Baum on Money: Fed Clarity Can Hurt

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(Corrects name of Affordable Care Act in final item)

Good morning, folks. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle in for your daily breakfast reading.

Take-aways from the Fed minutes

Financial markets heard all they needed to head south following yesterday's release of the minutes from the Fed's Oct. 29-30 meeting, specifically that the Fed hopes to start tapering asset purchases "in coming months." Recall that in June, the target date for the onset of tapering was "later this year." Yes, there's still one more meeting to fulfill the June forecast, but if you were Ben Bernanke, would you want to deliver that kind of Christmas present to the markets right before your departure? The Wall Street Journal's Jon Hilsenrath provides the highlights. The minutes themselves reveal a committee obsessed with communication. The stock and bond markets' negative reaction to the minutes means the post-mortems will have a bearish spin, which in turn will provide new fodder for markets to push prices lower, and so on, and so on.

Winning friends and influencing people

It all seemed so cordial at Janet Yellen's confirmation hearing last week. Republicans treated her with the utmost respect. With the Senate Banking Committee set to vote on her nomination today, one of the more conservative members of the committee, Bob Corker, is solidly in her corner. Corker opposed Yellen's 2010 nomination as Vice Chair because of her dovish views and indicated he might do the same this time. However, "Corker said that his private conversations with Yellen revealed that she understands that policy is unsustainable and should end as soon as it is appropriate," according to The Hill. Corker's support "could provide the votes to get Yellen confirmed."

The cost of regulation

Everyone is aware that regulations have a negative effect on economic growth, but quantifying the cost isn't that easy. A new study by the conservative American Action Forum takes a stab at it. The AAF examined 32 industries and "major, economically significant" regulations that "impose unfunded private-sector mandates and affect small businesses." The results -- the magnitude, not the direction -- may surprise you. "Three new regulations reduce industry employment by about 20 percent, that is, relative to an industry without any significant regulatory restrictions." If three can have such a damaging effect, imagine what the Dodd-Frank Law will do.

Debt ceiling drop-dead date delayed

Part of the deal to reopen the federal government after a 16-day shutdown in October was a suspension of the debt ceiling until February 7. The Congressional Budget Office now informs us that even if lawmakers fail to act by then to extend the debt ceiling, the Treasury has enough accounting tricks at its disposal -- tinkering with government accounts -- to finance itself until sometime between March and June. The CBO has a nice, short explainer on the debt ceiling here. Giving lawmakers more time is tantamount to giving them more room to do nothing. Maybe, one of these days, they'll surprise us.

Bending the cost curve...or luck?

The President's Council of Economic Advisers released a report yesterday analyzing the trends in healthcare costs, and the news is surprisingly good: They are rising at the slowest pace on record. Per capital healthcare spending rose at a 1.3 percent annualized rate over the last three years, and inflation in the sector is 1 percent, a 50-year low. The CEA says the evidence supports the idea that the shift is structural, not the result of the recession and its aftermath. The Affordable Care Act has played a role as well, according to the report. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't figure out how a law that increases the demand for health care and discourages new supply (by cutting reimbursement rates) can do anything but raise the price.

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