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U.S. Economy Slowly Recovering; Fed Chief Ben Bernanke Prepares to Step Down; Existence of Education Crisis in U.S. Debated; Extended Unemployment Benefits Ending for Americans

Aired December 28, 2013 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 2013 is the year the economy recovered, for some.

I'm Christine Romans. This is YOUR MONEY.

The economy on track to create 2.3 million new jobs this year, the best since 2005. Home prices are rising, the stock market is hitting new highs, industrial output is back to prerecession levels, and the government has sold its last shares of General Motors. There are even signs of bipartisanship in Washington.

So why aren't Americans feeling optimistic?

Carly Fiorina is the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. Today chairs the charitable organization Good 360. She also ran for Senate and advised John McCain during his 2008 presidential run.

Danny Minton-Betos is the economics editor for "The Economist."

Nice to see both of you. Carly, let me ask you first, why aren't more Americans feeling this recovery?

CARLY FIORINA, FORMER CHAIRMAN AND CEO, HP: Well, I think there are a couple things going on. First, income inequality is getting worse, not better. That's related to the second item, which is that there are still millions and millions of Americans who are underemployed, that is working part-time when they want to work full-time, or unemployed.

And I think, third, I think small business is still kind of flat on its back. We still have fewer new businesses starting and more small businesses failing than at any time in the last 40 years. And 70 percent of small business owners think the government is hostile to them. They're not optimistic. And that's important because it's small businesses that are the foundation of communities. Small businesses create most of the new jobs and small businesses employ at least half of Americans.

So big business is doing really well, and as you mentioned in your opener, there are lots of indications that the economy is getting better. Big companies are doing well. People who are well off are doing better, but people who are looking for full-time work or any job at all and small business owners aren't doing very well.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: Yes. I'm going to bring in Zanny here, because if you own your own home, you have a 401(k), you're been benefiting from this Fed stimulus, right, $85 billion into the economy. There's a whole generation of investors basically that have been raised on all this money sloshing around and very, very, very low interest rates. So, the big question is when does all of that stop?

ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES, ECONOMICS EDITOR, "THE ECONOMIST": I think that's absolutely right. And you're right to say that the economy has gotten better this year, but it's still a pretty weak recovery. And the big question I think is whether 2014 is going to bring a sustained acceleration. And there's a lot of optimism now that it is, that finally we're going to get some real momentum. We're seeing a little bit more momentum in the labor market. As you say, monetary policy is incredibly loose. And finally, next year, the budget deal means we're not going to have so much fiscal tightening, and hopefully that means the economy accelerates, accelerates enough that more people begin to see the benefits.

But I think Carly's absolutely right, this is very much a kind of two Americas story, and the combination of growing income inequality and the reason for the weak recovery mean that people at the top are doing very, very well. But for a lot of people, things aren't getting better.

ROMANS: And Carly, that corporation's sitting on an awful lot of cash, records amounts of cash in the bank. What's going to make them have the confidence to spend that money to hire, because that's what's really missing here, a recovery where companies, they're flushed with cash, but they're not hiring? You've run a big company. What makes somebody hire?

FIORINA: Well, if you talk to a lot of companies, they say we really would like to hire people, but we can't find qualified people. So, the education crisis, if I may call it that, in this country isn't going away, and its consequences are becoming more and more dire.

We also need immigration reform, because when you have a visa system, a work permit system that doesn't work, that causes an economy to hold back and underperform as well, and it causes companies to be uncertain about their labor force. So all of these things are happening together. I entirely agree that technological change is a big driver in the economy, and it's happening at a more and more rapid rate.

ROMANS: All right, Carly Fiorina and Zanny Ninton Beddoes, thank you very much. Carly says there is this crisis in public school education. I'm going to introduce you to someone later in the show who says there is no crisis in public education. You're going to want to hear about that.

Also, 2013 wasn't just the year of economic recovery. It was also the year of Jeff Bezos, Bitcoin, government dysfunction. My friend Richard Quest is with me to count down the top ten business moments of the year.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Number 10, Jeff Bezos. The Amazon chief exec is taking on print media. Bezos paid $250 million for the "Washington Post." He's investing in cutting-edge technology, too, pitching a plan to deliver your Amazon purchases, oh, yes, by drone.

