee meeting Jan 29-30, released Wednesday, show that members of the committee are beginning to differ on policy to reduce the nation’s jobless rate.
Here’s the top of the New York Times story, which focuses on the debate.
There are widening divisions among Federal Reserve officials about the value of its efforts to reduce unemployment, but supporters of those efforts remain firmly in control, according to an official account of the Fed’s most recent meeting in January.
An increasingly vocal minority of Fed officials are concerned that buying about $85 billion of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities each month is doing more harm than good. They argue the purchases may need to end even before unemployment drops, because the Fed’s efforts are encouraging excessive risk-taking and may be difficult to reverse.
But the Fed’s policy-making committee reiterated its determination in January to hold course until there is “substantial improvement” in the outlook for job growth, and several officials cautioned at the January meeting that the greater risk to the economy was in stopping too soon, according to the account, which was published after a standard three-week delay.
“A few participants noted examples of past instances in which policymakers had prematurely removed accommodation, with adverse effects on economic growth, employment, and price stability,” it said. “They also stressed the importance of communicating the Committee’s commitment to maintaining a highly accommodative stance of policy as long as warranted by economic conditions.”
Proponents of strong action to reduce unemployment raised for the first time the possibility that the Fed should maintain a portion of its asset holdings even as the economy recovers because doing so could magnify the benefits. Its holdings now total almost $3 trillion.
The Wall Street Journal chose to focus on what a quick pull-back in the Fed’s policy would do to markets.
Federal Reserve officials expressed growing unease with the central bank’s easy-money policies at its latest policy meeting and some suggested the Fed might need to pull them back before the job market is fully back to normal.
Minutes released Wednesday of the Fed’s Jan. 29-30 policy meeting showed that officials worried the central bank’s easy-money policies could lead to instability in financial markets and might be hard to pull back in the future. The Fed plans to evaluate how the programs are doing at its next meeting March 19 and 20.
Several officials said that the Fed should be prepared to vary the pace of its asset purchases, depending on how the economy performs and its analysis of the costs and benefits of the program, according to the minutes.
Some Fed officials suggested the Fed may need to alter its stated course to continue the bond-buying programs until the job market improves “substantially,” a threshold it hasn’t defined.
The Bloomberg story focused on the quantitative easing aspect of the Fed’s recent policy:
Several Federal Reserve policy makers said the central bank should be ready to vary the pace of their $85 billion in monthly bond purchases amid a debate over the risks and benefits of further quantitative easing.
The officials “emphasized that the committee should be prepared to vary the pace of asset purchases, either in response to changes in the economic outlook or as its evaluation of the efficacy and costs of such purchases evolved,” according to the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s Jan. 29-30 meeting released today in Washington.
The minutes showed policy makers were divided about the strategy behind Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s program of buying bonds until there is “substantial” improvement in a U.S. labor market burdened with 7.9 percent unemployment, with some saying an earlier end to purchases might be needed, and others warning against a premature withdrawal of stimulus.
No matter which story you read first, it is obvious that the members of the Federal Reserve are getting nervous about the length of their stimulus programs. It’s a quick turn from vowing in August that the Fed would take action to help create jobs.
The market didn’t like the news, dropping slightly after the minutes were released.
by Liz Hester
Happy Valentine’s Day. If you’ve done your part to celebrate the day of love, then you’ve purchased something – flowers, chocolates, a dinner out or Kleenex – and helped bump consumer spending. And that’s good for everyone, especially after Wednesday’s lackluster retail sales number.
While reporting a number should be straightforward, the context and presentation behind it vary from organization to organization. So, let’s take a look at how several major organizations decided to present the 0.1% increase in consumer spending in January.
Bloomberg had a fairly positive analysis of the numbers and even included an upbeat quote at the top.
Retail sales in the U.S. rose in January for a third consecutive month, showing household spending is holding up even as an increase in the payroll tax takes a bigger bite from paychecks.
Purchases climbed 0.1 percent, matching the medianforecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, according to Commerce Department figures issued today in Washington. The gain was smaller than the 0.5 percent increases in December and November.
