As co-host of the 10 a.m. hour of CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” Sara Eisen gets to witness history in the making—live from the New York Stock Exchange. In September, when Alibaba Group Holdings launched its $25B IPO—the biggest IPO in U.S. history—she was in the middle of the excitement. “Wall Street was packed with hundreds of Chinese journalists,” she says. “Having someone like Jack Ma [Alibaba founder and chairman] speak to us at CNBC first was an historic moment. Bringing a company like Alibaba to U.S. households and TV screens helps people to better understand the global financial market. Technology in general has been a sexy story, and having these IPOs right here where we operate has been amazing. I get the opportunity to speak with the most interesting and accomplished entrepreneurs, business leaders and thinkers in the global economy.”
Eisen grew up wanting to be a journalist. For her personal challenge project in high school, she invented a talk show and “borrowed” a studio from her local public access channel in Cincinnati. “It was right after Columbine, and I got some friends together to talk about school violence and we did the show,” she says. “Later, in college, I interned at ForexTV, which was a website dedicated to covering news on the foreign exchange. That’s how I really got into forex and, in a way, journalism.” She formalized her education with a master's degree in broadcast journalism—with a concentration in business reporting—from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
In December of last year, Eisen came to CNBC from Bloomberg Television, where she had co-anchored “Bloomberg Surveillance” and was a business correspondent for the network. While at Bloomberg, she reported on global macroeconomics, policy and business, and covered the European debt crisis, the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear crisis. She also hosted the Bloomberg Radio program, “On the Economy.”
Eisen’s first book, Currencies After the Crash: The Uncertain Future of the Global Paper-Based Currency System, was published by McGraw-Hill in January 2013.
Sara Eisen: The Federal Reserve has been a major story of the post-crisis period. Now that QE is ending, the other crisis policies are starting to wind down and we are getting to a place where interest rates are back to normal levels it gets a little tricky. The transition needs to be handled elegantly. It will be interesting to see how the Fed communicates all of this without tipping the economy back into a downturn.
European deflation is also a story. People are worried about what’s happening over there and wondering whether Mario Draghi is going to have to do for Europe what Ben Bernanke did here in the states.
Opportunist: How will the euro farein 2015?
Sara Eisen: The euro is not an easy currency to call. Most analysts will tell you it will be weaker in 2015. It depends on how far Mario Draghi and the European Central Bank are willing to go to fight the current deflationary trend. The bet is on a full-blown QE. Europe could use a weaker currency to help with exports. During some of the depths of the euro debt crisis everyone hated the euro. But it stayed strong, so it's not very easy to predict, especially when everyone's piled into one side of the trade, for now, that's a weak euro.
Another story is the bull market for stocks here in the states and what is fueling that. We are five and a half years in, but how mature is it in this stage? For me, the top story is the U.S. dollar strengthening. We are seeing it take off in a way that it hasn’t in a long time. A strong dollar moves everything from oil to gold to stocks, although it’s becoming an extremely crowded trade. Everyone and their mother loves the dollar now. This is consistent with a more hawkish Fed.
Opportunist: Alibaba reported $9.3B in sales during its ‘Singles Day’ event last week. Do you believe Alibaba will live up to investors’ expectations?
Sara Eisen: It’s certainly stressing out Jack Ma. [Speaking to CNBC from his company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China] he said he needs five to 10 days of sleep. What do I think? Well, I know better than to pick stocks from where I sit. But, it’s hard to deny China’s booming population, booming numbers on consumer spending and Internet use, and there is no better place to play it than Alibaba. The numbers are absolutely staggering.
Opportunist: Consumer confidence in the United States jumped in the third quarter and improved globally. Do you anticipate this trend will continue into 2015?
Sara Eisen: Gas prices below $3 per gallon certainly should help U.S. consumers, but I don’t watch confidence as much as spending. I prefer to watch what they do, not what they say. Monthly retail sales are disappointing. Even best-in-class Macy’s is struggling with negative sales. The lower-income consumer has failed to recover with the rest of the economy. Lower gas prices and job market gains should help but we need to see higher wages and get a better understanding of how consumer tastes and habits change—whether they are moving toward online or going for more personalization. It’s a combination of challenging economics and changing tastes.
Opportunist: Although earnings remain strong, could the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate increase since 2006 ultimately cause market volatility?
