Obama administration

Pressure mounting on Republicans to make deal. Investor confidence appears to hold. Senate action expected. Live blog coverage of Congress’ attempt to reopen the US government and steer the world’s biggest economy clear of the default cliff…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US pushed to brink of default as hopes hang on bipartisan Senate deal – live” was written by Tom McCarthyin New York, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 16th October 2013 13.26 UTC

The Senate convenes at noon today. The House is scheduled to meet at 10am. President Obama is scheduled to have lunch with vice president Biden and has meetings today with his secretaries of treasury and state.

Good morning and welcome to our live blog coverage of Congress’ attempt to reopen government and steer clear of the default cliff.

Tuesday was a bad day on Capitol Hill. It began with hopes for a bipartisan Senate deal. Then House Republicans announced they were going to make a deal of their own. ”Whatever proposal we move forward will reflect our emphasis on fairness,” majority leader Eric Cantor said. But there was no proposal to follow. The leadership could not bring the hard-right faction on board.

Today begins with hopes for a bipartisan Senate deal. The Wall Street Journal has published an editorial telling Republicans that enough is enough: “Republicans can best help their cause now by getting this over with and moving on to fight more intelligently another day,” the paper concludes. The conservative National Review reports that GOP members indeed are ready to just “get it over with”.

The markets showed a bit of queasiness in yesterday’s tumble-jumble, but declined to panic.

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USA 

Senate leaders join struggle to find passable bill. Stock markets only mildly perturbed. “Reneging on its debt obligations would make the U.S. the first major Western government to default since Nazi Germany 80 years ago,” Bloomberg reports…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US shutdown: Congress reconvenes after weekend of choppy talks – live” was written by Tom McCarthyin New York, for theguardian.com on Monday 14th October 2013 15.31 UTC

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose quixotic campaign to “defund” Obamacare was the stick in the spokes that got us here, could – could – cause a default all by himself, Joshua Green reports in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

How could this happen? Because the Senate can move quickly when necessary–but only by unanimous consent. Let’s say Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell strike a deal today (that’s looking unlikely). Cruz surely won’t like it and has said repeatedly, “I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare.” If he’s true to his word, he could drag out the proceedings past Thursday and possibly well beyond. “If a determined band of nut jobs wants to take down the global economy, they could do it,” says Jim Manley, a former top staffer for Reid. “Under Senate rules, we are past the point of no return–there’s not anything Reid or McConnell could do about it.”

Read the full piece here. There’s no indication that Cruz is that crazy?

“Reneging on its debt obligations would make the U.S. the first major Western government to default since Nazi Germany 80 years ago,” Bloomberg reports.

Updated

Congress won’t act until markets panic, they say. Comforted by the implication that Congress can and will act, markets don’t panic. But Congress won’t act until markets panic. Comforted by…

Anatomy of a deal

How might an eventual deal look? What are the sticking points?

Congress must decide how long to extend the debt limit and how long to fund the government for. Legislators must also decide the level at which to fund government – whether or not to retain the deep “sequester” cuts that took effect on March 1, and for how long.

Republicans would like a shorter debt limit extension in order to maintain leverage in budget negotiations. Democrats would like a shorter-term funding bill in order to accelerate the end of the sequester, which chunked $85bn off the budget between March and October.

At the end of September, Senate Democrats passed conciliatory legislation that would have funded the government at sequestration levels through November – but the bill was rejected by House Republicans. Token Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat retold the history in a recommended Twitter lecture on Sunday:

But now the “original” potential deal to keep government open over the short term at sequester levels is gone, and everything seems back in play. The distance between the two sides on the debt limit extension and the term of the spending bill is a matter of months, NBC’s John Harwood reports:

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent sees a possible deal by which Democrats would demand the destruction of the debt ceiling as a counterweight to Republican demands on spending:

So here’s what Dems should do. If Republicans refuse to budge off their insistence on lower spending levels, Dems should call their bluff by demanding a permanent disabling of the debt limit as an extortion tool as part of any short-term compromise. (Yes, Republicans will say No. But bear with me.)

If, somehow, a deal is reached this week in the Senate that involves Republicans giving ground on spending levels, Dems should make the push for a permanent disabling of the debt limit a key goal in the next round of formal, long term negotiations.

In the short term, if Dems accept sequester level spending into early next year in exchange for permanent disabling of the debt limit, it would not be an awful outcome.

Read the full piece here.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, offered a relatively optimistic view of the negotiations this morning on CNN. Talking Points Memo caught the spot:

“I think we’re 70-80% there, putting the extra 20-25% to it,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said Monday on CNN.” “When should the (continuing resolution) come due, when should the debt ceiling come due, and does that give that time for the budget conference, the budget committees to sit down and work through this? Those are the details that have to be worked out.”

Updated

Leaders of the World Bank and IMF warned at a meeting in Washington DC Sunday of the disastrous consequences of a US default, the New York Times reports. Some damage has already been done, as borrowing costs for the United States – over the short term, at least – are creeping up.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned of “massive disruption the world over” if the United States plunges into default. At the start of the month she said it is “‘mission-critical’ that [the US default risk] be resolved as soon as possible.”

From the Times report on the Washington meeting:

Participants at the meetings remained on edge, given the gravity of the threat. Ms. Lagarde said “that lack of certainty, that lack of trust in the U.S. signature” would disrupt the world economy.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, issued his own urgent appeal. “The fiscal standoff has to be resolved without delay,” he said in a statement released by the I.M.F.

Read the full piece here.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opens the day down just a bit, about a half-percent. The bets are still on, for now.

President Obama spoke yesterday with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and the two party leaders in the Senate – Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell – have been holding talks through the weekend that were expected to resume this morning.

Talks between the president and the House Republican leadership – so hopeful as of Friday evening – foundered on Saturday. “No deal” Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan told reporters at the Capitol.

The needle they’re collectively trying to thread is legislation raising the debt ceiling that would be acceptable to both Senate Democrats and House Republicans. The current legislation thought to be under discussion would also provide for reopening government and settle a budget through the New Year.

If a catchall deal proves unworkable, Congress may have to pass the debt limit bill separately. However it may actually be easier to pass a catchall deal, because there are more variables and thus more room for negotiation – and compromise.