Department stores and online merchants were among those showing growing demand as improving job prospects and a strengthening housing market helped companies such as Gap Inc. and Target Corp. Some economists boosted estimates for the start of the year as the figures eased concern consumer purchases would retrench after a fourth-quarter pickup.
“The first quarter is looking better than we were expecting,” said Conrad DeQuadros, a senior economist at RDQ Economics in New York. “Payrolls are still growing and wage growth, while moderate, is still rising. We’re seeing increases in home prices and equity prices. Those are all positives for the household sector.”
The Wall Street Journal had a slightly more negative look at the numbers. Here’s the top of their piece.
U.S. retail sales saw a modest uptick in January in the first reading of consumer spending since payroll tax increases kicked in, cutting most Americans’ paychecks.
Retail and food service sales increased 0.1% in the first month of 2013 to a seasonally adjusted $416.6 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, marking the third straight monthly gain. That figure matched what economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected. Retail sales were up 4.4% from January 2012.
Still, the reading indicates consumers may have pared spending to only the necessities in the face of rising taxes and economic uncertainty. Spending increased at grocery stores and gasoline stations but was flat or falling at restaurants, motor vehicle dealers and furniture stores.
The Reuters story was even more pessimistic, pointing out other drains on consumers’ pockets and drags on spending.
Retail sales barely rose in January as tax increases and higher gasoline prices restrained spending, setting up the economy for only modest growth in the first quarter.
The Commerce Department said on Wednesday retail sales edged up 0.1 percent after a 0.5 percent rise in December.
The small increase suggested the expiration of a 2 percent payroll tax cut on January 1 and higher tax rates for wealthier Americans were hurting the economy.
Still, economists said consumer spending was unlikely to buckle given rising home values, moderate job growth and rallying stock market prices. Stocks have surged in recent months partly on stronger than expected corporate earnings.
The Associated Press story said consumer spending could be a drag on first quarter, indicating a weaker economy.
Americans barely spent more last month at retail businesses and restaurants after higher taxes cut their paychecks. The small increase suggests consumer spending may be weak in the January-March quarter, which could hold back economic growth.
Retail sales ticked up 0.1 percent in January from December, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That follows a 0.5 percent increase in December and is the smallest in three months.
Sales fell at auto dealerships, clothing stores and furniture stores. They rose at home-improvement stores, gas stations and online retailers.
So-called core retail sales, which exclude autos, building materials, and gas stations, ticked up 0.2 percent. Economists pay close attention to core sales because they strip out the most volatile categories.
The retail sales report is the government’s first look at consumer spending, which drives 70 percent of economic activity.
With the majority of the U.S. economy hanging in the balance, it’s easy to see why everyone watches the numbers so carefully. So, go out and do your part – buy something.
by Liz Hester
President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday night. And yet again, the economy is the over-arching issue to the remarks he’ll make.
I wonder if he’s as tired of the malaise as the rest of us.
Here’s the preview from the Wall Street Journal:
Four times, President Barack Obama has stood in the well of the House of Representatives and delivered a State of the Union address—and four times, economic anxieties have largely overshadowed his efforts to push a broad agenda.
Tuesday night he makes his fifth such address—the State of the Union that will help define his second term. While the economy is improving and the mood in Washington is changing in significant ways, the story line isn’t all that different: A broader Obama agenda is fighting to break out, but the economy still hangs over all else.
To be sure, Mr. Obama has more on his mind: Immigration overhaul, gun control and climate change are the topics most discussed since his re-election. The president will say he plans a trip to the Middle East, putting him in the company of Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Bush, who all tried to crack the code on the Palestinian problem in a second term.
And yet White House officials are signaling that the core of the speech will focus on ways to spur the economy and job creation. Mr. Obama was criticized by Republicans for not making jobs the centerpiece of his second inaugural address last month; it appears he won’t leave himself open to that critique this time.
While he might have been criticized, I was excited to hear the president talk about something besides the economy in his inaugural address. Obviously, it’s extremely important and critical to everyone, especially those who are still unemployed. But there was a part of me that was happy to hear about that climate change, gun control laws and gay rights also had a part of his agenda.
The Financial Times chose to talk about the shift of his campaign organization to working on his domestic policy agenda.
