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 May 22, 2015 17:17 GMT
UNDATED (AP) -- Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says she expects the Fed to begin raising interest rates later this year -- if the job market improves and it is confident that inflation will rise closer toward its target rate.
But she cautions that the economy is still facing a number of headwinds that could stall growth.
In a speech in Rhode Island, Yellen highlighted problems such as disappointing wage growth and a significant number of people working part time who would like full time jobs. She also mentioned a weak housing recovery and global economic weakness.
But Yellen says because the Fed's interest rate moves take time to filter through the economy, she believes further improvements in the economy will likely make it prudent to start raising rates later this year.
HAMPTON, N.H. (AP) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton says Republicans in Congress and GOP presidential hopefuls are threatening tens of thousands of small-business jobs by seeking to cut a little-known government agency that guarantees loans to help U.S. exporters.
The Democratic presidential contender said during a round-table discussion at Smuttynose Brewery in New Hampshire that Congress should renew financing for the Export-Import Bank. She argues the GOP is risking up to 164,000 jobs supported by the bank.
She says Republicans running in the 2016 campaign would rather threaten the jobs than "stand up to the tea party and talk radio."
Conservatives have sought to eliminate the Export-Import Bank, arguing it gives the government too big a role in helping some large American companies sell products overseas at the expense of others.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumer prices were up slightly in April, but overall gains were held back by another decline in energy costs that offset the biggest one-month jump in medical care in eight years.
The Labor Department says consumer prices edged up 0.1 percent last month compared to March, when prices rose a modest 0.2 percent. It was the smallest monthly gain since prices fell 0.7 percent in January.
Energy costs were down 1.3 percent and food prices were unchanged, keeping inflation low.
Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, increased 0.3 percent. It was the biggest gain in 15 months. Core inflation was driven higher by a 0.7 percent rise in medical care, reflecting a surge in hospital costs.
Inflation pressures have generally been well contained since the recession.
OIL PLATFORM FIRE
Coast Guard: Fire on Gulf oil platform; 28 workers evacuated
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Twenty-eight workers have been evacuated from an oil production platform that is on fire off Louisiana's coast.
A Coast Guard news release says the fire was reported at 2:50 a.m. Friday near Breton Island, which is close to Louisiana's southeastern coast. Production was shut down, and no injuries have been reported.
The Coast Guard reported a light sheen of oil could be seen from the air along a more than one-mile stretch of water. Also, about 4,000 barrels of crude oil is stored on the platform. Authorities are working to put out the fire and keep that oil from getting into the water.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
CALIFORNIA OIL SPILL
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Federal regulators have ordered the company whose pipeline spilled thousands of gallons of oil across a California coastline to take a series of steps before it can restart the line.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced a so-called corrective action against Plains All American Pipeline on Friday.
The order requires the company to remove the damaged section of pipe, test it and empty the remainder of the line.
The agency says it still does not know the cause of the leak, which spilled up to 105,000 gallons of crude into a coastal ditch Tuesday. Thousands of gallons flowed into the sea northwest of Santa Barbara.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal appeals court says America's largest tobacco companies must inform consumers that cigarettes were formulated to increase addiction, but not that they lied about the dangers of smoking.
The ruling Friday from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a partial win for cigarette makers that objected to running court-ordered advertisements that would have the companies brand themselves as liars.
The ads would have begun with a statement that the companies "deliberately deceived the American public." The ads stem from a 2006 court ruling ordering the companies to admit they had lied for decades about the dangers of smoking.
The companies called that statement overbroad and misleading.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Wal-Mart, the nation's largest food retailer, is urging its thousands of U.S. suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals and improve treatment of them.
That means asking meat producers, eggs suppliers and others to use antibiotics only for disease prevention or treatment, not to fatten their animals, a common industry practice. The guidelines also aim to get suppliers to stop using sow gestation crates and other housing that lacks sufficient space.
They're also being asked to avoid painful procedures like de-horning or castration without proper pain management.
Wal-Mart wants suppliers to provide it with an annual report and publicly report their progress on their own websites.
Wal-Mart is facing pressure from shoppers who want to know more about how their food is produced.