Guardian Washington correspondent Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) is tracking the action:

Democrat majority leader, Harry Reid, appeared briefly in the Senate to say he had a “productive and substantive” discussion with Republican Mitch McConnell and was optimistic about a deal, but suspended public proceedings until 2pm on Monday while his backroom talks continued.

The only outward sign of movement from the White House came in a Sunday afternoon phone call with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, in which President Obama reiterated his insistence on Republicans agreeing to end a government shutdown and extend the debt ceiling before he would negotiate any budget concessions.

Read the full piece here.

Early Halloween.

Good morning and welcome to our live blog coverage of yet another moment of truth in Washington. If the nation’s legislators can’t cut a deal soon – they have a day or two; just exactly how long is a matter for debate – then we get to find out if Warren Buffett was just being a hysterical ninny when he compared default to “a nuclear bomb”.

Negotiations through the weekend failed to produce a deal, or clear a pathway to a deal. Since Friday, talks between House Republican leaders and the White House have fallen apart, and talks between the party leaders in the Senate have sprung up. The House is scheduled to convene today at noon, the Senate shortly thereafter.

The top priority for Congress is to pass legislation that would raise the debt limit sufficiently to fund the Treasury’s accounts payable. They also need to pass a bill to reopen the federal government, which has been partially shuttered for 14 days now (it closed on 1 October). In the current environment, having the government closed is only Code Orange. The debt limit is the Code Red bit.

Investors are holding their breaths to see what the stock market will think of the weekend’s dithering. Knowledgable analysts have suggested that a stock market crash may be the most likely spur to get Congress to actually act. The bond market is closed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday, but stocks are open. The Dow still was relatively unbothered by the crisis on Friday.

The Treasury has said the “extraordinary measures” it has taken since May to cover expenses will be exhausted Thursday, at which point the government will be operating on about $30bn cash on hand and a prayer, with neither expected to last long

Updated

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House and Senate fail to reach deal before deadline. Estimated 800,000 federal workers told to stay at home. National parks and museums closed, Nasa affected. Signs of splits among Republicans over tactics. The President plans to make a statement today…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US government shutdown begins as Congress fails to reach deal – live” was written by Tom McCarthy in New York, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 1st October 2013 16.12 UTC

Guardian Washington correspondent Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) is in the streets of Washington DC, a city in which the government is not just the main employer, but the lifeblood of the city. The impacts of the shutdown were immediately visible, Paul writes:

By mid-morning, downtown Washington DC had the throng of a busy lunchtime, as furloughed workers from all the major government buildings trickled out onto the streets after closing down their offices.

Everywhere from obscure government agencies to the White House was operating on a slimmed-down staff, with all so-called ‘non-excepted’ employees ordered to return home after turning up to work on Tuesday morning.

DC’s mayor, Vincent Gray, immunised many staff working for the city’s government from the shutdown, by declaring them all ‘essential’ workers, a legally contentious measure. But it at least kept the city movement, and guarded America’s capital from less sightly impacts of the last shutdown, in the 1990s, when uncollected trash piled up on the street.

Later we’ll have Paul’s interviews with tourists and federal workers talking about how the shutdown is affecting them.

Updated

Veterans of World War II have stormed their own memorial on the National Mall, barricades be damned, reporter Leo Shane III of Stars and Stripes tweets:

Honor flight vets just knocked over the barriers at the WWII memorial to get inside, #shutdown or no.

No sign of folks leaving. The vets have control of the memorial. #shutdown

John McCain may be trying to make a point by publicizing polling showing Americans oppose the GOP strategy of tying the shutdown to health care cuts, but most national polls on who gets blamed are rather useless in understanding what’s going through the mind of the House GOP, Guardian polling analyst Harry J Enten (@ForecasterEnten) writes.

Harry argues that, district-for-district, Republicans really aren’t vulnerable to voter outrage in midterm elections in 2014 because the districts are rigged:

While there are a number of reasons why House Republicans were willing to shut down the government, no answer is probably as satisfying as the fact that majority of House Republicans don’t live in districts that look anything like the rest of the nation. Thanks to urban packing and gerrymandering, Republicans don’t have to worry about losing to a Democrat.

The average vote share for President Obama in 2012 in Republican House districts was only 40.4%. Only 17 members of the Republican House caucus are from districts that voted for Obama in 2012. More than half of Republicans in the House come from districts that are 10 points more Republican than the nation as a whole. The average Republican district is over a 11 points more Republican than the nation.

The thing that most worries most members is likely a primary challenge, not a general election. The fact that more Republicans support a shutdown to stop Obamacare, as Quinnipiac found, is what’s most important for them.

That analysis leaves open the question on whether blowback from the shutdown represents potential damage to a party’s national brand, with consequences for membership, fundraising, turnout, activism, public support in hard policy fights and more.

Shut down: Tweets from Voyager 2. 

Not to be confused with Voyager 1, which recently entered interstellar space. Voyager 2 is only 15.37bn km away, according to the Nasa site that tracks it, which interestingly is still online here.

Updated

Shut down: the US Census Bureau online. 

You can’t visit the web site here, but you can read a shutdown notice.

(h/t @kennelliott)

Updated

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who with Ted Cruz of Texas led the charge to tie stopgap spending legislation to changes to Obamacare, is delivering a speech on the Senate floor calling for a focus on people whose livelihoods will be damaged by the government shutdown. “I want to focus our attention in the coming days and hours on those people,” Lee says, gravely.

It turns out however that mostly Lee wants to continue his critique of the Affordable Care Act. “I’d like to turn for a moment to people who are and for a number of months have been already [hurting],” he says. “Obamacare happens to be the No.1 job-killer in the country.”

Threatened by shutdown: airport efficiency(!).

Here’s a question from the comments:

Can someone tell me will airport be affected? Ie will take ages to get through security?

Answer, in short: Yes, expect some delays, but security will remain tight. The Transportation Security Administration, part of the department of Homeland Security, is expected to furlough certain nonessential employees, but those do not include most screeners. Air traffic controllers will report for work as usual.

John McCain, Republican of Arizona, argued Monday against the House Republican shutdown strategy, telling the House to accept fate and pass a “clean” spending resolution.