Barack Obama’s state of the union speech has been previewed as a pivot back to the economy by a White House anxious over how the president’s inauguration address last month was portrayed as an unambiguously liberal manifesto.
But whatever the content of the speech, Mr Obama’s message will be carried by more than just words. Months after his re-election, the traditional set piece will be backed by Mr Obama’s formidable campaign machine, which has been resurrected and retooled to keep the millions of volunteers who helped him win last November active.
“He really wants to apply this new revolutionary capacity to communicate to further his agenda,” said Tom Daschle, the former Democratic Senate majority leader and longtime supporter of Mr Obama.
Now called Organising for America, it was launched last month under the leadership of Jim Messina, Mr Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, as a non-profit body with the ability to take in unlimited donations.
Already, OFA has been reviving tactics it used during the campaign, from organising neighbourhood parties where supporters can gather to watch the speech to rousing activists on issues like guns and immigration.
And on-hand to hear the plans first hand will be Ted Nugent, according to the New York Times.
Ted Nugent, the gun-loving, bow-hunting rocker whose staunch defense of Second Amendment rights and inflammatory insults of President Obama have made him a hero with many conservatives, will attend the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
Mr. Nugent, who is also a National Rifle Association board member, will be a guest of Representative Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican who recently made headlines by threatening to file articles of impeachment against Mr. Obama if the president issued executive orders that strengthened gun control laws.
In a telephone interview from his ranch in Texas on Monday, Mr. Nugent said that he planned to sit in the House of Representatives gallery during the president’s speech and that he would hold a news conference afterward, an event that seemed likely to turn the decorous setting of the State of the Union into a tabloid spectacle.
Well, it might not be a three-ring circus, but it will definitely be entertaining. And hopefully it will be inspiring as well. Goodness knows that after four years, everyone is looking for some better economic news.
by Chris Roush
Morgan Housel of The Motley Fool interviewed Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of five books.
Housel asked him how financial journalism contributed to the financial crisis, which led into a conversation about how financial journalists view their career paths.
Morgan Housel: Financial journalism has changed a lot in the last decade — old players dying and new ones coming up. Is it changing for the better, or the worse?
Ron Suskind: I think what’s interesting is that moments when Wall Street collapses — or there’s a real hiccup or explosion, and we have bubble to bubble, boom to bust to bust, again and again — is often a good time for financial journalism. Because the opportunity for the alternative career is a little more distant, and the fact is, people have a hunger for news. And it often comes after a disaster. I thought journalism was very strong after the ’87 crash; that was some of the best time. It was very strong after the 2000 crash, and I thought there was some very strong journalism after the 2008 crash.
But it took the crash, and that’s one of the problems. To produce the stuff that is smart and predictive — saying, “It’s gonna blow!” — we are always short on that. And we really were short this time. And some of the journalists who stepped up and said “I don’t know, this doesn’t make sense,” you know, a lot of them were shut down. You know, one story, two stories, but then a bunch of other reporters are sitting around with the guys from public relations [saying]: “No, no, no. We have this covered. Let me tell you what we’re doing now.” Boom — it’s in the paper; it’s online. And that noise overwhelms — crushes — what is often the counterpoint that ends up being what really happened.”
Read the rest of the transcript here.
by Chris Roush
Authorities have conducted a wide-ranging investigation into whether media companies facilitated insider trading on Wall Street by prematurely releasing market-moving government data, according to a Wall Street Journal article.
Brody Mullins and Devlin Barrett write, “The federal investigation examined whether news organizations used high-speed transmission systems to give some investors access to economic data a fraction of a second before the official release time, according to officials familiar with the probe.
“Among the media companies investigated were Bloomberg LP, Thomson Reuters Corp. and the Dow Jones & Co. unit of News Corp., which are the leading conduits of federal economic data to traders right after release, though not the sole ones.
“Investigators recently decided not to file any criminal charges, said people familiar with the matter. Investigators had launched the probe after spotting trading patterns suggesting some traders received data slightly before the release time; the investigators decided against filing charges because they couldn’t link the pattern to specific actions by media companies, people familiar with the probe said.
