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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.
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Last Update on November 21, 2014 18:31 GMT
BEIJING (AP) -- China's central bank unexpectedly slashed interest rates on Friday to re-energize the world's No. 2 economy, joining a growing list of major economies that are trying to encourage growth in the face of a global slowdown.
On top of the rate cut, Chinese authorities promised to inject credit into the financial system if needed.
The People's Bank of China said it is trying to address "financing difficulties" caused by a shortage of credit. It also said the move was not a change in monetary policy and economic conditions are within an "appropriate range."
China's economic growth fell to a five-year low of 7.3 percent in the latest quarter and manufacturing and other indicators are declining. That has prompted suggestions Beijing might intervene to prop up growth.
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- European Central Bank head Mario Draghi says the chief monetary authority for the eurozone is willing to "step up the pressure" and broaden its stimulus efforts to help the struggling economy.
Draghi said Friday at a banking congress in Frankfurt, Germany that if current efforts do not achieve the desired effect the ECB could "broaden even more the channels through which we intervene."
The ECB has already lowered its benchmark interest rate to near zero and started purchasing bonds made up of bank loans to companies -- an effort to boost lending and economic activity.
Some economists think the bank could widen the bond purchases to include corporate or government bonds in an effort to pump newly created money into the financial system -- so-called quantitative easing, or QE.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in 34 U.S. states in October, a sign that steady hiring this year has been broadly dispersed through most of the country.
The Labor Department says unemployment rates rose in just 5 states, the fewest since April. Rates were unchanged in 11 states.
Nationwide, employers added 214,000 jobs in October, the ninth straight month of gains above 200,000. That's the longest such stretch since 1995. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, a six-year low, from 5.9 percent. Steady economic growth has prompted more companies to add jobs, though the additional hiring hasn't yet boosted wages.
Georgia had the highest unemployment rate, at 7.7 percent, though that was down from 7.9 percent in September. North Dakota continued to have the lowest rate, at 2.8 percent.
DETROIT (AP) -- Toyota is recalling nearly 423,000 Lexus luxury brand cars in the U.S. to fix fuel leaks that can cause fires.
The recalls affect the 2006 to 2011 GS, 2007 to 2010 LS and the 2006 to 2011 IS models.
Toyota says the cars' fuel lines have nickel phosphate plating to protect against corrosion. Some lines could have been built with particles coming in contact with a gasket. That can cause the sealing property to deteriorate and cause fuel leaks.
Toyota says it's not aware of any fires or injuries caused by the problem. The company found it after getting complaints of fuel odors.
Dealers will repair the gasket seating surface at no cost to owners.
Some of the Lexuses were recalled in 2009 to fix leaks in aluminum fuel pipes.
TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's transport ministry has told air bag maker Takata to conduct an internal investigation after cases of its air bags exploding triggered safety concerns in the U.S. and other countries.
Transport Minister Akihiro Ohta said Friday that the ministry ordered Takata Corp. to conduct its own investigation into the air bags and report back. The ministry's direct instruction to an auto parts maker is considered rare.
The ministry also ordered Takata and Japanese automakers to study whether additional recalls are needed at home following a U.S. decision to expand recalls nationwide from an earlier measure limited to high-humidity zones.
Takata air bags can inflate with excessive force, sending metal shrapnel toward the driver and passengers. The problems have caused six deaths and dozens of injuries.
FORD PICKUP-FUEL ECONOMY
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford says its new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup will get up to 26 mpg on the highway, making it the most fuel efficient gas-powered full-size pickup.
The Ram truck is the current leader among pickups, getting up to 25 mpg on the highway with a gas engine.
Fuel economy is a key data point for the new F-150, which is arriving at dealerships this week. Ford shaved 700 pounds off the weight of the truck by switching the body from steel to lightweight aluminum, a dramatic change for the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.
The F-150 will get 26 mpg on the highway with a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine, which is a $495 option. That is 13 percent better than the outgoing truck's 23 mpg.
ETHANOL IN GASOLINE
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to reduce the amount of ethanol in the nation's fuel supply.