This morning McCain indulges in a preliminary bit of “I told you so,” directed at Republican colleagues:

From the Bloomberg story:

By 72 percent to 22 percent, Americans oppose Congress “shutting down major activities of the federal government” as a way to stop the Affordable Care Act from going into effect, the national survey from Quinnipiac University found. [...]

A majority of the public, 58 percent, is opposed to cutting off funding for the insurance program that begins enrollment today. Thirty-four percent support defunding it.

Note that the poll featured in the story McCain links to is from last week; while the Bloomberg story is from today, it does not reflect new polling from today.

Updated

Here’s the tabloid view, then and now:

Shut down: Freedom of Information Act requests.

The justice department claims it can’t meet FOIA deadlines in an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit over phone metadata collection because of the shutdown, Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports:

Just hours after the partial government shutdown kicked in, Justice Department lawyers filed a motion Tuesday morning with a federal judge in Oakland, Calif. seeking to postpone all deadlines in connection with a suit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The motion submitted to U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers (and posted here) says the government will be unable to continue reviewing documents for release because both DOJ lawyers and intelligence community personnel involved in the process are being furloughed.

Read the full piece here.

Senate minority whip John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, says Democrats are “whistling past the graveyard” in asserting that the Affordable Care Act is not negotiable:

“This is the law of the land. It’s perfect. Couldn’t be better,” Cornyn, on the Senate floor, ridicules his Democratic colleagues as saying. “That’s like whistling past the graveyard.”

Then Cornyn accuses Democrats of engineering the shutdown because polls show Republicans will take the blame:

They’re looking at polls…They’re willing to risk shutdown of the federal government just to gain political advantage… The Democrats have doubled down on their strategy, hoping to gain political advantage at the expense of people hurt.

Part of the difficulty this morning for 2m federal workers is that many did not find out until they showed up for work as usual whether they were part of the “essential” core that would be kept on the job. Some were told to stay. Others were sent home.

The Guardian’s Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) and Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) are watching the shutdown unfold in Washington:

Some federal workers were reportedly instructed to switch off their BlackBerry smartphones to prevent them from working remotely, a disciplinary offence.

From 7am, forlorn-looking commuters could be seen heading to government buildings and agencies across Washington DC, where they would learn their fate. The city, where the government is a huge employer, will feel the impact of the federal shutdown more acutely than anywhere else in the US. The White House said it estimates a one-week shutdown would cost the wider US economy $10bn.

Read the full piece here.

Dan also has the inside story of how the shutdown played out in the halls of Congress last night:

Unfortunately, much of Washington acted as if it had seen this movie before. The metaphorical tumbleweed blowing down the corridors of Capitol Hill reflected not a fear of being caught in the crossfire, but a cynical war-weariness that left many lawmakers on the sidelines until it was too late. After three years of similar standoffs over the federal budget that were resolved at the last minute, no one could quite believe that this one would finish with shots fired.

Read the full story here.

The Senate has killed the House GOP request for a budget conference, again along party lines, 54-46.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid is on the floor of the Senate decrying the House request as a cynical 11th-hour ploy meant to portray the GOP as being serious about making a budget deal when in fact the party has, Reid says, ignored six months’ worth of Senate requests for a conference. Here’s Reid:

Sen. Murray [Patty Murray, D-Washington, budget committee chairwoman] has asked to go to conference 18 times. [McCain] has asked eight times himself. This has gone on for six months.

But it’s a clock tick past midnight… Boehner demanded the very conference they shunned us with for six months.

This display I hope would be embarrassing for House Republicans and Senate Republicans… what a deal!

If the House passes the piece of legislation they have over there… to reopen government, we’re happy to go to conference – why wouldn’t we? We’ve been asking to do that for months and months.

Updated

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, sees the shutdown as a boon to the president because it distracts from the administration’s woes elsewhere:

“Obamacare is going to have a lot of problems in its rollout… the president’s poll numbers are falling in every category,” McCain told MSNBC. “Yet the story to the American people is Republicans are fighting Republicans – that’s not helpful.”

The president plans to make a statement today at 12.25pm ET in the Rose Garden, the White House advises.

As the two parties try to reach a spending agreement, they also are trying to pin the blame for the shutdown on the other side. In a statement in the briefing room yesterday afternoon the president said Republican maneuvers resulting in a government shutdown would be the “height of irresponsibility.” Expect the president to expand on that theme this afternoon.

Last time the government shut down, the Republican Congress caught the blame and the Democratic president emerged the stronger. That fact is not lost on the Obama administration, which is using president Clinton’s playbook, Bloomberg reports:

Five administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and budget director Sylvia Burwell, were central figures during the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996. That two-stage battle pitted a House Republican majority against Democratic President Bill Clinton and resulted in a public relations defeat for the Republicans.

Now, Like Clinton, Obama is casting his Republican rivals as partisan warriors willing to put the country’s economic future at risk to score political points with their base.

While Clinton chided Republicans for putting “ideology ahead of common sense” in a 1995 address, Obama told reporters yesterday that “House Republicans continue to tie funding of the government to ideological demands.”

Read the full piece here.

Updated

Are you a federal employee forced to stay home because of the shutdown? Is one of your family members an essential employee who has to work without pay? We want to hear from you:

* Where do you work? What is your role?

* What have your supervisors told you to expect in coming weeks? Please be specific. How will furloughs or payment delays affect you and/or your family?

* Is there anything you’d say to members of Congress? to President Obama or House Speaker John Boehner? Do you see the shutdown as necessary? Is there a silver lining?

Please share your views in the comments or reach out to us directly at ruth [dot] spencer [at] theguardian [dot] com. We’ll be featuring your comments here. Thanks for writing!

Welcome to our live blog coverage of the partial government shutdown, which went into effect at midnight. America is waking up to shuttered parks, silent call centers for veterans’ services, empty Pentagon offices and skeleton crews in White House and congressional offices. It’s the first government shutdown in 17 years.

The president signed a bill late on Monday defending against one of the most painful effects of a shutdown: the bill ensured there would be no delay in delivering paychecks to active-duty military personnel. The core services of other big government programs, including Medicare and social security, were expected to operate as usual.

