Surging inflation will stoke riots and conflict between nations, says report

Riots, protests and political unrest could multiply in the developing world as soaring inflation widens the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”, an investment bank predicted yesterday.

Economists at Merrill Lynch view inflation as an “accident waiting to happen”. As prices for food and commodities surge, the bank expects global inflation to rise from 3.5% to 4.9% this year. In emerging markets, the average rate is to be 7.3%.

The cost of food and fuel has already been cited as a factor leading to violence in Haiti, protests by Argentinian farmers and riots in sub-Saharan Africa, including attacks on immigrants in South African townships.

Merrill’s chief international economist, Alex Patelis, said this could be the tip of the iceberg, warning of more trouble “between nations and within nations” as people struggle to pay for everyday goods. “Inflation has distributional effects. If everyone’s income moved by the same rate, you wouldn’t care – but it doesn’t,” said Patelis. “You have pensioners on fixed pensions. Some people produce rice that triples in price, while others consume it.”

A report by Merrill urges governments to crack down on inflation, describing the phenomenon as the primary driver of macroeconomic trends. The problem has emerged from poor food harvests, sluggish supplies of energy and soaring demand in rapidly industrialising countries such as China, where wage inflation has reached 18%.

Unless policymakers take action to dampen prices and wages, Merrill says sudden shortages could become more frequent. The bank cited power cuts in South Africa and a run on rice in Californian supermarkets as recent examples.

“You’re going to see tension between nations and within nations,” said Patelis.

The UN recently set up a taskforce to examine food shortages and price rises. It has expressed alarm that its world food programme is struggling to pay for food for those most at need.

Last month, the World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, suggested that 33 countries could erupt in social unrest following a rise of as much as 80% in food prices over three years.

Merrill’s report said the credit crunch has contributed to a global re-balancing, drawing to a close an era in which American consumers have been the primary drivers of the world’s economy.

In a gloomy set of forecasts, Merrill said it believes the US is in a recession – and that American house prices, which are among the root causes of the downturn, could fall by 15% over the next 18 months.

Read moreSurging inflation will stoke riots and conflict between nations, says report

Fed’s Direct Loans to Banks Climb to Record Level

“The Fed no longer publishes figures for M3.”

Excursion:

Mr. Bernanke has pledged to bring increased transparency to Federal Reserve policymaking, but the recent Fed decision to discontinue compiling and releasing the M3 monetary aggregate figure casts doubt on this promise. M3 is widely used by economists, policy makers, and investors as the most accurate and reliable true measure of the money supply.

Ron Paul, known as a congressional expert on monetary policy, reminded Mr. Bernanke that inflation is always a monetary phenomenon, resulting from an increase in the money supply as ordered by the Fed itself. M3 has risen more than twice as fast as M2 and GDP in recent years, illustrating that real inflation is much higher than the government admits through its CPI statistics. The troubling possibility is that the Fed discontinued M3 for the simple reason that it wants to conceal the extent to which the money supply- and hence price inflation- really grows.

Paul is preparing legislation that will compel the Fed to continue publishing M3, and plans to introduce the bill in the Financial Services committee later this month.

Source: Ron Paul

(PS: Core inflation excludes costs of food and energy goods, the very items that are the most visible prices for most consumers! – The Infinite Unknown)

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The Federal Reserve’s direct loans of cash to commercial banks climbed to the highest level on record in the past week as money-losing lenders increasingly turn to the central bank for funds.

Funds provided through the so-called discount window for banks rose by $2.8 billion to a daily average of $14.4 billion in the week to May 14, the central bank said today in Washington. Separately, the Fed’s loans to Wall Street bond dealers rose by $75 million to $16.6 billion.

Policy makers have increased the attractiveness of direct loans as they seek to alleviate the impact of the credit crunch. Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said two days ago that while markets have improved, they remain “far from normal,” adding that the central bank is prepared to increase its twice monthly auctions of funds to banks.

Read moreFed’s Direct Loans to Banks Climb to Record Level

JPMorgan Admits Receiving Multi-Billion Dollar Gift From the Fed

The controversial deal orchestrated by the Federal Reserve that pushed Bear Stearns into the hands of JPMorgan Chase, at the height of the sub-prime crisis, will turn into billions of dollars in gains for for JPMorgan Chase.

The deal will result in an immediate second quarter gain of $1 billion for JPMorgan Chase, admitted Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon.