MOLINE, Ill. (AP) -- Solid sales of its construction equipment offset a global agricultural slowdown for Deere, the company said Friday. It also raised its outlook for the year.
The Moline, Illinois, company said its second-quarter earnings fell 30 percent to $690.5 million, compared with $981 million last year, but it was still better than Wall Street had expected.
Deere said sales of farming equipment fell 25 percent from a year ago to $5.77 billion in the second quarter, while sales of construction and forestry equipment rose 2 percent to $1.63 billion. Deere's financing unit, which gives loans to customers to buy equipment, also improved, with revenue rising 14 percent to $653 million.
Profit for 2015 is now expected to be around $1.9 billion, the company said, up slightly from the $1.8 billion it had projected earlier this year.
FRISCH'S BIG BOY-SALE
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Frisch's Big Boy restaurants are being sold to a private equity fund, ending family ownership of the Cincinnati-based chain that dates to its first drive-thru in 1939.
Frisch's Restaurants Inc. says NRD Partners I will buy all outstanding shares for $34 each, or some $175 million. Frisch's shares closed Thursday at $28.12.
The regional chain with the iconic Big Boy mascot owns some 95 family restaurants in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Its website states it has another 26 operated in the region by licensees.
CEO Craig Maier and marketing Vice President Karen Maier will retire, but continue as franchisees.
The deal is expected to close by the end of September.
Frisch's last month reported $47 million in revenue for its fiscal third quarter, with 45 cents earnings per share.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Expedia is selling its majority stake in eLong, a Chinese travel service, to a group of businesses based in China for roughly $671 million.
The news sent shares of the online travel company up more than 5 percent in early trading Friday.
Bellevue, Washington-based Expedia said before the U.S. markets opened that it had sold its 62.4 percent share in eLong to a group that includes Ctrip.com International Ltd., Keystone Lodgings Holdings Ltd., Plateno Group Ltd. and Luxuriant Holdings Ltd.
ELong had reportedly been a drag on Expedia's earnings. The company said the transaction closed Friday.
Expedia's stock was up $5.62 to $111.45 early Friday, after rising as high as $115 earlier in the session.
VANGUARD NATURAL RESOURCES-EAGLE ROCK
HOUSTON (AP) -- Vanguard Natural Resources LLC will acquire Eagle Rock Energy Partners LP in a $474 million deal.
The agreement was announced Thursday by the Houston-based companies.
Vanguard Natural Resources will also assume $140 million of debt from Eagle Rock Energy Partners, which will become a wholly owned indirect subsidiary.
The agreement requires approval of the boards of both companies.
Vanguard Natural Resources deals in acquisition, production and development of oil and natural gas properties. The company has operations in Texas, Wyoming, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Dakota.
Eagle Rock Energy Partners is also involved with oil and natural gas properties.
RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel (AHN'-geh-lah MEHR'-kuhl) says after talks with her Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras (TSEE'-prahs) that there is still "a whole lot left to be done" to avoid a financial meltdown in Athens.
Merkel and French President Francois Hollande (frahn-SWAH' oh-LAWND') spoke for some two hours with Tsipras at the Eastern Partnership summit and the German leader said Friday that "very, very intensive work is still needed."
The three met to pave the way for a special eurozone meeting of finance ministers late this month or early June.
The meeting came a day after a leading official from Tsipras' party said that Greece will not be able to repay a loan to the International Monetary Fund early next month unless a deal is reached with its creditors to unblock bailout funds.
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- European Central Bank head Mario Draghi (DRAHG'-ee) says governments that share the euro currency shouldn't wait for better times to push through reforms that would boost sluggish growth.
Draghi said tough measures to clear away bureaucracy and make hiring and firing more flexible are needed quickly to energize the economy.
He rejected arguments that looser hiring and firing rules only work over the long term and could hurt the hesitant recovery that is taking hold. He said that "the sooner they take place, the better."
Draghi spoke Friday at an ECB conference in Sintra, Portugal, where economists are discussing ways to lower unemployment. The jobless rate is 11.3 percent for the 19 European Union member countries that use the euro, and 50 percent for young people in Spain and Greece.
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