A month into the new year, and the American economy is reeling from the ongoing banking crisis, battered retirement accounts, and mounting unemployment. Who are the folks who might make things better, or even worse? Who are the people who will move markets this year, up or down? To help you keep track of these "market movers," U.S. News & World Report compiled a list of key CEOs, politicos, and even media stars to watch in 2009. So if things do improve, you'll know whom to credit. And if they don't, you'll know whom to blame.
1) Barack Obama. Tackling the economic mess is job one for the new president, and then it's on to challenges in healthcare, climate change, and financial re-regulation. It's a daunting list for the new commander-in-chief who famously said "the challenges we face are real … [and] they will be met."
2) Ben Bernanke. Now that the Federal Reserve chairman has slashed interest rates to almost zero and lent billions to the ailing banking sector, what comes next? He'll need to stay nimble this year, as the central bank keeps trying to figure out how to deal with all those bad mortgage assets while supporting a Fed balance sheet that's ballooned to $2 trillion.
3) Lawrence Summers. He's a brilliant economist and a former Clinton-era treasury secretary. Now, as head of the National Economic Council, he's a major force in sizing up the Obama Administration's stimulus package.
4) Timothy Geithner. The youthful Treasury Secretary (he's 47) will be tasked with figuring out a plan to heal the banking sector. His time in the trenches during the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. give him credibility in the finance world, even after it came to light that the country's most visible financial enforcer forgot to pay some of his own taxes.
5) Jean-Claude Trichet. The president of the European Central Bank caught flack for hiking interest rates in mid-2008, but reversed course in response to the global downturn later in the year. Since then, he's proved surprisingly creative in dealing with the global spread of the banking crisis. Still, as lenders worldwide (and Europe in particular) face mounting losses, his job is far from done.
6. Warren Buffett. The legendary investor took full advantage of market turmoil last fall, decrying the rise of "financial weapons of mass destruction" while making billion-dollar investments in beaten-down American companies including Goldman Sachs and General Electric. Buffett's investments didn't escape the market's decline in late 2008, but if there's any environment where a value-investing guru can prosper, it's this one.
7) Bill Gross. No other bond investor carries as much weight as Bill Gross, co-founder of the $800 billion Newport Beach, Calif.-based bond giant Pacific Investment Management Co., or PIMCO. Risky bets placed on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other finance and mortgage-related securities late last year showed some daring. They'll play out in 2009. His latest advice for fixing the economy: "[T]he remedy for this deflationary delevering and mini-depression is simple and almost axiomatic: stop the decline in asset prices."
8) Lou Jiwei. As chairman of China Investment Corp., the $200 billion state-run foreign investing arm, Jiwei suffered through bad bets on investments in American financial firms like Blackstone and Morgan Stanley. Now, the technocrat is shying away from the U.S. banking sector, and raising stakes in institutions at home.
9) Barney Frank. As the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, the colorful and whip-smart Massachusetts Democrat will play a key role in the new Congress's efforts to resolve the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He's also addressing the regulatory shortcomings that helped create it.