The most closely watched economic development of the week will likely be Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s Wednesday speech at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Boston. Bernanke is supposed to talk about the history of Federal Reserve policy, but investors and the media will be watching closely for any comment from Bernanke on his plans for tapering the Fed’s asset purchases.
Markets have built in the expectation that the Fed will begin slowing down its stimulus program early this fall, with yields on 10-year Treasury bonds rising to a nearly two-year high on Friday and hitting 2.7 percent. Bernanke could use the occasion to hint that the $85 million per month in bond purchases will continue for longer, or he could signal that the Fed will stay on its current course. Three other members of the Fed will also make public addresses this week. In the past two weeks, a number of Federal Reserve governors and regional bank presidents have sought to reassure markets that the Fed won’t tighten monetary conditions until the economy improves.
There will also be important action to watch in Congress. The Senate will debate competing student loan reform bills after missing a July 1 deadline to prevent the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford loans to double. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would tie the interest rate on federal student loans to a market-determined interest rate, namely the rate on 10-year Treasury bonds, and a bipartisan group in the Senate has introduced similar legislation. The White House also favors such an approach, but most Senate Democrats say that the GOP plan would not protect students from high rates and favor a one-year fix offered by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island that would keep the rate at its current 3.4 percent. Any changes that pass the Senate would be applied retroactively to student loans taken out after July 1.
A few major economic indicator releases are scheduled for this week: both the producer price index, a measure of inflation based on data from sellers; and the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index come out on Friday. On Wednesday, the Fed will release the minutes from its last meeting, which will provide insight into the direction of monetary policy and possibly clear up confusion about the looming Fed “taper.”
On Tuesday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will hold a board meeting to consider the rules for capital requirements for banks under the Basel III international agreements that the Fed’s Board of Governors approved last week. The FDIC, along with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is one of the major regulatory bodies that needs to sign off on the regulations for them to take effect, and is expected to approve them.
The U.S. and European Union will begin week-long trade negotiations in Washington, D.C. on Monday.
This could also be a big week in determining the city of Detroit’s fiscal problems. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr will meet with the city’s pension boards to talk about possible concessions on Wednesday, and will also take Wall Street creditors on a bus tour of the city. Creditors have been offered 10 cents on the dollar on the city’s debts, and the alternative might be municipal bankruptcy, which would set an important precedent for all of the U.S.