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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 March 07, 2014 18:27 GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. hiring improved in February from the previous two months despite a blast of wintry weather, likely renewing hopes that growth will accelerate this year.
The Labor Department says employers added 175,000 jobs last month, up from just 129,000 in January, which was revised up from 113,000.
The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from a five-year low 6.6 percent. More Americans started looking for work but didn't find jobs. That's still an encouraging sign because more job hunters suggest that people were more optimistic about their prospects.
The figures were a welcome surprise after recent economic reports showed that harsh weather closed factories, lowered auto sales, and caused existing-home sales to plummet.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. trade deficit widened slightly in January as a rise in imports of oil and other foreign goods offset a solid increase in exports.
The Commerce Department says the trade deficit increased to $39.1 billion, up 0.3 percent from December's revised $39 billion deficit.
Exports climbed 0.6 percent to $192.8 billion, led by increased sales of U.S.-made machinery, aircraft and medical equipment. Imports also rose 0.6 percent to $231.6 billion, reflecting a 9 percent jump in imports of petroleum. Imports of food and machinery also rose.
The trade deficit is the difference between imports and exports. A higher trade deficit acts as a drag on economic growth because it means U.S. companies are making less overseas then their foreign competitors are earning in U.S. sales.
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- L.L. Bean says it had a record year for profits and saw revenue growth of 3 percent.
CEO Chris McCormick told workers on Friday that after four consecutive years of growth, the Maine-based retailer is ready to accelerate expansion plans. He says the privately held company plans its largest single-year capital investment and will spend an additional $100 million on website changes, retail expansion and business systems.
The company's performance beat the industry average.
L.L. Bean's board was happy enough with the revenue gain to authorize an 8 percent bonus for full-time workers. That's the biggest bonus since 2005.
In a memo to Bean's 5,100 full- and part-time workers, McCormick said the company has been conservative for the past few years and is now ready to "grab market share."
NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of Coupons.com are close to doubling in their first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
The stock gained $14.40, or 90 percent, to $30.40 in morning trading.
Coupons.com Inc. delivers digital coupons and coupon codes to consumers. It priced its initial public offering of 10.5 million shares at $16 per share. The company had initially expected to offer 10 million shares and expected them to be priced between $12 and $14 per share.
The Mountain View, Calif., company raised $168 million from the IPO.
Coupons.com had 2013 revenue of $167.9 million, up from $112.1 million in the prior year.
The stock is trading under the "COUP" ticker symbol.
CHILD SEAT RECALL
DETROIT (AP) -- The federal government is ordering child seat maker Graco to explain why it didn't include 1.8 million infant seats in a recall for faulty buckles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says Graco has until March 20 to explain why last month's recall of 3.8 million child seats didn't include infant seats, which have the same buckles that can get stuck on the child seats.
Graco has said the child seat buckles get stuck because children drop food or drinks on them. It is sending replacement buckles to owners for free. It will also send replacement buckles for infant seats if owners request them.
NHTSA says Graco will face fines of $7,000 per day if its response is late or incomplete.
Graco said Friday it will comply with the request for an explanation.
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- A federal audit finds New Jersey did nothing wrong when it used a no-bid contract to hire a firm to clean up debris left behind by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
But the U.S. Homeland Security Department says that towns that continued to use the firm for more than 60 days without putting the work out to bid might not be fully reimbursed by the federal government.
The contract and the firm, Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based AshBritt, drew the ire of lawmakers months after Sandy struck. That marked the first major political debate over how Gov. Chris Christie's administration responded to Sandy.
The audit was made public Thursday by Christie's office.
Christie's office criticized Democrats and the media for treating the contract as a scandal.
MIAMI (AP) -- A former law partner of convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein has been charged with conspiring to violate federal campaign contribution laws.
Court records show charges were filed Friday against Russell Adler, who was a principal in the now-defunct Fort Lauderdale law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. The firm was liquidated after Rothstein's $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme was exposed in fall 2009.
Adler is charged with helping orchestrate thousands of dollars in bundled contributions from the firm's employees and attorneys to John McCain's 2008 campaign for president and Charlie Crist's run for the U.S. Senate. The contributions were illegally reimbursed by the law firm.
There is no indication that McCain or Crist knew of the illegal scheme. Adler has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Rothstein is serving a 50-year prison sentence.
Company confirms feds investigate visa use
An international tech consulting firm confirms the federal government is investigating its use of U.S. work visas.
A Mu Sigma spokeswoman told The Associated Press authorities asked the company to provide information related to its visas, and the company is cooperating fully.
Privately held Mu Sigma is headquartered in Illinois. CEO Dhiraj Rajaram also runs the company from offices in India.
Federal records show the company has brought in nearly 150 H-1B temporary workers since 2009. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
The company declined to clarify whether the investigation is targeting H-1B or business visas.
Last year, tech giant Infosys settled a federal case for $34 million over allegations it used business visas to bring in temporary workers hired out for consulting work.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent's pay fell 16 percent last year because his performance-based bonus took a hit.
Muhtar Kent's pay package was worth $18.2 million for 2013, according to a regulatory filing made with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday. That's down from the $21.6 million he earned the previous year.
The decline was primarily the result of a lower performance-based bonus, which fell to $2.2 million, from $6 million the previous year. That was the result of lower sales volume growth of just 2 percent for the year, compared with 4 percent the previous year.
A new cap was also put into place for the bonus, based on feedback from shareholders.
The AP's calculation counts salary, bonuses, perks, stock and options awarded to the executive during the year.
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