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 July 28, 2015 17:06 GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. home prices rose at a steady pace in May, pushed higher by a healthy increase in sales this year.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased 4.9 percent in May from a year prior, and down slightly from a 5 percent pace in April.
Home sales have jumped in recent months as an improving economy boosts hiring and enables more people to afford a purchase. Yet the higher sales haven't encouraged more people to sell their homes, leaving supplies tight and pushing up prices.
The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. The index measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The May figures are the latest available.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Conference Board says its index of consumer confidence dropped this month on worries about the future.
The index fell to 90.9 in July from a revised 99.8 in June. Consumers' assessment of current conditions fell slightly to 107.4 from 110.3, but their outlook for the future dropped sharply to 79.9 this month from 92.8 in June.
Lynn Franco, a conference board economist, says consumers may have been rattled by the debt standoff in Greece and a stock market plunge in China. She says overall, "the index remains at levels associated with an expanding economy and a relatively confident consumer."
NEW YORK (AP) -- Small businesses will soon be able to get loans approved again by the federal government.
The House has passed and sent to President Barack Obama a bill raising the lending authority for the Small Business Administration's biggest loan program, known as the 7(a) program. Loan approvals went on hold Thursday when the SBA reached its $18.75 billion annual limit for loan guarantees.
The bill, passed earlier by the Senate, raises the lending limit to $23.5 billion.
The SBA reached its annual limit with more than two months left in the government's fiscal year. The agency has had an influx of applications because owners are willing to take on more risks including loans after cutting back during the recession and its aftermath. Last year, the SBA didn't approach the limit until September, but Congress raised the ceiling before it was reached.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the Obama administration wants to expand the Pell grant program to prisoners.
He and Attorney General Loretta Lynch will visit the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland, on Friday to announce the plans.
In a speech Monday, Duncan said the administration wants to develop "experimental sites that will make Pell grants available" to inmates so they can get training for jobs.
Prisoners in federal or state institutions are not currently eligible for Pell grants, which are for lower-income people and do not have to be repaid.
NEW YORK (AP) -- SuperValu says it's considering spinning off its discount grocer Save-A-Lot into a separate publicly traded company as competition in the industry intensifies.
The company says the split will help each company focus on finding ways to grow. SuperValu Inc. has been getting smaller in recent years, selling its Albertson's, Jewel-Osco and other chains.
Rival chains have been combining. Last month, the owner of Stop & Shop and Giant stores said it would merge with the parent company of Food Lion to operate 6,500 stores around the world.
Save-A-Lot has more than 1,300 stores around the country, selling fresh meat, vegetables and other groceries. Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based SuperValu distributes grocery items to nearly 3,600 stores and also operates the Cub Foods and Shop `N Save chains.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Microsoft's new Windows 10 operating system debuts tomorrow, as the longtime leader in PC software struggles to carve out a new role in a world where people increasingly rely on smartphones, tablets and information stored online.
No one's expected to line up overnight for Windows 10, the way people did 20 years ago for Windows 95. But Microsoft is counting on tens or even hundreds of millions of people to download its latest release for free in the coming months. The launch will be accompanied by a global marketing campaign for an event the company hopes will be pivotal -- both for its own future and for a vast audience of computer users around the world.
Windows 10 is coming to PCs and tablets first, but it's also designed to run phones, game consoles and even holographic headsets. It has new features, a streamlined Web browser called Edge and a desktop version of Cortana, the online assistant that is Microsoft's answer to Google Now and Apple's Siri.
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford Motor Co. (F) reports second-quarter earnings of $1.89 billion.
On a per-share basis, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said it had profit of 47 cents.
The results beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 35 cents per share.
The automaker posted revenue of $37.3 billion in the period, which beat Street forecasts. Seven analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $35.93 billion.
Ford shares have decreased 6 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has stayed nearly flat. The stock has decreased 17 percent in the last 12 months.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Pfizer's second-quarter earnings fell 10 percent, as the largest U.S. drugmaker absorbed revenue hits from a stronger U.S. dollar and the loss of patent protection for some key products. But the maker of Viagra and the painkiller Celebrex topped expectations for the quarter and raised its 2015 forecast.
Shares of the New York company climbed today before the market opened.
Pfizer also raised its earnings forecast. The company now expects 2015 adjusted earnings of $2.01 to $2.07 per share, up from its previous forecast for $1.95 to $2.05 per share.
Analysts forecast, on average, earnings of $2.06 per share, according to FactSet.
UNDATED (AP) -- Merck & Co.'s second-quarter profit plunged by two-thirds, hammered by the sale of its consumer business, unfavorable currency exchange rates, lower sales of some key drugs and hefty one-time charges.
Merck, which makes the Gardasil cancer vaccine and diabetes pill Januvia, says that net income was $687 million. That's down from $2 billion in 2014's second quarter.
Merck says it's signed an agreement to buy cCAM Biotherapeutics, a developer of cancer immunotherapy treatments, for up to $605 million, hinged on some of its drugs getting approved and meeting sales milestones. Keytruda, which had sales of $110 million in the quarter, also is in that growing new class of drugs, which use different mechanisms to boost the immune system and help it fight cancer.
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) -- DuPont's second-quarter profit fell 12 percent, and the chemical company lowered its forecast for the year after a stronger dollar and a sales drop in its agriculture segment affected results.
The company also cut its quarterly dividend from 49 cents to 38 cents. DuPont plans to buy back $2 billion in stock this year and another $2 billion next year with proceeds from its spinoff of its Chemours business.
The Wilmington, Delaware-based company now expects 2015 adjusted earnings to total about $3.10 per share, compared with a previous forecast for $4 per share. Company officials said most of that decrease came from removing results from its now-separated Chemours business.
DETROIT (AP) -- Ally Financial Inc. (ALLY) is reporting second-quarter profit of $182 million.
On a per-share basis, the Detroit-based company said it had net loss of $2.22. Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, came to 46 cents per share.
The results surpassed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 44 cents per share.
The auto finance company and bank posted revenue of $1.13 billion in the period, which fell short of Street forecasts. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $1.27 billion.
Ally Financial shares have decreased roughly 9 percent since the beginning of the year. The stock has dropped 10 percent in the last 12 months.
EARNS-UNITED PARCEL SERVICE
ATLANTA (AP) -- Overseas business helped UPS during its second quarter, as did the absence of a hefty charge recorded a year ago.
The package-delivery company earned $1.23 billion for the three months ended June 30. A year earlier it earned $454 million.
Last year's quarter included a $665 million charge for the transfer of some post-retirement liabilities to defined-contribution health care plans.
The Atlanta company's revenue slipped $14.1 billion from $14.27 billion, hindered by lower fuel surcharges and foreign currency fluctuations.
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