Last year the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to reduce the amount of ethanol in fuel for the first time. The decision angered corn growers and ethanol companies who have since lobbied the government to reverse the decision.
The EPA said Friday it expects to make a final decision next year.
The ethanol targets are required by a 2007 law that tried to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and boost the rural economy by requiring oil companies to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into gasoline annually.
Lawmakers did not anticipate fuel economy would improve as much as it has in recent years, reducing overall demand for gasoline.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House says President Barack Obama's immigration executive actions would boost the economy by expanding the U.S. labor force and increasing worker productivity. It says average wages would rise over a 10 year period, a claim that Obama critics and even some labor allies dispute.
The report by Obama's Council of Economic Advisers estimates the administrative actions would increase the gross domestic product by $90 billion, or 0.4 percent, over 10 years. It says wages for native workers will rise by 0.3 percent by 2024
The report aims to counter critics such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, who say the executive measures would reduce wages and cost American workers' jobs. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also says Obama's moves to provide access to temporary visas could suppress wages in the tech sector.
Obama's actions could spare nearly 5 million immigrants illegally in the U.S. from deportation and make them eligible for work permits.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Online streaming service Aereo says that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying an unfavorable ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court was too difficult to overcome.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Aereo operates much like a cable TV company. As a result, the court said the service violates copyright law unless Aereo pays broadcasters licensing fees for offering TV station programs to customers' tablets, phones and other gadgets.
CEO Chet Kanojia said in a statement Friday on the company's website that the Supreme Court decision "effectively changed the laws that had governed Aereo's technology, creating regulatory and legal uncertainty."
Kanojia said that the Chapter 11 filing will allow Aereo Inc. to maximize the value of its business while avoiding the cost and distraction of litigation.
PARIS (AP) -- HSBC says it has been placed under formal investigation in France over services it offered to clients required to pay taxes in France.
In a statement Friday, Switzerland-based HSBC Private Bank said French investigators demanded a 50 million euro ($62 million) bond.
France's government is increasingly cracking down on tax dodgers, including establishing an office dedicated solely to investigating financial crimes.
HSBC said the investigation involves the bank's actions from 2006-2007.
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister says there should be no intervention in global energy production, even as the country's economy takes a hit from rapidly falling oil prices.
After a meeting with his Saudi counterpart in Moscow, Sergei Lavrov said both Russia and Saudi Arabia did not want oil production targets to be affected by "political or geopolitical designs."
The theory that the United States has manipulated global oil production to bring down prices is a popular theme on state-owned television in Russia, where the economy and state budget are heavily dependent on oil exports.
Also on Monday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told Russian news agencies that the government was reviewing the possibility of lowering oil production, but still wasn't sure whether such a move would be feasible.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A drilling company says a worker killed in an offshore explosion was cleaning a piece of equipment during routine maintenance at its oil-and-gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Houston-based Fieldwood Energy LLC says another worker suffered "visible injury" and two other workers reported ringing in their ears. The company says the three injured workers have been released from the hospital.
Fieldwood says the worker who was killed Thursday was cleaning a piece of equipment that separates oil from water liquids when an "isolated pressure event" occurred. The company says the victim was employed by the Louisiana company Turnkey Cleaning Services, which specializes in cleaning offshore facilities.
The explosion happened on the Echo Platform, which is about 12 miles offshore near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
DOW CHEMICAL-THIRD POINT
NEW YORK (AP) -- Dow Chemical Co. says it will add four new members to its board of directors after pressure from hedge fund activist Daniel Loeb's Third Point.
Shares of the specialty chemicals maker rose 2.6 percent to $52.82 in morning trading Friday.
The new additions are Mark Loughridge, Raymond Milchovich, Robert Miller, who will join the board in January. Richard Davis will join in May.
Dow has also agreed to include the group in its nominees for election at the 2015 annual meeting nominate.
In January, Third Point disclosed that it bought a stake in Dow, but did not disclose how many shares it bought. Third Point says Dow is its biggest investment.
As recently as last week, Third Point published a website and video pushing Dow to shake up its board and increase shareholder value.
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