Inflation is the topic du jour at The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times this morning.
The Journal goes four columns wide with its story across the top of A1 saying that concerns are increasing globally, especially in fast-growing developing economies. China’s stock market tumbled nearly 8 percent yesterday on price worries, for instance, while Vietnam slightly devalued its currency to combat inflation. Chinese inflation is already at 8 percent annually, as is India’s.
The FT leads page one with the inflation news, emphasizing that central bankers around the globe are getting tough on interest rates to keep prices in check, but the Journal says those in the developing countries haven’t been tough yet, instead relying on old standbys like price controls.
The latest round of concern was triggered by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s hawkish comments on the matter Monday, which triggered sharp movements in bond markets as investors bet that the Fed will raise interest rates by this fall. The dollar registered its biggest gain against the euro over two days in three years, Bloomberg and the NYT say.
The Journal writes that a basket of twenty-four developing countries followed by Bank of America contains none that are meeting their inflation targets. Just a year ago, three out of four were meeting them. The paper notes that investors are “punishing” stocks and bonds in high-inflation countries.
The NYT puts its inflation story on C1 and quotes a financial executive saying the Fed is now more concerned about price increases than the credit crisis. The Journal’s C1 Ahead of the Tape column says that Bernanke and his European counterpart are engaged in a talk-tough fest on inflation.
More write-downs for big banks
The FT says three of the big—and most troublesome—banks may have to take another $10 billion in write-downs because of last week’s downgrade of the monoline bond insurers MBIA and Ambac Financial.
The paper writes that Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and UBS may face additional losses and were caught off guard by Standard & Poor’s (seriously belated) downgrade of the bond insurers from their top-notch AAA ratings.
The prospects of further writedowns related to bond insurers, also known as monolines, could deepen concerns over the financial health of US and European banks.
The papers all note that the British organization that oversees the London Interbank Offered Rates—or Libor, the key measure of how much banks charge to lend to each other—is considering major changes to how it is calculated.
Libor has been under fire in recent months since the WSJ reported that banks, in order to look healthier than they really were, appeared to be lying about how much they were being charged for borrowing.
The Journal says on C1 that the British Bankers’ Association will increase the number of banks included in the survey and try to police their reports better, along with possibly creating a separate U.S. survey, and the NYT puts the news on C4. The FT calls the plan “radical” and says bankers warned it could lead to confusion and higher borrowing costs.
We’re not sure the changes go far enough. This is, after all, a measure that sets the interest rates for trillions of dollars in adjustable loans. Any minor miscalculation due to misreporting has billions of dollars in consequences for somebody. Indeed, Bloomberg writes that the move “may fail to rebuild investor confidence” and quotes several investors saying Libor should be calculated based on actual trading, not self-reported surveys.
That makes more sense.
Did Sam Israel jump?
The Journal and NYT write that a manhunt is on for a former hedge-fund head who scammed investors and was set to begin a twenty-year prison sentence on Monday. His car was found near a bridge with “suicide is painless” scrawled in dust on the hood, but cops haven’t found a body yet. While that could be a last-minute death note, the message is also the title of the M*A*S*H theme song of all things.