July 27, 2009

Economic Outlook: Bernanke on stage

The corporate reporting season, a trudge through Wall Street's second quarter results, has been met with vigorous approval, it seems, in Asian markets.

While U.S. markets turned in a mixed day Friday, Asian markets continued to post positive numbers Monday with the Nikkei 225 in Japan rising for the ninth straight session and closing above the 10,000-point mark for the first time since mid-June.

The Nikkei index added 144.11 or 1.45 percent, to 10,088.66, while the Shanghai composite index closed up 1.9 percent to 3,435.21, its highest level since last summer.

The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 1.35 percent and also turned a psychological corner, breaching 20,000 for the first time in 10 months, closing at 20,251.62. In Taiwan, the Taiex index rose 0.8 percent. The Singapore Straits Times rose 1.7 percent Monday, while the S&P/ASX in Australia rose 1.22 percent to 4,139.60.

In South Korea, the Kospi index rose 1.4 percent.

Investors will be looking at numbers this week, but also digesting a series of Federal Reserve chairman appearances on the Jim Lehrer television program The NewsHour scheduled to appear on PBS Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, The New York Times reported.

The interview, which includes Bernanke answering questions from an audience of 190 people in Kansas City, Kan. , are a radical departure from the codified communiques and congressional testimony the Fed relies on to shed light on its decision-making.

Bernanke, offering a more personable side to the central bank, said at one point he was as disgusted by it as you are, answering a question on the bailout of financial firms. Nothing made me more angry than having to intervene, particularly in a few cases where companies took wild bets, he said.

Bernanke may be lobbying for his own reappointment in January and also for the Fed's position in the regulatory debate, which includes President Obama's proposal that the central bank take on a role of monitoring systemic risk and hand oversight of financial products to a new agency.

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has also proposed the Government Accountability Office audit the Fed's monetary policies, a move that could compromise the bank's independence in policy decisions, the Times said.

Numbers expected this week that do affect the bank's position on setting interest rates include a new home sales report due Monday and a report on consumer confidence due Tuesday.

A durable goods report is due Wednesday, while the advanced figures on the second quarter gross domestic product is due Friday.

In midday trading in Europe Monday, numbers were generally positive. The FTSE 100 index in London rose 0.29 percent, while the DAX 30 in Frankfurt rose 1.23 percent. The CAC 40 in Paris gained 0.96 percent. In the broader, DJStoxx 600 index, stocks were up 0.61 percent.