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Investors Keep Faith in U.S. in Crisis after Crisis
By Bernard Condon, AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Global investors have stayed remarkably confident in the U.S. despite one budget crisis after another. But they're starting to wonder if the latest political impasse will tarnish America's Teflon image.
So far, the nation's reputation as the world's best place to invest remains unshaken. The 10-year Treasury note, the bedrock of the government's debt market, has attracted more money in recent weeks, not less, and the stock market is still close to record highs.
Still, the squabbling in Washington over the debt ceiling, which follows squabbling over automatic spending cuts earlier this year, is severely testing investor patience. Many fear a default would be a tipping point, sending bond and stock prices plunging.
The repeated budgetary brinkmanship is making some question their faith in the U.S.
"The more times you give politicians a chance to completely muck something up, the more chance ... they will do it," says Gary Jenkins, managing director of Swordfish Research in London. "If this were to become a regular occurrence, then, who knows?"
The U.S. Treasury has warned it will run out of money if Congress does not agree to raise a $16.7 trillion cap on borrowing by Oct. 17 and allow it to issue more debt. That has raised the specter that the U.S. won't be able to pay interest on its debt. Republicans say they won't allow more borrowing unless Democrats agree to restructure benefits programs or cut the deficit; the White House has ruled out negotiations tied to the debt cap.
The Treasury says a default on bond payments could freeze global credit, spike borrowing costs and trigger a collapse worse than the Great Recession.
Even with such a dire scenario, investors continue to buy Treasurys. On Tuesday, the yield on the 10-year note, which falls when investors buy, was 2.63 percent, near a two-month low.
U.S. stocks fell again on Tuesday, the 11th drop in the last 14 trading days. Still, the Standard and Poor's 500 index reached an all-time high just three weeks ago and is only 4 percent below that peak.
The debt ceiling fight echoes the Congressional standoff over the same issue in the summer of 2011.
Experts say the U.S. attracts money now for the same reason it did back then: Many other countries are faring worse than the U.S. China, India and Brazil are slowing dramatically. Japan is struggling to shake off a two-decade slump. The 17 countries of the eurozone have just emerged from a recession.
"We're the best of worst," says David Sherman, head of Cohanzick Management, a manager of bond funds. He adds that the U.S. tends to "bounce back" from crises.
In the 2011 crisis, for example, U.S. stock prices dropped, but recovered most of their losses by the end of the year.
Many investors think the costs of a default are too high for politicians not to raise the borrowing cap before the deadline. But they're still worried. Congress hasn't agreed on a spending bill for the new budget year that began Oct. 1. A lack of funding led to a partial shutdown of the government, which entered its ninth day on Wednesday.
"If we're having trouble with this government shutdown, and no negotiation, what's going to happen in two weeks?" asks Talley Leger, a strategist Macro Vision Research, an investment consultancy.
Leger thinks it may take a further drop in stocks, perhaps a big one, to force lawmakers to compromise.
The precedent for this is the 778-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average on Sept. 29, 2008, after Congress rejected a $700 billion bailout bill, known as Troubled Asset Relief Program. The TARP bill was passed within days.
"This whole shutdown could easily drag out to the debt deadline," says Bill Strazzullo, chief market strategist of Bell Curve Trading.
His guess is that the Dow falls to 14,200 - down 576 points from Tuesday's close.
The prospects for U.S. bonds are more complicated.
When investors anticipate a crisis, they tend to buy U.S. bonds. Treasurys are one of the mostly widely held assets in the world, so it's easy to buy and sell them, even when people are panicking.
"People crave Treasurys because it is the most liquid market," says Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo.
After the rating agency Standard and Poor's stripped the U.S. of its top credit rating in August 2011, people bought more U.S. debt. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell below 2 percent for the first time in a half century.
"For all its theatrical problems, the U.S. is still a haven," says Marshall Mays, director of Hong Kong-based Emerging Alpha Advisors. Mays says money should continue to flow to the U.S. from Asia.
