As the vibrations of economic uncertainty continue to reverberate through the U.S. economy, CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo (“Closing Bell”) on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” quoted former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s recent assessment of the fiscal atmosphere as “the worst since World War II.”
Acknowledging concerns of an “Armageddon scenario,” Bartiromo was ultimately optimistic on the future, crediting Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke with acting decisively in recent weeks to stem the slide toward recession. “The strain on financial services right now is significant. [But the collapse of] Bear Stearns represents the bottom,” Bartiromo declared. “I’m not surprised if the worst is behind us.”
Distilling the central bank’s decision last week to temporarily authorize the New York Federal Reserve to open up the discount window and extend direct lending to securities firms for the first time since the Great Depression, Bartiromo called the move “critical” to a market where “banks are teetering” on the edge of survival. Asked by host Tim Russert if these measures indicated signs of “a true recession,” Bartiromo said that while the literal measure of a recession is two quarters of negative growth, the semantics of the situation were irrelevant because consumers and CEOs alike are extremely nervous. She also asserted that the biggest challenge at the heart of the situation is not recession per se, but the tight credit environment brought on by the subprime mortgage collapse.
CNBC “Street Signs” anchor Erin Burnett, a former investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, was also interviewed by Russert. She compared the economy to a “tumor” that Bernanke and the Fed bank were aggressively treating, with “chemotherapy, medicines that have never been tried before, and holistic approaches,” throwing everything in their arsenal at the problem.
Acknowledging the potential downside of such measures could be a huge inflation cycle down the road due to an enormous flood of cash into the economy, Burnett said that the word on Wall Street, both on and off the record, is that no one wanted to be in Bernanke’s shoes, but that business leaders are mostly supportive of the measures he has taken. Bartiromo chimed in that Bernanke’s forceful efforts were positive, and that he was above blame as the heir to the financial crisis, not the instigator. “I think he’s doing a good job,” she said.
Looking to the long term, Burnett had a rosy spin on the future, claiming that the weak dollar has been a windfall to the U.S. export business, which makes up about 12 percent of the financial marketplace. “The weak economy is creating an opportunity in itself,” she theorized, citing the creation of manufacturing plants and jobs by foreign investors seeking to capitalize on the economic upside of the dollar’s descent.
Bartiromo was also upbeat, though more subdued. She reiterated that CEOs “on the ground with consumers” are more pessimistic than the current administration, who predict that the economy will turn around in the second half of 2008. “The stock market may rise because of the influx of cash,” she predicted, “but overall it’s likely that the economy will still be in recession or downturn” through the national elections of 2008 and well into 2009. Bartiromo stated that average Americans’ portfolios are not at risk for the long term as long as they are diversified, adding, “This too shall pass.”