Yellen Takes the Hot Seat While the Big Banks Get Toasty


Mere days after being sworn in as the chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen will go before not one, but both houses of Congress this week. She'll be grilled by the House's financial services committee on Tuesday, and the Senate's banking committee two days later.

It'll be good to how she reacts to being interrogated by the nation's politicians -- after all, it's a critical part of the job. She did rather well during her confirmation hearing, managing to look poised while saying almost nothing to ignite controversy. There's always a chance for conflagration in such situations, but given her sturdy performances in the past we can expect the same for her Congressional debuts.

Otherwise, there are few blips on the radar this week threatening the big banks. On Friday Eurostat, the European Union's statistics arm, is slated to release its initial estimate of Q4 2013 for both the EU and the eurozone (there is a difference -- not all EU countries use the euro as a currency). Analysts are expecting double the rate of growth in the eurozone when compared to Q3's rate. That sounds impressive, but then again, that Q3 increase was a limp 0.1%.

Still, as far as Europe is concerned any growth is good growth these days. If the continent at least meets the forecast, look for the major financials that have a strong presence on the continent to benefit. Bank of America's Merrill Lynch has been a big player on the investment banking scene there for many years, as have units of Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase .

The latter company, however, might be wishing it never ventured abroad at all. A report over the weekend in the New York Times, citing a recently unearthed company email, said a key Chinese regulatory official directly asked CEO Jamie Dimon to hire a family friend, as a favor. This buddy now works at the bank. JPMorgan has fired back that Dimon was not involved in the decision to bring the young woman on as an employee. Though this situation will likely blow over for the bank, it's yet more bad press it really doesn't need. Hopefully at some point it can shake its persistent habit of attracting the wrong kind of attention.

Meanwhile, a gaggle of big-time bankers will escape the winter sun by decamping to sunny South Florida for a few days. Credit Suisse is hosting the latest edition of its Financial Services Forum, which kicks off today. Representatives from all the heavyweights will be in attendance, and numerous top execs will make presentations.

Tim Sloan and Andrew Cecere, the CFOs of Wells Fargo and regional powerhouse US Bancorp , respectively, are among those officials. The latter firm promises that their man's "presentation will include information about US Bancorp's financial performance and corporate strategies," and the same can be expected of Wells Fargo's finance honcho. The market will keep its collective ear to the wall for indications of how their banks are doing these days, and the strategic directions they might be veering in.

So the nation's bankers will have a little fun in the sun while their top financial regulator occupies the warm seat in Washington. We shouldn't expect any of those folks to get scorched... unless those banking execs linger too long in the sun on those pretty Florida beaches.

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