There is another reason to buy Treasurys. The worse things get, the less likely it is that the Federal Reserve will slow its economic stimulus. The Fed is buying $85 billion in Treasury and other bonds each month, driving bond prices up and their interest rates down. The goal is to lower rates on consumer loans, which are pegged to Treasurys.
The Fed extended that program last month, partly because it though the economy still needed help. Now, with the shutdown dragging on the economy, the Fed could keep buying bonds, continuing to make them attractive investments.
Randall Warren, chief investment officer of Warren Financial Service in Exton, Penn., says the Washington standoff might not be bad for another reason.
If Americans are made aware of their large debt, he says, they may be more willing to accept an increase in taxes or a cut in spending. "The easier it will be for Congress to dish out the medicine."
A default on Treasurys would be a step too far, though, says Dariusz Kowalczyk, Hong Kong-based senior Asia economist at Credit Agricole CIB. "People would be just afraid of holding Treasurys and to a smaller degree in holding the dollar."
AP Business Writers Steve Rothwell in New York, Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris contributed to this report.
More Business News
Last Update on April 21, 2014 07:28 GMT
BEIJING (AP) -- Asian stocks were mixed today in light trading after Japan reported a jump in its trade deficit and investors looked ahead to economic data this week from China and Korea.
Investors are waiting for the preliminary version of HSBC Corp.'s survey of Chinese manufacturing due out Wednesday for signs of whether an economic slowdown has bottomed out.
Benchmark crude oil fell but remained above $104 a barrel. The dollar gained against the yen and was flat against the euro.
ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD
Business events and economic reports scheduled for the coming week
WASHINGTON -- There's only one major economic report due out today. It's the leading indicators for March from the Conference Board.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, housing will be the focus of two reports. The National Association of Realtors will release existing home sales for March tomorrow. And on Wednesday, the Commerce Department will release new home sales for March.
The government will report the weekly jobless claims on Thursday. Also, the Commerce Department will release the durable goods numbers for March. And Freddie Mac will report weekly mortgage rates.
NEW YORK (AP) -- A quarterly survey from the National Association of Business Economics finds that rising costs for materials and labor appear to be pressuring businesses.
During the first quarter of the year, 31 percent of businesses surveyed reported higher material costs. That's more than double the 15 percent that saw costs rise in the previous survey. Thirty-five percent of respondents reported rising wages and salaries at their businesses in the past three months, up from 23 percent in January.
Yet those who said they raised the prices they charge in the past three months remained unchanged at 20 percent.
The survey of 72 members was conducted between March 18 and April 1.
The survey findings say it appears businesses weren't able to "pass on costs increases, resulting in increased pressure on margins."
UNDATED (AP) -- Providence, R.I. is suing dozens of Wall Street banks and other financial companies over high-frequency trading.
The suit says stock exchanges, investment banks and others defrauded investors by manipulating market data in favor of split-second stock-trading firms.
The suit's defendants include the Nasdaq Stock Market and the New York Stock Exchange; major banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup; and trading firms including Chopper Trading and Jump Trading.
The lawsuit comes amid heightened government scrutiny into whether advantages in computer hardware and placement enable some to get millisecond timing advances on trades.
The federal complaint was filed Friday in New York on behalf of investors who traded stocks in the U.S. since April 18, 2009.
GENERAL MILLS-LEGAL TERMS
NEW YORK (AP) -- General Mills is scrapping a controversial plan to strip consumers of their right to sue the food company.
The company, which owns Cheerios, Progresso and Yoplait, had posted a notice on its website notifying visitors that using the company's websites or engaging with it online in a variety of other ways meant they would have to give up their right to sue.
The Minnesota-based company said that people instead would have to resolve disputes through informal negotiation or arbitration.
The change was widely denounced on social media after The New York Times first reported it Wednesday. General Mills said in a statement emailed to media outlets late Saturday that it would revert back to its previous legal terms.
TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's trade deficit surged nearly 70 percent to a record 13.75 trillion yen ($134 billion) in the last fiscal year as exports failed to keep pace with surging costs for imported oil and gas.
