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POLITICS: PennAve

The week ahead in economics: Clarifying Janet Yellen, the debt and consumer confidence

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Fiscal Policy,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Federal Reserve,Budgets and Deficits,Janet Yellen,Consumer Confidence

Last week, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen briefly threw off markets with an offhanded remark following the Fed's monetary policy announcement that the first interest rate hikes in more than five years would likely come roughly six months after the Fed's monthly asset purchases have been discontinued, putting the timeline for the increases sometime early next spring, which is earlier than had been expected.

In response to Yellen's remarks, which were her first to the media as Fed chief, stocks fell, Treasury yields rose and futures markets indicated that the expected timing of the first rate hikes had moved up significantly.

But on Friday Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota told the Wall Street Journal that Yellen and the Fed hadn't intended to signal any change in policy. “The committee's intention is not to move to a less accommodative policy,” he said.

Kocherlakota had dissented from the Fed’s statement on Wednesday on the grounds that it wasn’t accommodative enough.

Eight Fed governors and regional bank presidents are scheduled to speak, so if there’s remaining doubt about the course of action Yellen intends to take, they’ll have their chance to clarify matters.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress will try to raise awareness of the federal debt this week, with House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland holding an event with the liberal group Third Way on Monday on fiscal sustainability, and the House Financial Services Committee, led by Republicans, holding a hearing Tuesday on why debt matters. It's one of a series of hearings that committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas plans to draw attention to the debt, which he called a “profound moral” dilemma that has fallen off Washington's radar.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was scheduled to appear before Hensarling's committee on Wednesday to deliver the annual testimony on the state of the international financial system, but Lew's schedule has been cleared so that he can undergo surgery for an enlarged prostate.

On Thursday, the Department of Commerce will release its third estimate of growth in the gross domestic product in the fourth quarter. The second estimate showed 2.4 percent year-over-year growth, which was revised from over 3 percent initially.

And on Friday, Commerce will report on personal income and spending for February. Friday's report also will include an update to the personal consumption expenditures price index, which is a measure of inflation that economists at the Fed consider more accurate than the Consumer Price Index. Inflation fell in February in the CPI, and it remains to be seen whether that slowing shows up in the PCE data as well.

Lastly, this week will include new information regarding how U.S. consumers are feeling, with both the Conference Board, on Tuesday, and the University of Michigan releasing the latest updates to their indices of consumer sentiment. Consumers' confidence had been rising swiftly through the end of 2013 as the memories of the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff faded, but have slipped through the course of the cold winter.

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