ROMANS: Number nine, Marissa Myer. One full year on the job, so now we can see what kind of a leader she is at Yahoo! Her goal is to make Yahoo! cool again, her strategy, a shopping spree -- $1.1 billion for the blogging Web site Tumblr and Myer picked former evening news anchor Katie Couric and longtime "New York Times" tech writer David Pope.

QUEST: At number eight, Blackberry not dead yet, according to the company, at least. Smartphone's granddaddy has taken drastic measures to keep itself alive. It put itself up for sale, laid off around 40 percent of its workforce before canceling plans to sell itself. Even that may not save the company.

ROMANS: Number seven, tech winners. A year and a half after Facebook's face-plant IPO, the stock higher than where it started, and Twitter launched on the New York stock exchange, making some of its cofounders very, very, very wealthy. But now can Facebook or Twitter match Google when it comes to share price? Google's shares topped $1,000 this year, largely thanks to the company's ad business.

QUEST: Number six, in Bitcoin we trust. Now, Bitcoin, which is the electronic patch, shows the world that it's real, at least for now, and some are even calling it the safe haven investment for the 21st century. Despite massive volatility on the way, the little virtual currency that could surged. It was up $14 at the beginning of the year. It closes around $1,200 at the end of November.

Number five, U.S. Airways and American Airlines, the merger that's taken off, creating the world's largest airline. The carrier's given up some takeoff and landing slots at Washington Reagan and New York LaGuardia. The Justice Department says that will bring in low-cost carriers and help travelers, though with ticket prices on the rise, consumers may still lose out.

ROMANS: Number four, the government shutdown. Parts of the federal government shut down after Congressional Republicans tried to defund Obamacare. That shutdown lasted 16 days. Government offices, national parks closed, thousands of workers sent home.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: This isn't some damn game.

ROMANS: The final cost to the economy around $24 billion.

Number three, What the president initially called glitches quickly tornado into a political catastrophe. The government called in outside experts for a tech surge to fix the site. Sign-ups have picked up, but it's too soon to say whether it will ever be a success. QUEST: Number two, JP Morgan, America's biggest bank, will pay $13 billion to settle charges it misled investors about the quality of the mortgages it sold leading up to the financial crisis. It is the biggest settlement to date. The Justice Department says it won't be the last.

ROMANS: Number one, stock market record. The Federal Reserve pumping so much money into the economy, stocks launched to new highs, home prices moving higher, but Main Street isn't feeling so good. Fast- food workers across the country on strike, protesting what they call poverty wages. They're calling for a $15 minimum wage. That's a debate that won't end with a new year.


ROMANS: That's right, that's the year that was. What about the year that will be? Up next, join me for brunch with chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. We're looking into our 2014 crystal balls, next.


ROMANS: So, how's this for a spending your Saturday smart? Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and chief political correspondent Candy Crowley sat down with me for a year-end brunch, and you have a seat at the table, too. On the menu, what's going to be the story in 2014?


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's the elections. I mean, it's an off year.

ROMANS: The elections are in 2016, and then there's a midterm --

CROWLEY: No, no, midterm.


CROWLEY: Because so much rests on the balance between the house and the Senate. There is a chance, and I wouldn't predict in December what was going to happen in November of the next year, but there's a chance that Republicans could take over the Senate and keep the House. Well, what does that do to health care, what does that do to anything the president, you know, whatever was on the president's agenda before we hit this sort of brick wall of the Affordable Care Act? I mean, you know, energy, you know, any number of things that he put out there that he still would like to do, immigration. That totally changes the mix.

So the last two years are generally, you start talking about lame duck, but let's say the other thing happens. Let's say people go to the voting booth and they say we're so fed up with the government stalemate and we blame Republicans. And then they vote in -- and this is a far -- this is a reach here, but let's say they vote in and it becomes a Democratic House. You have a democratic house and a Democratic Senate, a lot is possible.