(Guess who paid or will pay for this gift? – The Infinite Unknown)

Read moreJPMorgan Admits Receiving Multi-Billion Dollar Gift From the Fed

The Only “Win-Win” Investment I know of …

Gold’s precipitous tumble from its record-high of $1,038 set on March 17 down to the recent $850 level has lots of people asking, “Is gold’s bull market over?”

My answer: No! Not by a long shot!

I know you’ve been getting an earful from the talking-head ninnies about how the long-running commodity bull is getting short of breath and is about to be put out to pasture. Ignore them.

Other than a pullback here and there, gold — and virtually all natural resource prices — are headed much higher in the months and years ahead.

My next target for gold: $1,250 an ounce. Then, its inflation-adjusted high of at least $2,270.

Those numbers should come as no surprise. I’ve mentioned them several times before. Why I am I so bullish?

I’m not going to get into all the arguments that clearly spell higher prices for gold. You’ve heard them from me time-and-time again.

Instead, I’m going to point out something you’ve probably never thought about when it comes to gold. Heck, even the smartest guys on Wall Street haven’t figured it out yet …

Gold Is In A “Win-Win” Situation!

Consider the following two possible macroeconomic background scenarios for gold:

Read moreThe Only “Win-Win” Investment I know of …

Federal Reserve: Homeowner Equity Falls Below 50%

NEW YORK–Americans’ percentage of equity in their homes has fallen below 50% for the first time on record since 1945, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

Homeowners’ percentage of equity slipped to a revised lower 49.6% in the second quarter of 2007, the central bank reported in its quarterly U.S. Flow of Funds Accounts, and declined further to 47.9% in the fourth quarter — the third straight quarter it was under 50%. That marks the first time homeowners’ debt on their houses exceeds their equity since the Fed started tracking the data in 1945.

Read moreFederal Reserve: Homeowner Equity Falls Below 50%

Buying Opportunity For Gold And Silver

The international banking cartel during the past month has managed to push the price of gold down to the $850 – $880 level and silver down to the $16 – $17 level. The manipulation of the gold and silver market is incredibly obvious just by looking at daily charts of the gold and silver prices. Quite frequently you’ll see a nose dive in the price of both gold and silver without any sort of rationale behind the price swing. Also consider the fact that the price of oil is around $120 barrel which means that gold is incredibly undervalued relative to the oil price.

Even a 10 to 1 gold to oil ratio is low from a historical perspective and as we speak, gold is well under that ratio. Gold at the $850 – $880 level is a tremendous buying opportunity. The corporate controlled media is telling us that the commodity bull is over and the U.S. Dollar is stabilizing. Therefore it is prudent to do the opposite of what they are advocating. Anyone saying that the U.S. Dollar has stabilized is living in fantasy land. The Federal Reserve recently cut interest rates another 25 basis points and they continue talking about creating more money out of thin air to bailout banks that are on the brink of collapse. The U.S. Dollar is heading further down the toilet unless there is a dramatic reversal in monetary policy and that doesn’t look as if it will happen anytime soon.

(Buying Gold and Silver may save your life, when the economy crashes. But you can’t eat it.
Thats why you have to store lots of food and water as well. – The Infinite Unknown)

Read moreBuying Opportunity For Gold And Silver

The Great Depression of the 2010s

Economics is not rocket science. Neither is power.

Depressions are monetary phenomena caused by central bank issuance of excessive credit. In 1913, the newly created US central bank, the Federal Reserve, began issuing credit-based money in the US. Within ten years, the central bank flow of credit ignited the 1920s US stock market bubble; and shortly thereafter, following the collapse of the bubble in 1929, the world entered its first Great Depression in 1933.

Investment banks are the undoing of central banking. While all banks, central, commercial and investment, view credit as the opportunity to exploit society’s growth and productivity, investment bank exploitation of growth and productivity exposes society to extreme risks—for investment banks use society’s savings to make their volatile and speculative bets.

The speculative risks undertaken by investment banks is done by leveraging the savings of society; and, when investment bank bets are sufficiently large enough and the bets go bad—as they inevitably do as the luck of investment bankers is due more to their proximity to credit than to their ability to foresee the future—it is society that will bear the brunt of the pain in the loss of its savings.

Inevitably, investment bankers cannot resist the temptations of excessive credit and, like the buyers of teaser-rate home mortgages, they will always overreach themselves—an overreaching that will have disastrous consequences for the society whose savings they bet.

