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CNBC's Schacknow: Subprime, Bank Rates and the Joys of Geekery

Tuesday, 14 Aug 2007 | 4:15 PM ET

Tuning The Radar

The task of watching literally thousands of headlines go by each day in search of breaking news can be mind-numbing.

In order to preserve sanity and still do the job well, any good newsperson will develop a mental filtering system. Basically, you build into your brain a set of keywords, concepts and other parameters which signal possible news, and you learn to filter them in an almost unconscious way, going about your other tasks -- and only snapping to attention when the proper cranial synapses fire.

But every so often, you find it’s time to readjust the radar.

For instance, the daily setting of the LIBOR rate in Europe has, for years, passed by without much notice. (The London Inter-Bank Offered Rate -- as it’s known among people who probably need more interesting conversational topics -- is like the U.S. Federal Funds rate in that it’s a rate banks charge each other for loans.)

But with markets around the world tanking on every subprime-related burp, and banks around the world injecting billions in liquidity as a way of reassuring investors, the LIBOR has suddenly become a hot topic. It’s a way of gauging just what impact the worldwide credit crunch is having on market mentality on a given day.

The LIBOR rate setting is announced around 6:45am ET, and you may have noticed its presence on “Squawk Box” over the past few days.

Also present has been the Fed’s daily consideration of how much money (if any) it decides to inject into the U.S. banking system.

Whereas before it was arcane geekery, it’s now hot stuff. We first hear that the Fed took action, then we have to wait 10 to 15 minutes to find out the exact monetary amount. This, too, has become a staple of “Squawk Box” and Squawk On The Street” over the past few days.

The same sort of mental fine-tuning took place when subprime first became an issue. Now you can bet that any headline containing the word “subprime” or “mortgage” is not going to go unnoticed.

And how comforting is it to know that someone else is monitoring the LIBOR rate for you so that you don’t have to?

Yes, I know what you're thinking: Geek!