One Recession Ends, Another One Looms?

There's lot of financial news to be cheerful about today. According to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the worst recession since the Great Depression is "probably over" at this point, which is certainly nice to hear even if Bernanke did say that it would be some time before the economy really turned around and new jobs were created. But that's not all!

There's also the happy news out of Citigroup today, which announced plans to reduce the federal government's 34 percent stake in the bank. Citi is "eager to shed the stigma of being a ward of the state," since it subjects poor Citi CEO Vikram Pandit to ridicule whenever he chats with his peers who have managed to free their institutions from meddling from useless Washington bureaucrats. More importantly, at least as far as the rest of us is concerned: Based on Citi's current stock price, US taxpayers could make as much as $10 billion if the federal government sells its shares. Not such a bad deal in retrospect, huh?

It isn't all sunshine and roses, of course. Although President Obama "sternly admonished" the financial industry yesterday to accept his plan to revamp financial regulations, Wall Street isn't buying what he's selling, and his plan now "faces a diminishing political imperative," since no one is chartering buses to visit the homes of Wall Street CEOs any longer or planning any public lynchings. (In more technical terms: "As the financial system begins to mend, a kind of political inertia sets in as lawmakers have less of an incentive to act boldly.") Which means we may very well be back in a similar mess again a few years from now. But why worry about that on such a nice, sunny day?

For Obama, a Chance to Reform the Street Is Fading [NYT]
Citigroup Explores Bid to Pare U.S. Stake [WSJ]
Bernanke Says Recession Likely Over [Reuters]