The leveraged overreaching by investment banks in the 1920s caused the Great Depression of the 1930s and their more recent overreaching in this decade, the 2000s, is about to cause another Great Depression in the next, the 2010s.

Read moreThe Great Depression of the 2010s

Fannie Mae Reports $2 Billion Loss

“Fannie Mae said it expects “severe weakness” in the housing market in 2008, bringing increased mortgage defaults and foreclosures.”

(This sounds a “little bit” different to what Mr. Alan Greenspan told the public recently. – The Infinite Unknown)

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Fannie Mae reported losses of $2.2 billion in the first quarter and the nation’s largest buyer of home loans said Tuesday it would cut its dividend and raise $6 billion in new capital, with expectations that the housing slump will persist into next year.

Home prices fell faster in the first quarter than Fannie Mae had expected, the government-sponsored company said, and it will open a $4 billion share offering immediately, with the remainder being offered in the “very near future.”

Fannie Mae’s federal regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, announced Tuesday that following the stock sale, it will cut the capital surplus cushion the company has to maintain by 5 percentage points to 15 percent. Another five-point cut will come in September, provided there is “no material adverse change” in the company’s regulatory compliance.

Read moreFannie Mae Reports $2 Billion Loss

Bernanke urges more action to stem home foreclosure crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) — A rising tide of late mortgage payments and home foreclosures poses considerable dangers to the national economy, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned anew as he urged Congress to take additional steps to alleviate the problems.

“High rates of delinquency and foreclosure can have substantial spillover effects on the housing market, the financial markets and the broader economy,” Bernanke said Monday in a dinner speech to Columbia Business School in New York. “Therefore, doing what we can to avoid preventable foreclosures is not just in the interest of lenders and borrowers. It’s in everybody’s interest,” he said.

Some 1.5 million U.S. homes entered into the foreclosure process last year, up 53 percent from 2006, Bernanke said. The rate of new foreclosures looks likely to be even higher this year, he said.

Read moreBernanke urges more action to stem home foreclosure crisis

Fed joins with European banks to battle credit crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve announced Friday that it will expand a series of efforts to deal with the global credit crisis, in coordination with European central banks.The Fed said it was boosting the amount of emergency reserves it supplies to U.S. banks to $150 billion in May, from the $100 billion it supplied in April. The Fed took this action and several other moves to boost credit in coordination with the European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank.

The latest moves are part of a series of actions the Fed has made since the credit crisis struck in August.

The efforts are designed to increase reserves so that banks don’t become hesitant about lending to consumers and businesses, which would make the current economic slowdown even more severe.

(The continuing bailouts are destroying the dollar and will create a total crash very soon. – The Infinite Unknown)

Read moreFed joins with European banks to battle credit crisis

Fed `Rogue Operation’ Spurs Further Bailout Calls


Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, arrives at the Federal Reserve building for a Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, April 29, 2008. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg News

May 2 (Bloomberg) — A month after the Federal Reserve rescued Bear Stearns Cos. from bankruptcy, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke got an S.O.S. from Congress.

There is “a potential crisis in the student-loan market” requiring “similar bold action,” Chairman Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and six other Democrats wrote Bernanke. They want the Fed to swap Treasury notes for bonds backed by student loans. In a separate letter, Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Paul Kanjorski and 31 House members said they want Bernanke to channel money directly to education-finance firms.

Student loans are just the start. Former Fed officials and other Fed-watchers say that Bernanke’s actions in saving Bear Stearns will expose the central bank to continuing pressure to use its $889 billion balance sheet to prop up companies or entire industries deemed important by politicians. The Fed satisfied Dodd’s request today, expanding the swaps to include securities backed by student debt.

“It is appalling where we are right now,” former St. Louis Fed President William Poole, who retired in March, said in an interview. The Fed has introduced “a backstop for the entire financial system.”

Critics argue that the result will be to foster greater risk-taking among investors emboldened by the belief that the government will bail them out of bad decisions.

The Fed’s loans to Bear Stearns were “a rogue operation,” said Anna Schwartz, who co-wrote “A Monetary History of the United States” with the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.

`No Business’

“To me, it is an open and shut case,” she said in an interview from her office in New York. “The Fed had no business intervening there.”

Read moreFed `Rogue Operation’ Spurs Further Bailout Calls

Federal Reserve may Want Inflation

We are now importing inflation. This does not only apply to the cost of commodities, such as oil, but also to consumer goods imported from Asia. This is a newer trend as, in our analysis, Asia had been exporting deflation until the summer of 2006; since then, we have seen increased pricing power by Asian exporters.