The House and Senate played ping-pong on Monday with stopgap spending resolutions that would have kept the government open if they were able to agree on one. The last House resolution retained delays in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act that the Senate leadership had made clear would be rejected. The resolution was rejected, and at about 11.40pm ET the office of management of the budget sent out a memo ordering agencies to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.” Read Jim Newell’s play-by-play of last night’s action here, and Graeme Wearden’s early-morning updates here.

Just before the shutdown, House Republicans made a significant move on the overall budget issue, electing to join a conference with the Senate to cut an actual budget deal, a step the House leadership had been resisting. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said he would not bargain over the current spending measure at a budget conference.

Updated

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No ‘taper’ to central bank’s support of US economy. Fed requires ‘more evidence that progress will be sustained’. Markets cheer the announcement while the US dollar falls. The Fed’s decision underlines the fragility of US recovery…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Ben Bernanke: no change in Federal Reserve’s stimulus – live” was written by Tom McCarthy in New York, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 18th September 2013 21.15 UTC

Summary

We’re going to wrap up our live blog coverage. Here’s a summary of where things stand:

• The Federal Reserve announced no change to its program of monthly asset purchases designed to stimulate the economy. The central bank will continue to buy mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month. ”The Committee decided to await more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of its purchases,” the central bank said in a statement.

The news sent markets through the ceiling. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had been concerned that the central bank would take the economy off life support, hit an all-time high on the announcement.

• However the decision to maintain the stimulus pointed to a diagnosis on the part of the Fed of sustained, underlying economic weakness. In June, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank may begin tapering its asset purchases. There was no sign of such talk today, three months later.

• Bernanke said that unemployment was lower but not low enough (the Fed has set a 6.5% benchmark) and growth is up but not far enough. Bernanke said the current unemployment rate of 7.3% “understates the amount of true unemployment in the economy” because of the job markets cycle and demographic trends.

• The news floored analysts and reporters, who reminded Bernanke that as recently as June he was talking about “tapering” quantitative easing. “I don’t recall stating that we would do any particular thing in this meeting,” he replied.

• Bernanke said the economy continued to show signs of recovery, and sectors closest to the QE program – housing and autos – showed some of the best improvement. “There has been a lot of progress,” he said. “Labor market indicators are much better today than they were when we began… more than a year ago.”

• Bernanke warned of the potential “very serious consequences for financial markets and the economy” if the country defaults on debt or if the federal government has to shut down due to a congressional failure to reach a budget deal.

• Bernanke dismissed the idea that quantitative easing is turning, against the central bank’s will, into a very long-term policy. He said easing would last until there’s “substantial improvement” in the outlook of the labor market. At the moment there’s some improvement, he said, but “ultimately we will reach that level of substantial improvement.”

Updated

Bernanke is done. The news conference has ended. For the time being, he’s not going anywhere.

Pushing back against the impression that Fed policy helps the affluent most, Bernanke says the Fed is working to help the middle class by seeking to strengthen the jobs market and ensuring price stability.

He acknowledges that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Then he says the Fed can’t do much about that:

Our economy is becoming more unequal. The very rich people and the people in the lower half who are not doing well.

This has been going on for decades…. It’s important to address these trends, but the Federal Reserve doesn’t really have the tools to address these long-run… trends.

Bernanke says there are signs quantitative easing is working: 

It’s difficult to get a precise measure. There’s a large academic literature.. . my own assessment is that it has been effective… some of the leading sectors like housing and autos” are tied most directly to asset purchases.

There has been a lot of progress. Labor market indicators are much better today than they were when we began… more than a year ago.

Bernanke addresses the question raised by my colleague Dominic Rushe earlier. If the economy continuously fails to meet the benchmarks the Fed has laid out for ending asset purchases, how will it ever get out of QE?”

“The criterion for ending purchases is a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market,” Bernanke says. He says there has been some improvement and “ultimately we will reach that level of substantial improvement.”

Then easing can end.

A potential failure next month in Congress to raise the debt limit or pass a budget is “obviously part of a very complicated set of legislative decisions, strategies, battles” that Bernanke won’t comment on.

But he says “a government shutdown and failure to raise the debt limit could have very serious consequences for financial markets and the economy.”

Bernanke says the central bank tries to take into account such potential threats, but the Fed is relatively powerless in this field.

Is the Fed concerned about confusing investors by mentioning tapering and then not doing it?

I don’t recall stating that we would do any particular thing in this meeting. What we are going to do is the right thing for the economy, Bernanke says… We try our best to communicate.. We can’t let market expectations dictate our policy actions.

The markets really like it. 

0-2: At the start of the blog we speculated that Bernanke might simultaneously announce that he’s winding down QE and winding down his career as Fed chairman. In fact he has done neither.

Bernanke is asked whether he’s leaving:

“I prefer not to talk about my plans at this point.”

Could tapering begin by the end of 2013? Bernanke says there’s no fixed schedule:

There really is no fixed calendar… If the data confirm our basic outlook… then we could move later this year. But even if we do that, the subsequent steps will [rely] on continued progress in the economy.

The criteria include an improved labor market including lower unemployment.

Bernanke is asked whether he was speaking out of turn in June, when he said the fed could start tapering its stimulus program. Was it a mistake to talk about tapering back in June?

I think there’s no alternative … but to communicate as clearly as possible. As of June we had made meaningful progress in terms of labor [market],” Bernanke says. He says green shoots in the jobs market convinced the committee that it was the time to start talking tapering.

The question: what changed, to make the talk stop?

Updated

Bernanke says low job market participation is partly cyclical:

“There’s a cyclical proponent to participation. The unemployment rate understates the amount of true unemployment in the economy.”

“There’s also a downward trend in participation in our economy,” Bernanke says, but he pins the trend on external factors including an aging population.

The focus of course is on the Fed’s decision to leave its asset purchase program unchanged but a relevant question is “why.” “It seems as though there are two major reasons for the decision,“ Guardian business correspondent Dominic Rushe (@dominicru) writes:

1. The rise in mortgage rates is contributing to a tightening of financial conditions, which the Fed is obviously worried about.

2. The Fed inserted a new sentence that begins with “taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment.” The Fed has long been worried about their fiscal brethren and that worry crept further into today’s statement.

Even though the Fed acknowledges that things have picked up since they began QE3 late last year, they “decided to await more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of its purchases.”

This is not what we expected. However it is, from the Fed’s point of view, understandable.