“A key issue, one of the people said, was whether the government could prove in court that a time advantage for a trader of a sliver of a second — as little as a few thousandths — was enough to conduct profitable trades on confidential information.”
Read more here.
by Liz Hester
The New York Times had an interesting story on Sunday about the Federal Reserve and the debate going internally about what to do once the economy starts doing better. Here’s the story:
The Federal Reserve has left little doubt about its plans for the next few months, and thus little mystery about the statement it will release Wednesday after the latest meeting of its policy-making committee. The economy remains weak. The Fed will keep buying bonds to hold down borrowing costs.
Inside the central bank, however, debate is once again shifting from whether the Fed should do more to stimulate the economy to when it should start doing less.
Proponents of strong action to reduce unemployment won a series of victories last year, culminating in December when the Fed announced that it would hold short-term interest rates near zero at least until the unemployment rate fell below 6.5 percent. The rate was 7.8 percent in December.
To accelerate that process, the Fed also said it would increase its holdings of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities by $85 billion each month until it sees clear signs of strength in the job market.
And according to Bloomberg, the jobless rate is still too high for the Federal Reserve to change its policy right now.
The job market in the U.S. probably kept making headway in January even in the face of Washington’s budget battles, economists said before reports this week.
Employers added 160,000 workers to payrolls in January after a 155,000 December increase, according to the median of 67 forecast in a Bloomberg survey before a Feb. 1 Labor Department report. The average monthly gain over the past two years was 153,000. Other data this week may show manufacturing is stabilizing, housing is improving and consumers are spending.
Sustained gains in hiring are giving incomes a lift, cushioning workers from the sting of higher payroll taxes. Nonetheless, bigger employment increases are needed to drive down a jobless rate that Federal Reserve officials, who meet this week for the first time this year, say is too high.
The Wall Street Journal points out that not everyone agrees with the Fed that they should continue to buy bonds.
Not all Fed officials agree with the stance. That means arguments are likely to surface at Fed policy meetings about how long to continue buying bonds. Signs of this tension emerged in minutes of the Fed’s December meeting that showed some officials favored ending the bond-buying programs by midyear or sooner, while others thought they should probably continue through this year.
Many Fed officials have been encouraged by signs of an improving economic outlook after a sluggish fourth quarter. Interest-rate-sensitive sectors like housing and autos are turning up, a sign that the Fed’s low-interest-rate policies might be having their intended impact. But they also are wary of projecting a turn toward stronger growth after several false starts in recent years. “Every time economic growth appears to be picking up steam, something happens that brings it back down,” Mr. Williams said.
Economic factors aren’t the only ones Fed officials are considering as they debate how long to buy bonds. Some also are pondering the unknown effects of the programs on the stability of the financial system, including the potential for another financial crisis.
“We must not ignore the possibility that the low-interest rate-policy may be creating incentives that lead to future financial imbalances,” Kansas City Fed President Esther George said in a speech earlier this month. She noted that prices of bonds, agricultural land and high-yield loans are at “historically high levels.” If they fall sharply, it could hurt the economy.
It’s definitely a delicate balance between supporting the economy and over managing it. But I’m sure for all the people out of work, any help bringing the unemployment rate will be appreciated.
by Chris Roush
Bloomberg Television anchor Erik Schatzker will be hosting “Market Makers” (10-12 pm ET) from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland all this week.
This is Schatzker’s fifth year covering the event for Bloomberg TV.
Schatzker regularly speaks with Wall Street’s most powerful executives and the top money managers from around the world. He’s interviewed Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, BlackRock’s Larry Fink, private equity magnates Steve Schwarzman and David Rubenstein as well as fund managers Jim Chanos and George Soros.
Prior to joining Bloomberg Television in 2007, Schatzker led Bloomberg’s print coverage of financial services in the Americas. Schatzker began his career with the South Pacific Mail in Santiago, Chile. He served as a correspondent in Santiago and Toronto for Knight-Ridder Financial/Bridge News before starting with Bloomberg as a technology reporter in 1998.
Schatzker’s past positions with Bloomberg include Toronto bureau chief and senior writer for Bloomberg Markets magazine.
He spoke with Talking Biz News by email about covering the World Economic Forum. What follows is an edited transcript.