Sara Eisen: If you look at history, it’s evident the market moves several months before an interest rate hike begins. It’s consistent with the market anticipating Fed moves and the economy changing. We have a highly communicative Federal Reserve—it’s part of their policy—so the increase is widely anticipated. Most professionals aren’t worried about the first rate hikes and volatility; they are more interested to know how fast those interest rate changes come and whether the economy can sustain them. Judging from Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve, they won’t move too fast.
Opportunist: Who is the most impressive person you have met through your work?
Sara Eisen: I’m lucky because I get to speak with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. This has been a tradition for several years now, and she’s not only one of the most powerful female leaders in the global economy, but also a former politician with a great global grasp and understanding of the economy and its challenges. The IMF is one of the experts on capital flows, currencies and markets, and Christine Lagarde sums it up in a really amazing way. She has become something of a celebrity. Sometimes you feel like you’re talking to a rock star rather than the head of the world’s largest economic think tank.
Opportunist: Where is the global economy headed?
Sara Eisen: It’s struggling to get out of this post financial crisis funk. These are not boom times. There is still a lot of weakness, particularly in the jobs market across the world—it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon. Part of this adjustment process we have seen is what happens when an economy is recovering from a financial crisis. There is continued recovery but it doesn’t feel euphoric or even normal sometimes.
Opportunist: What is it about the foreign exchange market that appeals to you?
Sara Eisen: Forex is the most important market in the world—and the biggest. Trillions of dollars change hands every single day. It’s 24/7, and the only market that moves off anything from politics, to M&A transactions, to sentiment to central bank policy. It’s the backbone of the global financial system and everything cues off forex. To understand forex is everything. That’s why I love it and it never sleeps. That is how I started.
Opportunist: Please tell us about your book and your role as editor on the project.
Sara Eisen: It was my idea to do it. I figured I knew so many smart people with such provocative thoughts and big picture ideas about where currencies are headed, how the system works and which currencies become more powerful. So I gathered some top names across industries and platforms and they each contributed chapters and I wrote the foreword.
Opportunist: Will you write more books in the future?
Sara Eisen: Oh yes, but nothing in the immediate future. I am sure with this dynamic, changing marketplace and global economy—not to mention the international monetary system—there will be plenty of good stories for me to tell.
Opportunist: What do you consider the highlight of your career?
Sara Eisen: I have a lot of highlights, but one that stands out is when Bloomberg sent me to cover the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We thought we would be reporting on their economy—the third largest in the world—and whether it would bounce back, but the nuclear crisis at Fukushima became the most important story. It was scary at times, especially when I was doing reports in a hard hat from underneath my desk, but I’m glad I did it because in business coverage you usually don’t get to do much dangerous field reporting.
Opportunist: What did you learn about the Japanese people?
Sara Eisen: They are amazingly calm. I remember the Japanese government giving hourly updates on radiation and fuel rods, and although electricity was off for most of the city people stood in line at Starbucks in downtown Tokyo in perfect formation, totally calm and polite. We went down to Osaka at one point, and even at the bullet train away from Tokyo and Fukushima people were queued up waiting their turn. This is definitely not a picture you would see in New York City.
Opportunist: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Sara Eisen: Honestly, I can’t even think beyond five minutes [Laughs] but that’s what’s so great about this job. Covering the markets and the global economy is totally nonstop, so my focus is always on who I’m going to talk to the next day, what the next day’s story will be and what I can bring to the table.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Follow Sara Eisen on Twitter: @SaraEisen
Follow “Squawk on the Street” on Twitter: @SquawkStreet
WATCH SARA EISEN ON CNBC:
Kroger’s $3 billion investment in pricing
Rodney McMullen, The Kroger Co. CEO, discusses competition in the grocery industry up against Wal-Mart and other companies. He says the company has invested over $3 billion in pricing over the last 7 years.
Kroger’s mobile shopping app
Discussing the competition Amazon Fresh poses to grocery stores, with Rodney McMullen, The Kroger Co. CEO.
Housing slow climb to normal: Fifth Third CEO
CNBC’s Sara Eisen and Fifth Third Bancorp CEO Kevin Kabat, discuss the impact the end of QE will have on housing and the mortgage business.
Ebola effect on Dallas consumers
CNBC’s Sara Eisen provides insight to new data on consumer behavior in Dallas, Texas, during the first two weeks of October.
Keurig defies industry
CNBC’s Sara Eisen reports on the story of Keurig Green Mountain, which is working on a cold coffee machine for homes.