But there’s a rather unsettling conclusion to Dominic’s analysis:

However, if the tightening of financial conditions, which was partially a result of the Fed’s decision to discuss slowing asset purchases, is enough to forestall an actual reduction, then in theory the Fed can never cease purchasing assets unless there is no adverse reaction in asset markets. It becomes a negative cycle in which the Fed would find itself trapped.

Guardian finance and economics editor Heidi Moore (@moorehn) is performing Bernanke-to-English tranlsation:

Bernanke says there are signs the economy is improving.

He says that unemployment is falling [Editor: if only by 1.8% over the last two years]; 2.3m private sector jobs have been created; aggregate hours of work are up; and weekly unemployment claims are falling. ”

All this “despite substantial fiscal headwinds,” Bernanke says.

Bernanke is discussing the FOMC projections for interest rates, unemployment and inflation.

He says the collective projections of the committee members have rates moving from 2.0-2.3% in 2012 to 2.5-3.3% in 2016.

Unemployment is expected to move from 7.1-7.3% in 2013 to 5.4-5.9% by 2016, “about the long-run normal level.”

Inflation is projected to move from 1.1-1.2% in 2013 to 1.7-2.0% in 2016.

Updated

Bernanke is speaking. Watch live on CSPAN here.

Anything to instill confidence?

Updated

If the Fed keeps buying long-term government debt – and the board of governors just announced that that will continue to the tune of $45bn per month – return to investors on that debt will not be as strong. Also see this chart:

Bloomberg columnist Caroline Baum posed this question for Bernanke in the event that the Fed decided to maintain its stimulus program, which it now has: Why?

Various Fed studies suggest that the third round of asset purchases has had a negligible effect on long-term interest rates, that the real benefit comes from forward guidance. Why, then, have you decided to stick with the program? Ten-year yields are up 120 basis points since May. Any bang for the buck seems to have dissipated.

Read Baum’s Ten Burning Questions for Ben Bernanke here.

Fed chair Ben Bernanke is scheduled to meet the press in about 10 minutes. He’s likely to face sharp questions about why the Fed has decided to stick with a policy, quantitative easing, that seems to have born little fruit over three rounds and almost five year.

Guardian finance and economics editor Heidi Moore (@moorehn) sees the move as a symptom of how dire the economic situation is. Easing isn’t working – but there isn’t a plan B.

Try, try again. And again. And

What just happened? You can read the full Fed board of governors statement on the decision that has emerged from the two-day meeting of the open markets committee here.

In short the central bankers did not judge the economy to have hit benchmarks that would have dictated a change in stimulus policy – in this case slowing the purchase of mortgage-backed securities, Treasury bills and bank debt.

At a deeper level, the Fed self-evidently retains belief in these levers to move the economy. The tools still work, this decision says, and the Fed intends to keep applying them.

Here’s the key graph from the Fed statement, with this key sentence: ”the Committee decided to await more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of its purchases.”

Taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment, the Committee sees the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions since it began its asset purchase program a year ago as consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy. However, the Committee decided to await more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of its purchases. Accordingly, the Committee decided to continue purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. Taken together, these actions should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee’s dual mandate.

Read the full Fed statement here.

The markets like it.

Updated

Guardian business correspondent Dominic Rushe has some early details of the Fed announcement that it has no immediate plans to phase out or “taper” its $85bn-monthly asset purchase program.

The Fed says it is waiting for “more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting,” Dominic reports.

Reactions

No taper. More to come. 

And …

All the major US stock markets are trading slightly lower ahead of Fed announcement, GuardianUS business correspondent Dominic Rushe (@dominicru) reports:

 The S&P 500 is down 0.11% and the Dow 0.26%. Blame nerves. As until the announcement comes this afternoon, no one outside the Fed really knows whether Bernanke is going to start the “tapering” the $85bn a month quantitative easing stimulus programme or not.

That shoe took a long time to drop. President Obama is prepared to name Federal Reserve vice chairman Janet Yellen as the next chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, the Washington Post reports, citing a White House official and “people close to the White House”:

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Janet Yellen is the leading candidate to be President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed as chairman, a White House official said Wednesday. Barring any unexpected development, that likely means that Yellen will get the nomination, perhaps as soon as next week.

People close to the White House said this week that Yellen was the front-runner after the unexpected withdrawal by former White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers, who was facing sharp resistance on Capitol Hill.

Full piece here. Summers’ withdrawal did not leave Yellen the lone horse in the race, however. Wonkblog’s Neil Irwin today handicapped a competition between Yellen and Donald L. Kohn, her predecessor as Fed vice chairman. Irwin concluded it could go either way on the merits, but Yellen may be the more politically expedient choice:

The president has a choice between two very qualified, experienced central bankers for the job, with the differences between them more subtle variations in style and temperament than any vast chasm in monetary policy views. Against that backdrop, if he passes over Yellen, who would be the first woman in the job and has been endorsed by Wall Street economists and many in Congress, he’ll face tough questions on why.

Read the full piece here.

“After three years of money-pumping, quantitative easing is evidently doing nothing to bring the country to full employment, which is one of the two tasks the Fed exists to perform,” Guardian finance and economics editor Heidi Moore (@moorehn) wrote at the start of this month. That’s one reason “it’s worth examining whether QE has outlived its usefulness”:

The hard news is this: it’s a smart idea for the Fed to taper, to start opening the door for the end of stimulus. It’s not a smart idea because the economy is healthy – it isn’t – but because the economy needs to come off life-support and breathe for itself.

Quantitative easing is a drug that seems to be long past its due date. After three years, the returns are in: there are likely no more benefits coming to the economy from holding down interest rates and buying up mortgage bonds.

The economy isn’t recovering, Heidi writes; it’s “in some kind of unresponsive fugue state that we’ve arbitrarily chosen to call a ‘recovery.‘” Read the full analysis here.

Good midday and welcome to our live blog coverage of Ben Bernanke’s eagerly awaited remarks on two topics he uniquely owns: quantitative easing and Ben Bernanke. There’s a chance the Fed chair will use his press conference this afternoon to show them both the Out door.