Inflation is not just a U.S. phenomenon; as Asian economies are far more dependent on agricultural and industrial commodities, rising inflation may become a serious concern in the region. The stronger and more prudent Asian central banks may realize that allowing their currencies to float higher versus the U.S. dollar may be the most effective way to combat inflationary pressures.

Read moreFederal Reserve may Want Inflation

The Collapsing Dollar – Authorities lose patience

Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU’s ‘Mr Euro’, has given the clearest warning to date that the world authorities may take action to halt the collapse of the dollar and undercut commodity speculation by hedge funds.


Jean-Claude Juncker, who is calling for Washington to
take steps to halt the slide of the dollar

Momentum traders have blithely ignored last week’s accord by the G7 powers, which described “sharp fluctuations in major currencies” as a threat to economic and financial stability. The euro has surged to fresh records this week, touching $1.5982 against the dollar and £0.8098 against sterling yesterday.

“I don’t have the impression that financial markets and other actors have correctly and entirely understood the message of the G7 meeting,” he said.

Mr Juncker, who doubles as Luxembourg premier and chair of eurozone financiers, told the Luxembourg press that he had been invited to the White House last week just before the G7 at the urgent request of President George Bush. The two leaders discussed the dangers of rising “protectionism” in Europe. Mr Juncker warned that matters could get out of hand unless America took steps to halt the slide in the dollar.

Read moreThe Collapsing Dollar – Authorities lose patience

Bailing Out Banks – Congressman Ron Paul

There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about the Federal Reserve and the actions it has taken over the past few months. Many media pundits have been bending over backwards to praise the Fed for supposedly restoring stability to the market. This interpretation of the Fed’s actions couldn’t be further from the truth.

The current market crisis began because of Federal Reserve monetary policy during the early 2000s in which the Fed lowered the interest rate to a below-market rate. The artificially low rates led to overinvestment in housing and other malinvestments. When the first indications of market trouble began back in August of 2007, instead of holding back and allowing bad decision-makers to suffer the consequences of their actions, the Federal Reserve took aggressive, inflationary action to ensure that large Wall Street firms would not lose money. It began by lowering the discount rates, the rates of interest charged to banks who borrow directly from the Fed, and lengthening the terms of such loans. This eliminated much of the stigma from discount window borrowing and enabled troubled banks to come to the Fed directly for funding, pay only a slightly higher interest rate but also secure these loans for a period longer than just overnight.

Read moreBailing Out Banks – Congressman Ron Paul

A Trillion Dollar Rescue for Wall Street Gamblers

Nothing for Families and Retirees

If the move to a Unitary Executive of unfettered presidential power frightens you, America’s radical right turn to Unitary Finance should compound your fears–and your debts as well. The financial events of the last two weeks of March 2008 demonstrate that the “economic royalists” and “money changers” whom Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) drove from the temple of finance have returned to mismanage our economy into dire straights of unprecedented risk–debt creation, euphemized as “leveraging” and “wealth creation.”

The few checks and balances that remain in the way of the financial sector’s increasingly centralized planning, especially at the state level, are being swept aside under the guise of “saving the system.” Few Wall Street beneficiaries who use this phrase explain just what the system is. For starters, its political managers are industry lobbies appointed to high managerial and planning positions in the public agencies that are supposed to regulate these industries. Their idea of financial planning is to put a trillion dollars in government agency funds and credit guarantees at risk. This agency funding was supposed to be used to help average American families obtain housing and health care, and to protect their savings and provide for their retirement. Instead, it is being mobilized to support the economy’s bankers and financial managers. Indeed, the past few weeks have seen seemingly trillions of dollars committed for war making and bank support.

The banking system’s free creation of credit, doubling each five years or so for the economy at large, threatens to culminate in debt peonage for many American families and also for industry and for state and local governments. The economic surplus is being quickly absorbed by a combination of debt service and government bailouts for creditors whose Ponzi schemes are collapsing right and left, from residential to commercial real estate and corporate takeover loans to foreign bubble-economy credit.

This is the context in which to view the past few weeks’ financial turmoil surrounding Bear Stearns, JPMorgan/Chase and the rapidly changing debt landscape. “The system” that the Treasury, Federal Reserve and the New Deal agencies captured by the Bush Administration is trying to save is an economy-wide Ponzi scheme. By that I mean that the business plan is for creditors to lend debtors enough money for them to pay the interest costs so as to keep current on their loans.