Does news actually occur at Davos?
Sure, news happens here. World leaders hold press conferences, and they typically generate some notable headlines. But unlike, say, the G20, the WEF isn’t a summit; there’s no mandate to produce solutions to the world’s problems, only to spur discussion and exchange ideas. As a result, the most interesting news often comes out of interviews. That’s partly why we consider the WEF such a great reporting opportunity.
How do you find news there when there are so many journalists covering the same stories?
We try to steer clear of the low-hanging fruit. The reason Bloomberg sends so many of its best journalists to Davos is to gather the exclusive reporting and find the unique stories that make our coverage truly distinctive.
How do you make your coverage stand out from others?
Prepare feverishly and ask the right questions.
What are your reporting strategies specifically for Davos?
We never want to miss an opportunity to break news, so we prepare an exhaustive list of topics and questions for every newsmaker we’ve decided to pursue. Chance meetings often yield the best information, and they do happen here. For me personally it’s critical to get off the TV set and walk around, take the temperature of the place, see what people are talking about in the corridors. That’s partly how I develop more timely questions.
You’ve talked at Bloomberg beforehand about story angles. Do those change once you get there and hear what people are saying?
Most definitely. We have to be nimble. The WEF is a melting pot of people and ideas. You never really know beforehand what the stew is going to taste like once you get there.
Why is Davos an important story for Bloomberg TV viewers?
Because there is no greater collection of newsmakers anywhere else on the planet. Sure, there are other big confabs. But this event draws an unparalleled array of leaders from politics, business, finance, academia and philanthropy. These are the people who make or influence the decisions that shape our world.
How do you coordinate stories with the other Bloomberg journalists there?
We designate a small group of producers and editors to act as a clearing house. They take the calls from reporters in the field, alert everyone to news as it happens, assign stories and track progress. It’s a pretty slick system run by one of our managing editors, John Fraher.
What’s the biggest story that you’re focusing on this week?
Quite honestly, it’s too early to tell.
How much preparation do you do before you get there, and what preparation do you do?
It’s hard to quantify, because I put the work in when I can. All told, I’m sure it works out to dozens of hours. I started the planning for certain interviews, ones I know will be challenging, before Christmas. Mostly my prep involves reading news stories, studies and company or government documents, as well as reviewing video or transcripts of past interviews I or others have done with the same people.
What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you at Davos?
A few years ago while I was waiting to doorstep a central bank governor I watched George Soros get kicked out of a meeting room by Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Soros was not happy, and while he was quietly fuming away he literally walked into Bill Gates. They struck up a conversation and all was well. Strange? No. Only in Davos? Definitely.
by Chris Roush
The Associated Press will launch a series exploring changes wrought by the Great Recession with reports documenting the downturn’s profound impact on jobs that support a broad middle class in the United States, Europe and other developed countries.
The series, “The Great Reset,” will begin with stories appearing from Jan. 23 to Jan. 25. Five additional installments will run about six weeks apart into the fall.
The main reporters on the series are Paul Wiseman out of Washington and Bernard Condon out of New York.
“They came back with a startling story,” said Hal Ritter, the AP business editor, in a phone interview with Talking Biz News. “Most of the jobs lost were middle class jobs. They found that since the recovery began three and a half years ago, no middle class jobs have come back. And this is true in developed countries around the world.”
Technology — specifically powerful software that runs computers and an array of machines and devices — is eliminating the need for many jobs throughout companies and across industries, according to the AP report.
“Bernard and Paul have been working at it full time for three month,” said Ritter. “They started out looking broadly, and then they got narrower and narrower. They have reported it globally. We have pulled in staffers from Europe and Asia. It’s ambitious, but certainly there is no better opportunity in our careers. What bigger event has there been than the financial crisis and The Great Recession?”
“The Great Reset” will include photos, AP interactives and video elements. The series will be available on AP Mobile in the “Big Stories” section. More stories will run later in the year, Ritter said.
In addition, AP’s initial reports on the hollowing out of middle-class jobs will fuel discussion during the annual AP Davos Debate, on Jan. 25 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Moderator of the session, titled “Creating Economic Dynamism,” will be AP Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News Mike Oreskes.