There’s money on the line. Markets will be listening for signals that the Federal Reserve bank plans to wind down its $85bn in monthly asset purchases known as quantitative easing. For nearly five years the stimulus program has helped markets find confidence in a discouraging landscape. Bernanke has signaled that it won’t last forever. But it was supposed to last until the economy – and specifically the unemployment rate – improved. Or until rising interest rates grew too worrisome.

Neither has happened. The landscape remains discouraging, with unemployment at 7.3% and job market participation at an all-time low. Inflation has yet to rise to the 2% target Bernanke has proposed (he calls it the “objective” rate).

Clearly, easing isn’t working. Unless it is, and the numbers would be even more terrible without it. For two days the fed’s open markets committee (FOMC) has been discussing this and other questions. This afternoon Bernanke is expected to indicate what the group decided.

Additionally Bernanke may talk about his own plans to step down as Fed chair, a seat he’s occupied since President George W Bush appointed him in 2006. The conclusion that Bernanke will leave when his current term expires at the end of January is so foregone that the secret struggle to replace him already has produced public losers.

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According to the FOMC meeting minutes, “a few” officials were keen to make a move sooner and “a few” urged more caution. The minutes also revealed that some FOMC members were cautious about the still weak US recovery…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Fed minutes show cautious move towards end of economic stimulus” was written by Dominic Rushe in New York, for The Guardian on Wednesday 21st August 2013 19.56 UTC

The Federal Reserve inched nearer to reining in its bn-a-month economic stimulus programme last month, according to the minutes of its last meeting which were released on Wednesday. But the central bank did not give any clear indication about when that scaling back might begin.

The minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting which took place late last month offered a mixed view on committee members’ willingness to ease back on the so-called quantitative easing (QE) programme. According to the minutes, “a few” officials were keen to make a move sooner and “a few” urged more caution. The minutes also revealed that some FOMC members were cautious about the still weak US recovery. US stock markets were largely unchanged after the news was released.

Most FOMC members felt that growth in the economy would pick up in the second half of the year and further strengthen in 2014. According to the minutes: “A number of participants indicated, however, that they were somewhat less confident about a near-term pickup in economic growth than they had been in June.” The minutes described recent economic data as “mixed”.

The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, indicated in June that the stimulus programme could be scaled back later this year, if economic data continued to be positive. The news sparked a sell off in the equity markets but despite some volatility they have remained close to record highs.

The QE programme, the Fed’s third round of bond buying, is intended to keep rates low and encourage investment in the economy in the hopes of driving jobs growth. Bernanke has given no clear indication when any tapering in the massive bond-buying programme could begin; economists have speculated that it could come as soon as September or be delayed until next year.

The summary of the 30-31 July meeting said that while “a few [committee] members emphasized the importance of being patient and evaluating additional information before deciding on any changes to the pace of asset purchases”, a few others “suggested that it might soon be time to slow somewhat the pace of purchases”.

The signals from the US economy are broadly positive but there are still many concerns. Unemployment rates continue to inch down but remain relatively high. The Fed minutes said: “Private-sector employment increased further in June, but the unemployment rate was still elevated.” The US housing market appears to be on the mend but some have worried that a recent rise in interest rates could have an impact. “While recent mortgage rate increases might serve to restrain housing activity, several participants expressed confidence that the housing recovery would be resilient in the face of the higher rates,” the minutes said.

Bernanke is widely expected to announce his decision to resign as Fed chair. His third term comes to an end at the end of January 2014 and President Barack Obama has said that he will appoint a successor this autumn. Bernanke will hold a press conference after the FOMC’s next meeting, in mid-September.

The two most likely candidates to take over Bernanke’s job at present are the Fed vice-chair Janet Yellen and Larry Summers, a former Treasury secretary who is one of Obama’s closest economic advisers.

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Dismal jobs report showed only 88,000 new jobs in March after economists expected the US would create 200,000, raising concerns that the economy may be losing momentum. February’s numbers revised up from 236,000 to 268,000…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “March jobs report shows slowdown in hiring with only 88,000 jobs added” was written by Dominic Rushe in New York, for The Guardian on Friday 5th April 2013 20.56 UTC

The recovery in the US jobs market hit the skids in March with just 88,000 new jobs being created, less than half the figure economists had been expecting. The figure, the first since Washington implemented deep spending cuts, reanimated fears that the still lackluster recovery would suffer a "spring swoon".

The unemployment rate dipped slightly to 7.6%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced, but the dip from 7.7% came only because 496,000 people stopped looking for work and fell out of the workforce. The surprisingly poor numbers triggered a sell-off on the US stock markets, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 139 points as the market opened, and closing down over 40 points after two up days.

The number was far worse than expected. Economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast that 200,000 new jobs were created in March – down from 236,000 jobs added in February. Private companies added only 95,000 jobs. Federal government payroll jobs fell by 14,000 as 12,000 postal workers were laid off.

If the trend continues, this would be the third consecutive spring that jobs growth has slowed after good growth through the winter.

Gus Faucher, senior macroeconomist at PNC bank, said it was hard to see anything positive in the report. "Even wages are flat. It's very disappointing," he said.

Faucher said tax hikes brought in at the start of the year or business concerns about the the so-called sequester budget cuts may have caused the slowdown.

"It could be a one off. The previous months' figures have been revised up, which is good, but we'll have to wait and see," he said.

In a statement, Alan Krueger, President Obama's chief economic adviser and chairman of the council of economic advisers, blamed sequestration for the slowdown.

"It is important to bear in mind that the March household and payroll surveys are the first monthly surveys to look at employment since the beginning of sequestration. While the recovery was gaining traction before sequestration took effect, these arbitrary and unnecessary cuts to government services will be a headwind in the months to come, and will cut key investments in the Nation's future competitiveness."

The data drew fire from Republicans. "The president's policies continue to make it harder for Americans to find work. Hundreds of thousands fled the workforce last month and unemployment remains far above what the Obama administration promised when it enacted its 'stimulus' spending plan," House speaker John Boehner said.

He called on president Barack Obama to deliver a balanced budget next week, "one that includes entitlement reforms that are not conditional on enactment of more tax increases, which will suppress growth instead of encourage it."

The economy added an average of 187,000 jobs a month from September to February. January's figure was revised up from 119,000 to 148,000, and February's was revised up from 236,000 to 268,000.