ROMANS: You could get tax reform, you could get --

CROWLEY: A lot is possible. Although once people are in power, they tend to go at each other. So there are Democrats and there are Democrats, as there are Republicans. So, to me, the story is who prevails throughout this year.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The story I think will be shaped by what happens in the United States, not necessarily the midterms, but certainly the presidential election. I know it's far out, but we overseas are hoping or thinking, perhaps, that as he faces more and more resistance at home politically, President Obama might be more active on the international stage.

And as I said, you know, some of his legacy could be to recoup some of the international heft of the U.S. And if the United States is able to figure out a major regional security deal, which is what the Iran deal will be, if it works that is a huge, huge change, some have said the most significant change, you know, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, if, in fact, that does come to bear.

So, I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more activity overseas. I think that the U.S. still has a problem, and you see that it's retreating, I believe, from the Middle East, and actually, there will be a new national strategy put out by the president in the New Year about overseas, and they'll talk more about the pivot to Asia. So far we haven't seen a huge amount of that. The president wasn't able to go to Asia.

CROWLEY: Well, current events make it hard to pay attention to Asia.

AMANPOUR: Excuse me, those are the current events. There may be a war between Japan and China --

ROMANS: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: -- which the U.S. has to involve itself on Japan's side over these ridiculous, excuse me, over these islands, which are a bunch of bare rocks uninhabited. You know, the president didn't go to Asia during the big summit over this last year. The Malaysian prime minister, the former Australian prime minister said, you know, this was a missed opportunity to show leadership in that part of the world. So there's a lot on the agenda.

Plus, what is the agenda for the Middle East? Is the United States for freedom, which the Bushs were, or what? Is there going to be a Middle East peace process or will that not happen because of the Iran deal, if that happens? So there's much to keep us occupied.

CROWLEY: There is also a larger question, to me, in foreign policy is how involved does the president actually want to be?

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm wondering whether his domestic trials and tribulations might make him want to be more involved overseas.


ROMANS: All right, so my forecast, I guess, for 2014, the big story for 2014 from my perspective -- the economy will be a big story in the new year. It will be a year of economic growth and growing worry that that growth is not affecting, benefiting everyone. The recently unemployed, you know, they're probably going to have a better chance of getting rehired in 2014. But the long-term unemployed still facing the same old problems, not seeing progress there. The stock market, it may not return as richly as it did in 2013, and mortgage rates will likely rise. There, I'm on the record. That's my forecast for 2014.

Up next, since February 2006, he has been arguably the most powerful man in the world. With his term coming to a close and Janet Yellen taking over, a look back at the Fed chairman's wild ride as we say bye-bye to Ben Bernanke.


ROMANS: The history books written about the great recession and recovery will likely include several chapters on Fed Chief Ben Bernanke. He's not single-handedly responsible for the recovery, but as CNN International Correspondent Maggie Lake tells us, Bernanke's historic decisions are shaping the way our economy moves.


MAGGIE LAKE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been a long, perilous eight-year ride for Ben Bernanke, filled with virtually every economic challenge imaginable.


LAKE: It began in 2006 when Bernanke became the 14th Federal Reserve chairman, taking the reins from the man once called "The Maestro," Alan Greenspan. At first it was smooth sailing. The U.S. economy was expanding, storm clouds seemed far away. But all that changed in 2007.

BERNANKE: The economic outlook has been importantly affected by recent developments in financial markets which have come under significant pressure over the past few months.

LAKE: The slump in housing gathered speed, foreclosures surged. Publicly Bernanke remained upbeat.

BERNANKE: Our forecast is for moderate put positive growth going forward for the next few quarters.

LAKE: In fact, the great recession was just beginning. Bear Stearns collapsed in 2008 and was gobbled up by JP Morgan Chase. Lehman brothers collapsed, stocks tanked, and credit markets seized up.

BERNANKE: This plan is an emergency plan to put out a fire.

LAKE: Bernanke stepped on the gas and revved up the engines. BRIAN BELSKI, BMO CAPITAL MARKETS: Mr. Bernanke was aggressive at a time when our country need him to be aggressive, and, quite frankly, needed for him to be decisive, and I think a lot of people don't realize how close this country was with respect to having a run on the banks.

