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Economy Contracts; Fed Stays Put

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Economy Contracts: Private-sector demand was strong, but businesses reined in inventories and defense spending plummeted, leading to a surprise 0.1% contraction in economic activity in the fourth quarter, according to the Commerce Department's first estimate. The Journal said analysts pinned the plunge in military spending on factors like the drawdown in Afghanistan and worries that more reductions are coming. The Post said government agencies "began adopting contingency plans, instituted hiring freezes and delayed projects in anticipation" of automatic cuts under the sequester. Markets appeared to take the outturn in stride, as the S&P 500 closed down by just 0.39%. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post

In the Post, another article said defense contractors, who manufacture things like stage sets for Dr. Strangelove, put on brave faces, at least on earnings calls. "Even as their lobbyists keep warning how much the cuts would hurt the industry, the executives are projecting confidence that the sequester will not happen."

The Journal gave a separate article to the as-expected finish to the Fed's rate-setting meeting Wednesday. With just minor tweaks to language in its statement, the central bank did little to change expectations over monetary policy. In the Twittersphere, Twits expressed boredom. Greg Ip: "The FOMC also re-elected Bernanke as their chairman. Phew." Matt Yglesias: "FOMC: Nothing nothing nothing nothing boring."

Wall Street Journal

In a preview of confirmation hearings on her nomination to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, the paper foregrounded Mary Jo White's arguments as a corporate lawyer against criminal prosecutions of businesses and advocacy for rules that could restrain whistleblowers.

Germany's ruling parties are about to propose a law that would require banks to split large trading businesses into "legally and financially separate units." Opposition parties say the proposal doesn't go far enough.

A TransUnion report found that the "number of student loans held by subprime borrowers is growing, and more of those loans are souring"

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