But the figures follow Thursday's report from the Labor Department, which reported claims for unemployment benefits spiked in the latest week to the highest level in four months. Weekly claims for unemployment benefits have risen for three weeks, the department also cautioned the Easter holidays could have skewed figures.

The rise come a month into the government spending cuts agreed to as a compromise over the US budget crisis. The so-called sequestration cuts began on March 1 and affect all areas of government spending from the military to park services.

On Wednesday, ADP, the payrolls giant, released its latest survey of private sector employment. According to ADP, the US added 158,000 new jobs in March, below the 200,000 economists had been expecting. Gains were largely in the service sector. Construction, which was hit hard in the recession, added no net jobs over the month following average monthly gains of 29,000 in the three months prior.

Commenting on the ADP figures, Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, which helps compile the report, said: "Job growth moderated in March. Construction employment gains paused as the rebuilding surge in the wake of Superstorm Sandy ended. Anticipation of healthcare reform may also be weighing on employment at companies with close to 50 employees. The job market continues to improve, but in fits and starts."

The latest jobs news is unlikely to solve the dilemma facing the Federal Reserve. Chairman Ben Bernanke has been pumping bn a month into the US economy with the aim of keeping interest rates at rock bottom and encouraging investment in jobs making ventures. But the policy has split the Fed's board of governors with some increasingly vocal in their concern about the long term impact of open-ended bond buying program – known as quantitative easing.

Long-time critic Esther George, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said Thursday that the Fed should scale back immediately.

"To be clear, I support an accommodative stance of monetary policy while the economy recovers and unemployment remains high. But I view the current policies as overly accommodative, causing distortions and posing risks to financial stability and long-term inflation expectations, with the potential to compromise future growth.

"As the Fed's balance sheet continues to expand, the risks and costs increase in my view," she said in a speech in Oklahoma.

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The U.S. economy added 163,000 jobs in July but the unemployment rate remained stubbornly above 8% for another month with an increase to 8.3%; Rebalancing of US economy is underway but retail sales and factory orders data point to weaker jobs growth in months ahead…



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US jobs data less rosy than they seem” was written by Larry Elliott, economics editor, for guardian.co.uk on Friday 3rd August 2012 14.47 UTC

There are three months to go until the US presidential election so the America jobs report will cheer Barack Obama after recent signs that the world’s biggest economy was coming off the boil. But the figures were not unalloyed good news for the president.

On the upside, the increase of 163,000 in non-farm payrolls was a lot better than the 100,000 rise Wall Street had been expecting. What’s more, the detail was encouraging, with a hefty jump in private-sector employment and a 25,000 increase in manufacturing jobs. A modest and long overdue, but welcome, rebalancing of the US economy is underway.

That said, the expansion of the labour market is no great shakes more than three years into a recovery, and extremely poor by US standards – America was once the envy of the world for its ability to create jobs in the upswings after recessions.

The payrolls numbers were accompanied by a household survey of unemployment which showed the jobless rate climbing from 8.2% to 8.3%, 0.4 points higher than when Obama became president.

The U6 rate, which includes people who are working fewer hours than they would like, rose to 15%. Throw in a labour participation rate lower than it was four years ago, and tepid wages growth, and the picture is of jobs data good enough to rule out for the time being any fresh steps from the Federal Reserve to boost activity but not good enough to prove conclusively that the economy is emerging from its soft patch.

Obama would no doubt like a helping hand from the Fed, but if Ben Bernanke and his colleagues were not prepared to do more quantitative easing when jobs growth slowed between April and June, they are unlikely to do so now.

As in Britain, the labour market seems to be in slightly better shape than the economy as a whole. As Chris Williamson of Markit noted, the recent data for retail sales and for factory orders has been weak, suggesting that the economy has lost momentum since the turn of the year. That points to weaker jobs growth in the months ahead.

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Tepid economy adds just 80,000 new jobs in June, ‘Not surprised but disappointed’ is market reaction, Slowest quarterly job growth for two years, National jobless rate remains stuck at 8.2%, Spain borrowing costs back above 7% “breaking point”…



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Disappointment as US economy added 80,000 jobs in June – live coverage” was written by Richard Adams, for guardian.co.uk on Friday 6th July 2012 13.41 UTC

9.40am: The Dow Jones index falls by 100 points as soon as the stock market opens.

9.37am: One reason why the US labour market remains stuck in a ditch: the drag from continuing cuts in government and public sector employment.

Obviously the Republican party doesn’t agree.

9.35am: By the way, today is exactly four months until election day.

9.31am: Bloomberg News gets some market reaction – “not surprised but disappointed,” says one:

The job market is soft, as is the overall economy,” said David Resler, chief economic adviser at Nomura Securities International, who correctly forecast the jobs gain. “I’d characterize our reaction as much the same way the Fed will react – not surprised but disappointed. It’s just not the kind of growth we need to see at this stage in the business cycle.

9.24am: Mitt Romney is going to comment on the jobs report from a hardware store near his holiday home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, at 10am ET.

9.18am: Another sliver of better news in the jobs data: there was a drop in the number of “discouraged workers”, via the BLS:

Among the marginally attached, there were 821,000 discouraged workers in June, a decline of 161,000 from a year earlier. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

9.15am: Now the BLS website has recovered, you can find the full jobs data here. Here’s an extract:

Professional and business services added 47,000 jobs in June, with temporary help services accounting for 25,000 of the increase. Employment also rose in management and technical consulting services (+9,000) and in computer systems design and related services (+7,000). Employment in professional and business services has grown by 1.5 million since its most recent low point in September 2009.

Employment in manufacturing continued to edge up in June (+11,000). Growth in the second quarter averaged 10,000 per month, compared with an average of 41,000 per month during the first quarter. In June, employment increased in motor vehicles and parts (+7,000) and in fabricated metal products (+5,000).

Employment continued to trend up in health care (+13,000) and wholesale
trade (+9,000) in June.

Employment in other major industries, including mining and logging, construction, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little or no change.

9.10am: Alongside the June jobs report this morning is the latest quarterly household employment survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and that actually shows a much rosier picture of the US labour market.

According to the survey – which talks to actual people rather than employers – the economy added an average of 127,000 jobs a month, rather than the 75,000 recorded in the non-farm payrolls data. (There are various reasons for the difference.)

