You’ll have to pardon us for not sharing in the celebratory mood. That’s because around here, we have a fondness for data points that governments can’t massage -- like sales tax revenue, income tax revenue… and rail traffic.
What do we see in the latest weekly rail traffic data? Yikes…
Rail traffic plummeted in the fourth quarter and now sits very near the low it set around a year ago. It would be much worse were it not for a 71% year-over-year increase in auto shipments. And the trend going forward is anything but certain.
Well, that wasn’t even close. The Senate confirmed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke for a second term yesterday. The critical juncture was the “cloture” vote to close off debate, which required 60 senators voting “yea.” It got 77. The nomination itself got 70 votes. That’s actually the lowest vote total of any Fed chairman up for reappointment ever.
The most ominous sentence we encountered in mainstream coverage of the story was in The Wall Street Journal: “Bernanke backers… said the Fed chairman deserved an opportunity to finish what he started.” Which is exactly what we fear most.