December 3rd, 2009
03:40 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: White House opens job summit

Bank of America said late Wednesday it planned to return the entire $45 billion in bailout money it received from the government over the past year.

Bank of America said late Wednesday it planned to return the entire $45 billion in bailout money it received from the government over the past year.

Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

President Obama called on business leaders this afternoon to help his administration kick-start hiring as policymakers contend with rising unemployment that’s weighing down the economy.

Some 130 executives, economists, small business owners and non-profit officials are gathering for the jobs summit at the White House on the eve of the government's November unemployment report. The nation is expected to have lost another 114,000 jobs, with unemployment remaining at 10.2%, the highest in 26 years, according to an economists' survey.

"I'm not interested in taking a wait and see approach when it comes to creating jobs," Obama said.

The employment picture is certainly grim. Nearly 16 million Americans are out of work, one-third of whom have been unemployed for more than six months. There are now six workers competing for every job vacancy.

The jobs picture remains front and center amid the deluge of both private and government reports this week.

This morning, the Labor Dept. says first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell unexpectedly last week by 5,000 to 457,000 - a near 15-month low.

That's the lowest level since the week ended Sept. 6, 2008, but part of decline is being attributed to government offices being closed for Thanksgiving.

In addition, continuing claims edged up by 28,000 to 5.5 million.

Meanwhile, people who are employed are working even harder.

Worker productivity increased more than 8% the third quarter. That’s the largest amount in six years. Aggressive cost cutting by businesses has pushed productivity sharply higher over the past months.

Unit labor costs, a gauge of inflation and profit pressures closely watched by the Federal Reserve, fell 2.5%. While that does signal inflation is under control, it also means workers are feeling a tight squeeze on their wages.

Elsewhere in Washington, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke got a rough going over from both his supporters and detractors at his Senate confirmation hearing today.

Even those who praised his actions during the financial troubles of the last two years, such as Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, balanced that support with arguments that the central bank should be stripped of some of its bank regulation powers due to its past failures of oversight.

While many Democrats on the banking panel joined Dodd in saying they would vote for another four-year term for Bernanke, some of the Republicans questioned whether they could support the chairman who was first appointed by President George W. Bush.

One long-time Bernanke critic, Jim Bunning (R-KY), said he was ready to do everything he could to block or delay the confirmation, joining a similar threat made late Wednesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is among the 60 members of the Democratic caucus.

The threat of a filibuster by Sanders and Bunning, two lawmakers with diametrically opposed views on most issues, shows the breadth of anger faced by Bernanke sparked by the Wall Street bailouts. A filibuster would mean that Bernanke would need to get at least 60 votes, rather than the simple majority of 51, in order to be confirmed.

Turning to news making waves on Wall Street, Bank of America said late Wednesday it planned to return the entire $45 billion in bailout money it received from the government over the past year.

The move would allow Bank of America, the nation's largest lender, to break free from a variety of government restrictions it has had to abide by, including pay caps for its top executives.

It could also smooth what has been a difficult search for a new chief executive.

Outgoing CEO Ken Lewis is scheduled to depart by year end. Bank of America's board of directors originally hoped to select a successor by Thanksgiving.

And General Electric and Comcast announced a joint venture this morning worth a combined $37.25 billion that will give the cable company eventual control of NBC Universal.

In the complex deal, NBC Universal will borrow $9.1 billion from third-party lenders to distribute to parent company General Electric. GE will use that money to buy Vivendi SA's 20% stake in NBCU for $5.8 billion, clearing a major hurdle in the company's path to sell control of the entertainment giant to Comcast.

Comcast will pay GE $6.5 billion in cash for the conglomerate's media unit and will contribute programming and other businesses valued at $7.25 billion, including E!, the Style Network and several cable sports stations. The sale values NBC Universal at $30 billion.

Comcast will take a controlling 51% stake in the joint venture, and GE will control 49%.

Follow the money… on Twitter: @AndrewTorganCNN

Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Economy • Finance
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