Super Imperialism – New Edition: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Dominance

Read moreA Trillion Dollar Rescue for Wall Street Gamblers

Not-So-Quiet Food Riots

The big problem with inflation is that people get low blood sugar when they are hungry, and soon their moods turn sour. I know this for a fact because if breakfast or brunch or lunch or coffee break or dinner or any snack is five minutes late, I involuntarily turn into a screaming monster from hell demanding to know who stole my food and vowing bloody revenge. I can only imagine the anger when hunger is caused because someone can’t afford to buy food!

This “inability to buy food” is one of the problems with inflation, and that ugliness is now here, as we read from Bloomberg.com that “The World Bank in Washington says 33 nations from Mexico to Yemen may face ‘social unrest’ after food and energy costs increased for six straight years.” Hahaha! No kidding?

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick says, “Thirty-three countries around the world face potential social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices”, and that since 2005, “the prices of staples have jumped 80%”.

Like what? Like corn and wheat, which are making the news by rising like crazy, and the latest food emergency is that “Rice, the staple food for half the world,” is now double the price of a year ago, and a fivefold increase from 2001. Yikes!

100% inflation in the price of rice in one year! And 500% in seven years! Yikes again! No wonder that Jody Clarke at MoneyWeek.com reports that “Since January 2005 the average price of a loaf of bread in the US has risen 32%. Overall, US retail food prices rose 4 % last year, the biggest jump in 17 years, says the US Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile restaurant owners have been even harder hit, with wholesale price increases of 7.4%. That’s the biggest jump in nearly three decades, according to the National Restaurant Association.”

And worse yet for us alcohol-besotted worthless lushes out here, heroically keeping bartenders and comely barmaids gainfully employed year around, the price of hops, an integral ingredient in beer making, has soared from $4 a pound to $40.

The Marketbasket Survey, conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation, says a basket of things like bread, milk, eggs and pork chops will cost you $3.50, or 8.9%, more this year than last. Both a five-pound bag of flour and a dozen eggs are up over 40% since January 2007.

Read moreNot-So-Quiet Food Riots

IMPORT PRICES STILL SOARING

Today’s update on import prices once again paints a troubling picture on pricing pressures.

Import prices jumped 2.8% last month, the U.S. Labor Department reports. That’s the highest since last December’s unnerving 3.2% spike. More troubling is the fact that the 2.8% rise in March is in the upper range for monthly changes going back to the 1980s. Adding insult to injury, import prices soared 14.8% measured over the 12 months through last month, as our chart below shows. That’s the highest 12-month rate in the Labor Department’s archives, which goes back to 1982 as per the web site.

The “good news,” if we can call it that, is that much of the rise in import prices was due to higher energy costs. And energy prices can’t rise forever–we hope. In any case, the 14.8% surge in import prices over the past year falls to 5.4% after stripping out energy. But the lesser rise in non-petroleum import prices is hollow comfort once you recognize that the 5.4% annual pace is the highest since the 1980s. The basic trend, in short, is not in doubt, no matter how you slice the import-price pie.

How troubling is a 5.4% rise in non-petroleum imports? In search of an answer, consider that inflation generally in the U.S. is climbing by 4.0%, based on the annual rise in consumer prices through February. And the nominal (pre-inflation adjusted) annualized pace of economic expansion in 2007’s fourth quarter was 3.0%. In other words:

* non-petroleum import prices are advancing at a roughly 33% faster rate than general inflation
* non-petroleum import prices are rising 80% faster than the nominal growth of GDP

Read moreIMPORT PRICES STILL SOARING

IMF says US crisis is ‘largest financial shock since Great Depression’


A foreclosure sign in Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

America’s mortgage crisis has spiralled into “the largest financial shock since the Great Depression” and there is now a one-in-four chance of a full-blown global recession over the next 12 months, the International Monetary Fund warned today.

Read moreIMF says US crisis is ‘largest financial shock since Great Depression’

Fed: Severe Downturn Possible

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Members of the Federal Reserve’s policy-setting committee worried at their most recent meeting that housing and financial market stress could trigger a nasty slide in the economy, even as inflation pushed higher, minutes of the meeting released on Tuesday show.

