POLITICS: PennAve

The week ahead in economics: Bitcoin, Ben Bernanke and housing

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Congress,Jobs,Banking and Finance Committee,Labor,Housing and Urban Development,Homeland Security,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Federal Reserve,Ben Bernanke,Janet Yellen,Bitcoin,Housing

Congress will turn its attention to the digital currency Bitcoin this week just as its value explodes.

The price of a Bitcoin in dollars has jumped from around $200 at the beginning of the month to near $600 now. Some observers thought that the fledgling cryptocurrency could be in trouble in October when federal agencies shut down an online drug market that traded in Bitcoins, but the currency has only shown resilience and upside since then.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing Monday afternoon on the promise and risks of digital currencies. The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on the same subject Tuesday afternoon. As Bitcoin prices and trading activity grow, federal agencies are sure to try more aggressively to bring alternative currencies into the regulatory net.

The Banking Committee also is scheduled to hold hearings on Tuesday, Thursdayand Friday mornings on issues related to housing reform, as it continues to mull over a bipartisan effort to wind down the government-sponsored mortgage businesses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and overhaul the system of housing finance.

Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will give a speech Tuesday evening to a meeting of the National Association of Business Economists on the economic outlook, in which he might hint at the possibility of the Fed keeping interest rates lower for even longer, as has come up in discussions of his possible successor, Janet Yellen.

In other Fed news, the central bank will release minutes from its October meeting on Wednesday. The text will be scrutinized for signs that officials are open to tapering the Fed's bond-buying program at its next meeting in December.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will report on consumer prices for October. The consensus forecast is for no monthly inflation, after months of subdued inflation. A separate report on producer prices comes out Thursday. Also on Wednesday, the Census Bureau will also release data on retail sales for October, and the National Association of Realtors will issue a report on existing home sales.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. This report shows the total level of hirings, layoffs and quits. The continued low level of labor market churn is a major feature of the poor jobs outlook.

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