9.08am: Reaction to the jobs report is predictable along party lines, with Speaker of the House John Boehner saying this proves once again that the Obama administration’s economic policies have failed.

President Obama is out on his bus tour this morning and is expected to speak at 10.45am in Poland, Ohio.

9am: Wall Street has reacted by selling off futures on the Dow and buying US Treasuries, as you’d expect with weak numbers like this – although neither movement has been pronounced.

And for those who are wondering: there are four more jobs reports between now and the election on 6 November – including one on 2 November I suspect.

Meanwhile, the next scheduled meeting of the Federal reserves Open Markets committee – the one that sets monetary policy – starts on 31 July. It can of course act between meetings.

8.57am: The employment data also appears to have some grim news: the jobless rate among black Americans rose to 14.4% in June from 13.6% in May. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate was largely unchanged for whites at 7.4% and Hispanics at 11%.

8.53am: Could the latest employment data encourage the Federal Reserve to take further action to stimulate the economy? Possibly not – and that’s also possibly bad news for the Obama campaign.

Paradoxically, the 80,000 jobs growth in June may not be bad enough for the Fed to take action, given that it has already downgraded its economic forecast for 2012. It predicts growth of just 1.9% to 2.4% for the year and little change in the unemployment rate – and this jobs report may not be enough to shift its current stance.

8.45am: Delving deeper into the June jobs report – while the headline number of 80,000 is on the dismal side, some of the other data is more mixed.

For the April to June quarter in total, the US economy added just 75,000 jobs – far below the 226,000 a month added in the first quarter of the year. There were job losses in retailing, transportation and government sectors.

The good news was that average hours worked grew to 34.5 hours from 34.4 in May – suggesting that there was some higher demand in the pipeline. At the same time, average hourly wages rose six cents to $23.50. That means hourly pay has increased 2% in the last 12 months.

Meanwhile there were signs of improvement elsewhere. The manufacturing sector added 11,000 jobs, its ninth straight month of growth. The healthcare industry added 13,000 jobs, and banking and financial services added 5,000.

8.41am: Here’s the New York Times’s quick take on the June jobs report, describing the labour market as “tepid”:

The nation’s employers created more jobs in June, but not enough to significantly reduce the backlog of nearly 13 million unemployed workers.

The economy added 80,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported Friday, after a revised increase of 77,000 in May. The unemployment rate remained at 8.2%.

Economists are expecting similarly tepid job growth of around 130,000 a month — just enough to keep up with the growth in the working-age population — for the rest of the year.

8.35am: Initial reaction to the June jobs report: standing still rather than getting better or worse. While job growth is slow, job losses aren’t as big a factor than they have been.

But it’s not good news for the White House or the Obama campaign – and obviously better news for the Romney campaign, on the headline at least, being lower than expectations.

8.34am: There are also some backward revisions for April and May but they are basically a wash – a net loss of just 1,000 jobs so little change there.

8.31am: Breaking down the numbers – the private sector payrolls rose by 84,000 and the total non-farm payrolls rose by 80,000 – meaning that government job losses remain a small drag on the employment market.

Manufacturing created 11,000 jobs.

Obviously this is bad news for the Obama administration – that makes the second quarter of this year the weakest quarter in terms of jobs growth since the height of the recession.

8.30am: And here we go: the US economy added just 80,000 new jobs in June, and the unemployment rate stays unchanged at 8.2%.

8.18am: While we are waiting for the jobs report, here’s a 2006 clip of Mitt Romney talking about creating jobs as giovernor of Massachusetts.

In it, Romney says it’s “silly” to suggest job growth happened from the day he became governor. He doesn’t take that view these days.

8.12am: The New York Times’s statistical blogger Nate Silver has an interesting thought about how the expectations for today’s jobs report will affect the political climate. “It seems as though we’re at something of an inflection point in terms of the prevailing sentiment about the state of the race,” writes Silver:

If the economy is found to have added 150,000 to 200,000 jobs last month, you may begin to hear talk about how President Obama is on a winning streak. Nobody, I hope, will suggest that Mitt Romney faces insurmountable odds of winning the White House, but the notion that he is at least a moderate underdog may begin to sink in.

A downside miss, however, would mean that hardly any jobs were created in June. That would very probably shift the conversation away from the relatively favorable news stories, like the Supreme Court’s ruling on health care, that Mr. Obama has had over the past few weeks. The election might again come to be viewed as more of a tossup.

8.05am: So what can we expect from today’s jobs report? The latest microeconomic data hints June’s jobs total may be better than expected. Weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped by 14,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 374,000, the fewest since mid- May. And private sector payroll provider ADP said businesses added 176,000 jobs last month – an improvement on the revised 136,000 jobs it reported for May.

Goldman Sachs reacted to the latest data by sharply raising its forecast to a gain of 125,000 jobs for last month, well above its previous forecast of just 75,000. And a more recent CNN survey of economists put the addition at 90,000.

8am: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be anxiously awaiting the June jobs report unveiled this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and another pivotal moment in the 2012 US presidential election campaign.

With the BLS announcement set for 8.30am ET this morning, a survey of economists forecasts that 90,000 new jobs were added to the economy last month. That’s an improvement on the 73,000 added in each of April and May but well below the pace of growth set during the first quarter of the year, when 226,000 new jobs were added each month.

With the 2012 presidential election just four months away, time is running out for the Obama administration to convince voters that it is turning the economy around and making a dent in the 8.2% unemployment rate.

For Mitt Romney’s campaign, any figure below 100,000 bolsters its message that the Obama administration has failed, and that Romney’s successful business background makes him a better bet to put more Americans back to work.

While the Obama campaign has been chipping away at Romney’s business credentials as a corporate financier – labeling him a “pioneer of outsourcing,” as Obama did yesterday – another month of weak job growth puts it back on the defensive and vulnerable to GOP attacks on the White House’s record.

The latest labor market report comes as the Romney campaign has been suffering from stinging criticism of its strategy from Rupert Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal. Romney himself appeared uncertain how to respond to the supreme court’s dramatic decision last week to uphold Obama’s signature healthcare reforms.

We’ll be live-blogging all the latest reaction from economists on Wall Street and politicians in Washington once the numbers are made public.

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