“Some believed that a prolonged and severe economic downturn could not be ruled out given the further restriction of credit availability and ongoing weakness in the housing market,” minutes of the March 18 meeting said.

Fed economists presented a somber picture of short-term prospects — central bank staff now fully expect negative growth over the first six months of the year — but held out the possibility of a modest rebound later.

“The staff projection showed a contraction of real GDP in the first half of 2008 followed by a slow rise in the second half,” the report said, referring to gross domestic product, a broad measure of a country’s output of goods and services.

At the same time, Fed officials found recent inflation reports “disappointing,” noting also with concern that some indicators of inflation expectations were edging higher.

Read moreFed: Severe Downturn Possible

Fed’s interest rate games could destroy the dollar

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has reduced the key federal funds rate six times in as many months — reducing the cost for major borrowers significantly. This combines with providing $270 million in funding, plus $30 billion in additional guarantees, for JP Morgan Chase to buy Bear Stearns Cos.

“Helicopter Ben” is living up to the nickname he earned after he remarked in a 2002 speech that he would stave off a recession even if he had to drop money from helicopters to do it.

The results of these policies have been destructive. The dollar is collapsing not only against foreign currencies — we’re now at par with the Canadian dollar and rocketing toward a 2-1 deficit against the Euro — but also against commodities. Gold was passing the $1,000-an-ounce landmark, silver $20. Even industrial metals like copper and zinc are fetching record prices.

Now, a spike in a particular commodity — say, for instance, $100-per-barrel oil — can be attributed to a shortage. But when they all move dramatically and simultaneously, it’s the purchasing power of our money that has gone down.

In fact, the increasing cost of even the base metals recently prompted Edmund Moy, director of the United States Mint, to propose further debasing the copper and nickel-plated, zinc slugs we call coins by substituting color-coated steel.

Read moreFed’s interest rate games could destroy the dollar

81% of Americans think country on ‘wrong track’

WASHINGTON – FOUR out of five Americans believe things are ‘on the wrong track’ in the United States, the gloomiest outlook in about 20 years, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

The poll, released on Thursday, found that 81 per cent of respondents felt ‘things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track’. That was up from 69 per cent last year and 35 per cent in early 2003.

Only 4 per cent of survey respondents said the country was better off than it was five years ago, while 78 per cent said it was worse, the newspaper said.

Read more81% of Americans think country on ‘wrong track’

Federal Reserve staff move into offices of investment banks to monitor activities

The US Federal Reserve has sent staff into some of Wall Street’s biggest firms and its New York branch is gathering evidence on key traders’ activities as America’s central bank raises its scrutiny of risk to an unprecedented level.

Fed staff have set up shop in Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns to monitor their financial condition just days after Henry Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary, proposed that the Fed become the financial industry’s “risk czar”.

This is the first time in more than a decade that the Fed has put staff in securities firms and is a response, in part, to its decision to extend to investment banks the “discount window” of cheap loans traditionally offered only to the commercial banks. The Fed argues that if it is to act as lender of last resort to the securities firms, it should keep a closer eye on their activities.

The move comes as the central bank’s New York branch separately compiles a list of names and numbers of key traders in specific, esoteric securities such as auction rate preferred securities. These obscure instruments can be traded only at auctions and demand for them has virtually evaporated in recent weeks.

A senior US mutual fund executive, whom the Fed has approached, said: “They are looking in every corner to understand every esoteric financial product – who its traders are, who holds the most, whether its market is liquid and how great the losses could be. They are approaching people like me to find the key players in particular securities and then contacting them to find out the details. I have never heard of that being done before.”

Read moreFederal Reserve staff move into offices of investment banks to monitor activities

Bernanke Warns of Possible Recession

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday a recession is possible and policymakers are “fighting against the wind” in trying to steady a shaky economy. He would not say if further interest rate cuts are planned.

Bernanke’s testimony before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress was a more pessimistic assessment of the economy’s immediate prospects than a report he delivered earlier this year. His appearance on Capitol Hill came amid a trio of economic slumps in the housing, credit and financial areas.

“It now appears likely that gross domestic product (GDP) will not grow much, if at all, over the first half of 2008 and could even contract slightly,” Bernanke told lawmakers. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is the best barometer of the United States’ economic health. Under one rule, six straight months of declining GDP, would constitute a recession.


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington,
Wednesday, April 2, 2008, before the Joint Economic Committee.
(AP Photos/Susan Walsh)

Read moreBernanke Warns of Possible Recession