You are here
John Crudele: Who's Ben chatting with about the economy?
By John Crudele
New York Post
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Is this any way to run a country?
The government on Friday reported the employment numbers for September and they were better than Wall Street expected, which caused a rally in the stock market but trashed government bonds.
So interest rates climbed, even though the Federal Reserve allegedly wants them down.
August's horrible employment report -- when 4,000 jobs were originally said to have been lost -- really wasn't awful at all.
In fact, the government now says that 89,000 jobs were created in August.
As I've said before (and ate crow because of it) August was destined to be a decent month because the Labor Department performs statistical razzmatazz by adding a lot of jobs it thinks -- but can't prove -- are being created by newly formed businesses.
The government also said it cut the number of job gains this year by 297,000 in a "benchmark revision."
So none of the job numbers the Labor Department has been announcing all these months is accurate.
Is the economy strong, weak or just piddling along?
Should the Federal Reserve be on the lookout for inflation or recession?
Answer: Nobody knows.
But the really big question in all this confusion is: Is this any way to run a country?
How can the Fed make reasonable decisions on interest rates and not be the laughingstock of world investors when the economic data it is relying on are so untrustworthy?
Since the Fed can't rely on the information being produced by the government, Chairman Ben Bernanke seems willing to get his insights anywhere he can.
And that includes some highly questionable contacts with people on Wall Street -- people who could make billions from a slip of Bernanke's tongue.
The advice from Wall Street, of course, is always the same -- cut interest rates.
And there's never a concern that such a move might clobber the value of the dollar -- which the latest rate cut has been doing -- and jeopardize our country's standing in the international financial community.
Some interesting stuff came out this week with respect to the Fed chairman and his friends.
Bernanke, it seems, has been talking up a storm with numerous Wall Street executives, including Bob Rubin, the former head of Goldman Sachs.
Add that to what I've been writing about -- that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson feels that it is his "job" to talk with "market participants" -- and we possibly have ourselves one huge case of collusion.
Watergate, step aside. We could be on the edge of the greatest government scandal ever.
The world may never know what Paulson, also a former head of Goldman, is up to because he refuses to release documents related to a secretive outfit called the President's Working Group on Financial Markets.
But a guy named Kenneth Thomas, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania's acclaimed Wharton School, had better luck with his Freedom of Information Act request to the Fed.
Among the people Bernanke spoke with while considering cutting interest rates was former Treasury Secretary Rubin, Lewis Ranieri, who now runs Hyperion Capital Management and Raymond Dalio, president of Bridgewater Associates.
And there were lots of calls to Paulson, not surprisingly since the two do share responsibility over the economy.
But the Thomas FOIA raises some interesting questions:
First, since Bernanke and Paulson were in frequent contact, Paulson must have known pretty clearly at some point that the Fed was thinking of cutting rates.
Did Paulson share that information with anyone as part of his "job" of keeping in touch with "market participants?"
Second, why is Bernanke keeping in touch with hedge fund managers and the leaders of investment groups?
Is he giving these people anything they can use to make money?
Third, why are so many of Bernanke's phone calls removed from the material given to Thomas?
The Fed let Thomas know, for instance, that Bernanke phoned Lloyd Blankfein, the current head of Goldman, but it won't share the name of two dozen others he called.
"It's important that Bernanke keep on top of financial market developments. But we have to draw the line when there can be undue influence and pressure," Wharton's Thomas told me over the phone.
But these last questions are the most important.
Since the economy really didn't lose 4,000 jobs in August and growth in September -- although underwhelming -- was OK by historical standards, why did the Fed feel so urgent a need to cut interest rates? Was Bernanke conned by all the Wall Street folks he spoke with?
Or did he really cut rates -- as has been alleged -- because he needed to bail out Wall Street's bad investments and not because the economy needed a boost?
* * *
Join GATA here:
New Orleans Investment Conference
Sunday-Thursday, October 21-25, 2007
New Orleans, Louisiana
* * *
Help Keep GATA Going
GATA is a civil rights and educational organization based in the United States and tax-exempt under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. Its e-mail dispatches are free, and you can subscribe at http://www.gata.org/.
GATA is grateful for financial contributions, which are federally tax-deductible in the United States.