Wall Street was fixated on Capitol Hill last week, tracking the prospects for a bailout plan to cleanse banks' balance sheets of troubled...

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Wall Street was fixated on Capitol Hill last week, tracking the prospects for a bailout plan to cleanse banks’ balance sheets of troubled mortgage-backed securities. As the House and Senate debated its merits, the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy tallied up congressional members with backgrounds in economics. It found only 15 percent with degrees in the business, economics or finance fields.

“Financial literacy is woefully inadequate in this country, and we have been advocating for increased education in economics and personal finance in American public schools,” says James Bowers, the group’s managing director. “But after watching the events of this week, a crash course on Capitol Hill might not be a bad place to start.”

Bond bombshell

During September alone, Standard & Poor’s recorded nine corporate-bond defaults, including ones by Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and their subsidiaries. That’s more than half as many as 2007’s full-year total of 16.

The defaults spanned many industries, affecting such companies as Motor Coach Industries International, a maker of luxury and commuter buses; and HRP Myrtle Beach Holdings, which opened a Hard Rock-themed amusement park in South Carolina.

Bad month

September was the worst month for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index in six years. It fell 9.1 percent, its worst showing since September 2002’s 11 percent drop.

Over the credit limit

Financial-services specialists have been busy lately with phone calls from clients and colleagues. Many are frantically placing orders amid the credit market’s turmoil, causing volatile trading activity.

Unfortunately for journalists, this makes experts ever harder to reach. The voice mail greeting of Diane Vazza, head of global fixed-income research at Standard & Poor’s seems to sum it up: “While I’d be happy to return your call promptly, a flurry of calls regarding market conditions causes my message system to shut down every 100 calls. Since I’m tethered to my BlackBerry, alternatively you can e-mail me at … .”

The Associated Press