The Finance Ministry reported Monday that exports in the year that ended March 31 rose 10.8 percent over the year before to 70.8 trillion yen ($690.5 billion) while imports climbed 17.3 percent to 84.6 trillion yen ($825 billion).
Resource-scarce Japan's costs for imports of energy have soared since the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant led to the closures of all of its nuclear reactors for safety checks.
Meanwhile, a weakening of the Japanese yen last year further pushed costs for all imports higher, while exports have risen only modestly.
BEIJING (AP) -- Global and Chinese automakers are looking to the Beijing auto show to help boost sales in a slowing, intensely competitive market.
Brands from General Motors Co. to Chinese SUV maker Great Wall Motors are unveiling new and restyled sedans, sport utility vehicles and other models at Auto China 2014 this week.
China is the world's biggest auto market, with 17.9 million vehicles sold last year. But sales growth is forecast to slow from last year's 15.7 percent to 8 to 10 percent this year. And competition is intense, with global automakers jostling with 25 local brands for sales.
Ambitious domestic brands such as Chery Ltd. are losing ground to foreign rivals. Sales by Chinese independent brands shrank 2.6 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The State Department is giving federal agencies more time to review the Keystone XL pipeline before deciding whether to issue a permit.
That could push a decision about the controversial oil pipeline until after the midterm elections in November.
The State Department is citing a recent decision by a Nebraska judge that overturned a state law that allowed the pipeline's path through the state. The State Department says that created uncertainty and ongoing litigation.
The government is not saying how much longer the review will take. But it says the process isn't starting over.
The pipeline has become a politically fraught issue. Republicans criticize President Barack Obama for taking too long to decide. The State Department has jurisdiction because the pipeline would cross the border between the U.S. and Canada.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A study paid for by the federal government says biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term.
The research published in the journal Nature Climate Change challenges the Obama administration's conclusions that biofuels are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help fight climate change.
The study is being criticized by the biofuels industry and Obama administration as flawed.
Corn residue is one of the most promising ways to make cellulosic biofuels. Biofuels have struggled to reach the volumes required by law.
The administration and biofuel supporters claim biofuels are better for the environment than are gasoline and corn ethanol.
A 2007 law requires that they release 60 percent less carbon than gas to qualify as renewable fuel.
DETROIT (AP) -- Government documents show that General Motors waited years to recall nearly 335,000 Saturn Ions for power steering failures despite getting thousands of consumer complaints and warranty repair claims.
Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn't seek a recall of the 2004-2007 compact cars even though it opened an investigation more than two years ago. The government's auto safety watchdog found the problem caused 12 crashes and two injuries.
The documents, posted on the NHTSA's website Saturday, show yet another delay by GM in recalling unsafe vehicles. It's also another example of government regulators reacting slowly to a safety problem despite being alerted by consumers and the company's warranty data.
GM and NHTSA were criticized for their response to a deadly ignition-switch problem in more than 2.6 million small cars.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Kraft Foods is recalling 96,000 pounds of its Oscar Mayer wieners because they may mistakenly contain cheese.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said Sunday that packages of Kraft's "Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners" may instead contain the company's "Classic Cheese Dogs."
The agency says the product labels are incorrect and do not reflect the ingredients associated with the pasteurized cheese in the cheese dogs. Those products were made with milk and the known allergen is not declared on the label.
It said the problem was discovered by a consumer who notified Kraft on Friday. The company alerted the USDA the following day, according to the statement.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A new government report says the Internal Revenue Service audits less than 1 percent of large partnerships, and that's drawing criticism from Congress.
The Government Accountability Office says the number of large businesses organized as partnerships has more than tripled since 2002, yet hardly any get close scrutiny by the IRS. In 2012, only 0.8 percent were subjected to field exams in which agents do a thorough review of books and records.
The GAO defines large partnerships as those with more than 100 partners and more than $100 million in assets.
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan says many of the largest hedge funds and private equity firms are escaping IRS scrutiny.
The report says the audit rate has been persistently low since at least 2007.
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