LAKE: Bernanke helped craft the controversial bank rescue plan, TARP. He cut interest rates to near zero and launched the massive Fed stimulus programs, quantitative easing one, two, and three. The Fed's promise to try anything to ease the crisis, no matter how unorthodox, was key.

ETHAN HARRIS, BANK OF AMERICA MERRILL LYNCH GLOBAL RESEARCH: They said we're going to do whatever it takes. That message, I think, that the psychological effect of that message was to make the actual policy changes more powerful.

LAKE: By 2009 the markets recovered. "TIME" magazine named Bernanke its person of the year. But years after the worst of the financial crisis, the Fed is still pumping billions in stimulus, earning Bernanke the nickname "helicopter Ben." Critics say the easy money is fueling risky investments, but unwinding stimulus will not be easy and could upset world markets.

BELSKI: We have now reared an entire generation of investors that have become dependent on QE to buy stocks.

LAKE: The jury is still out on Bernanke's tenure at the Fed. But after such an eventful economic journey, he's earned the right to do something a little less stimulating.

Maggie Lake, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: I love the picture of Ben Bernanke in swim trunks on the beach. All right, Bernanke's last big move likely came last Wednesday, taking the Fed's foot off the gas pedal just slightly and beginning to slow down that third round of stimulus. It's also known as tapering. Analysts say it paves the way for the next Fed chief, Janet Yellen, to take the wheel in February, makes her journey a little less bumpy at least for the first few months.

All right, coming up, a fight in America's schools -- it's not a brawl at recess. It's playing out on the national stage.


ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: We have to get better faster.

DIANE RAVITCH, EDUCATION HISTORIAN: Right now the federal strategy is so wrongheaded that I shutter to think of what it's doing to teachers.


ROMANS: Is there a crisis in public education? Why your children's future in America's future economic security depends on who wins this fight.


ROMANS: Is there a crisis in public education? Depends who you ask you. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says America is facing educational stagnation. The latest proof, he says, international rankings which show American 15-year-olds slipping behind the rest of the world in math, reading, and science. Duncan is pushing new Common Core standards, a nationwide drive to standardize education to lift expectations in the hopes of stemming that slide.

But not everyone agrees there's this crisis in our public schools. Diane Ravitch, one of America's leading education historians, she says the real crisis in American schools is poverty. She says teachers have been demonized and Common Core is not the answer.


RAVITCH: Common Core is harder, but nobody knows if it's better. Ten solid years of tests, tests, tests, and Arne Duncan's strategies have not worked. When you see tenures in which there is stagnation, you change your policy, and what he's recommending is do more of the same.


ROMANS: But Secretary Duncan told me in September he does have teachers on his side.


DUNCAN: Teachers have basically almost universally embraced this. On one hand it makes their job harder, it's more work, but they love it. There's less memorization, less teaching to the test, more creativity.


ROMANS: OK, look, we can argue about the new standards, we can argue about testing and teachers, but here's what we do know. The country with the best workforce and the best infrastructure will lead the 21st century, and we're graduating kids from high school who aren't even prepared for college, let alone the workforce. This year only 26 percent of high school students who took the ACT were considered college ready in all four test subjects, English, reading, math, and science, a quarter. Many students arrive at college only to find they're required to take remedial classes. They might be paying $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 in tuition to learn what they were supposed to learn in high school.

And it's a vicious cycle. Businesses say colleges are turning out students who are not equipped for the jobs of tomorrow. Remember what Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, told me earlier in the show?


FIORINA: If you talk to a lot of companies, they say we really would like to hire people, but we can't find qualified people. So the education crisis, if I may call it that, in this country isn't going away.


ROMANS: There's that word again, "crisis." However you want to describe the state of K-12 education it's clear something has to change. America's economic future depends on it.

That's it for "YOUR MONEY." We're here every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. eastern and 2:00 p.m. We'll see you back here next week. Have a great weekend and very happy New Year.