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Morning Money Links: S&P warns Japan on its credit rating; Fed mulls new interest-rate benchmark; how earnings stack up so far

January 26, 2010 |  9:35 am

--- Government-debt fears at center stage again: Standard & Poor's warns Japan that its AA credit rating could be cut if the government doesn’t rein-in its mounting debt load. As I noted in my Times column last weekend, Wall Street fears that this will be the year of reckoning for governments of developed countries that have piled on massive new debt burdens since the credit crisis began. The Obama administration is nodding in that direction with its proposed spending freeze. Pimco’s Bill Gross, in a new commentary, tells investors to favor creditor countries including China, India and Brazil, and to absolutely avoid British government bonds.

--- A new benchmark interest rate for the Federal Reserve? The central bank is rethinking its use of the so-called federal funds rate as its key short-term rate. Meanwhile, Fed policymakers began their first meeting of the year today, a two-day affair. They aren't expected to say much new when they wrap it up on Wednesday: Short-term rates are virtually certain to stay near zero for the immediate future, given the economy.

--- Corporate earnings still look like good news: About 70% of the Standard & Poor's 500 index companies that have reported fourth-quarter results so far have beaten Wall Street analysts' expectations, the best "beat rate" since 2006. But whether they've beaten investors' expectations is another issue.

-- Tom Petruno