Economic Agenda: March 18, 2010

Mike Shepard
Thursday, March 18, 2010; 8:01 AM

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Key Events

8:30 a.m: The Labor Department issues data on inflation at the consumer level for February. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect the consumer price index to have risen 0.1 percent from January; after excluding volatile prices for energy and food, the increase is also expected to be 0.1 percent.

8:30 a.m.: Labor will release weekly jobless claims, and economists polled by Bloomberg expect the number of people filing for new unemployment benefits to fall to 455,000 from 462,000.

10 a.m.: The Conference Board releases its index of leading economic indicators for February.

In Thursday's Washington Post

Lawmakers scold federal regulators for failing to detect the unconventional accounting that Lehman Brothers used to burnish its balance sheet in the months before its collapse. At one House hearing, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro offers a mea culpa on behalf of her agency for the shortcomings in its oversight; meanwhile, before another House panel, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke faces tough questions about why central bank examiners monitoring Lehman missed the accounting maneuvers.

Though widely blamed for helping to trigger the financial crisis, the nation's largest banks have been among the quickest to return their bailout money, according to one finance professor's analysis, which also found that hundreds of community banks have yet to repay the government.

On the subject of new credit-card regulations, the Federal Reserve wants to hear from you, writes Color of Money columnist Michelle Singletary, who boils down the rules' key provisions.

A Virginia infertility clinic's giveaway of a free-cycle of in-vitro treatment has sparked an international outcry, with infertility experts and bioethicists blasting the promotion as a crass, commercial come-on.

Officials with the clinic defended its offer, which was made at a seminar in London.

What we're reading elsewhere

Race against the clock: With Senate banking committee chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) hoping to begin mark-up of financial reform legislation on Monday, banking lobbyists across Washington are scrambling to reshape the bill, with a proposed consumer protection agency at the top of their target list. Read Politico's account.

IMF rethinks its market dogma: Since its founding, the International Monetary Fund ardently pushed developing nations to adopt free-market economic policies. But NPR's Tom Gjelten takes a closer look at a recent policy shift at the IMF, which now acknowledges that emerging economies may benefit from imposing previously verboten controls on foreign capital inflows. Here's a link to the text.

Bucket of cold water: The World Bank predicts that China's economy will grow at a blistering annual pace of 9.5 percent this year, and the bank is recommending that Beijing raise interest rates to stave off inflation and defuse a growing real estate bubble. Read the Wall Street Journal's take.

Horse tax, anyone? Governments are getting more creative when it comes to inventing new, "stealthy" taxes to bridge gaps in their budgets, according to the New York Times, which cites a candy tax in Finland, a carbon tax in France and a tax on livestock owners in Britain.

Keep digging: As head of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Phil Angelides is tasked with getting to the bottom of what caused the economic meltdown and market panic of 18 months ago. But a lack of resources and an expanding mandate could make it tough for him to deliver his findings by the end of 2010, writes Stephen Gandel on the Curious Capitalist blog.

Google reaches for the remote: Just days after the unveiling of the Federal Communications Commission's national broadband plan, we learn of another national broadband plan envisioned by Google and Intel. According to the New York Times, the online giant and the chip maker hope to move the Web from the computer screen to the TV screen with a new wave of televisions and set-top boxes, all running on Google's Android operating system.

Lehman and whistleblower incentives: Regulators and private-sector auditors need to offer better incentives to encourage corporate whistleblowers to come forward in cases of suspected fraud, according to a posting on the Macroeconomic Resilience blog, which cites Lehman Brothers' swift firing of an executive who challenged the firm's unorthodox accounting months before its collapse.

Also caught our eye

Beat down for Bernie? Ponzi mastermind Bernard Madoff, now serving a 150-year sentence for the fraud that made him a household name, suffered a broken nose and fractured ribs after being assaulted by another inmate at a federal prison in North Carolina, sources tell the Wall Street Journal.

Federal officials deny the incident took place.

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