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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 23, 2014 07:29 GMT
TOKYO (AP) -- Shares were mixed in Asia today as weak data from China sapped upward momentum from an overnight rally on a flurry of deals in the pharmaceutical sector.
A preliminary survey of Chinese manufacturers by HSBC showed slight improvements in prices and demand, but contractions in new export orders and employment in April. The results were expected, but helped pull Hong Kong's Hang Seng index down 0.6 percent to 22,592.41. Shares in mainland China also fell.
Sentiment was also buoyed by a solid start for Seibu Holdings Inc. whose shares rose 5 percent in the morning after an initial public offering in its relisting on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
The dollar was relatively flat against the euro and the yen. Benchmark crude oil fell to near $101.50 a barrel.
THE DAY AHEAD
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's a busy day for earnings reports, but there's also a fresh gauge of the housing market on the schedule.
The Commerce Department releases figures on sales of new homes last month. Yesterday, the National Association of Realtors said sales of existing homes slipped 0.2 percent, citing a tight supply of available homes and rising prices.
Also today, HSBC releases its monthly flash purchasing managers index for April.
As for earnings, Procter & Gamble, Boeing, Delta Air Lines and Reynolds American release their quarterly financial results before the market opens.
Michelin reports first quarter sales and Ericsson presents its quarterly results.
After the market closes, Apple, Facebook and Safeway release their results.
GENERAL MOTORS-IMPALA INVESTIGATION
DETROIT (AP) -- Federal regulators are investigating the 2014 Chevy Impala after a driver reported that the emergency braking system activated multiple times without warning.
The driver says that in one instance, the Impala was traveling at 40 miles-per-hour with no one in front of it when the brakes activated. The car was rear-ended. No injuries were reported.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened the investigation to determine whether the alleged defect is widespread. More than 60,000 Impalas of the 2014 model year are on U.S. roads.
The investigation is unrelated to GM's recent recall of 2.6 million older model Chevrolets and other cars for defective ignition switches.
TOKYO (AP) -- Toyota kept its position at the top in global vehicle sales for the first quarter of this year, outpacing rivals General Motors and Volkswagen.
Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday that it sold 2.583 million vehicles in the January-March period, ahead of Detroit-based GM at 2.42 million and Volkswagen of Germany at 2.4 million.
The Japanese automaker's first quarter sales rose by more than 6 percent from the same period the previous year. GM's sales grew 2 percent, while Volkswagen's added nearly 6 percent.
Toyota finished first last year with a record 9.98 million vehicles in sales, remaining the top-selling automaker for a second year in a row. General Motors Co. finished second and VW third.
Toyota is targeting sales of more than 10 million vehicles this year.
COAL ASH SPILL-NORTH CAROLINA
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Duke Energy says that removing all of the company's coal ash away from North Carolina's rivers and lakes would take decades and cost up to $10 billion, with the state's electricity customers likely footing nearly all the bill.
Duke's North Carolina president Paul Newton is telling state lawmakers that the company needs flexibility to consider more cost-efficient options that include leaving much of its 100 million tons of toxic ash in place after being covered with giant tarps and soil.
State officials say all 33 of Duke's unlined dumps are contaminating groundwater.
Environmental groups are calling for new legislation requiring Duke to move its coal ash to lined landfills away from waterways following the massive Feb. 2 spill in Eden that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge.
NORTH DAKOTA-FLARING MEETING
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota oil companies don't like a proposal that would have the industry cut back on oil production to control the amount of natural gas that's being wasted.
Companies spoke out against the proposal at a hearing yesterday in Bismarck. Instead, the industry wants regulators to consider self-imposed steps to curb natural gas flaring.
North Dakota drillers currently burn off, or flare, a record 36 percent of the valuable gas because development of gas pipelines and processing facilities haven't kept pace with oil drilling.
Oil industry officials have pledged to capture 85 percent of the gas by 2016, and 90 percent within six years as infrastructure catches up with oil development.
Watford City physician Lyle Best says slowing oil development would improve many problems in the state, including flaring.
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia has increased its order for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters by 58 to 72 to be fully operational by 2023 in a declaration of confidence in the troubled stealth war plane.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday he expects the additional 58 U.S. jets, developed by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. will cost 12.4 billion Australian dollars ($11.5 billion).
The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program and has been troubled by schedule delays and cost overruns.
Abbott says he is confident that the cost of about AU$90 million per jet will continue to fall with time.
Australia is a funding partner in developing the F-35 and ordered its first 14 jets in 2009.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Twenty-one European cities from Cardiff, Wales, to Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, are finalists in a lucrative innovation contest devised by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg Philanthropies announced the finalists Wednesday. They will compete for a grand prize of 5 million euros, or nearly $7 million, and four 1 million euro awards. Winners will be announced in the fall.
The cities were asked for projects that could solve major social or economic problems or make government more effective.
A few examples: Amsterdam wants to create an online game to engage unemployed young people in finding jobs across Europe. Madrid wants to make energy out of the heat thrown off by underground infrastructure.
Kirklees, in England, envisions citizens pooling resources ranging from cars to unused space to expertise.
MICROSOFT-BING IN CLASSROOMS
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Microsoft is expanding a program that gives schools the ability to prevent ads from appearing in search results when they use its Bing search engine. The program, launched in a pilot program earlier this year, is now available to all U.S. schools, public or private, from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
The program is meant to create a safer online environment for children, but also promote use of Bing, which trails market leader Google Inc.
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. is also giving away a first-generation Surface tablet computer to schools where community members sign up to use the ad-supported version of Bing outside of the school. Sixty parents and friends who do 30 Bing searches a day could earn their school a Surface in a little over a month.
CALIFORNIA BUS CRASH
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The mother of a teenager who was among 10 people killed in a fiery Northern California bus crash is suing the bus company and FedEx.
Attorney A. King Aminpour says the negligence suit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles asks fpr $100 million.
Seventeen-year-old Jennifer Bonilla, of Los Angeles, was on a bus taking students to tour a university April 10 when it was struck by a FedEx truck on a freeway in Orland.
Five teens and five adults died, including both drivers.
Some witnesses say the FedEx truck was on fire before the crash. The lawsuit alleges FedEx trucks have a history of catching fire.
Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp. declined to discuss the litigation but says it's cooperating with investigators.
A call seeking comment from the bus owner, Silverado Stages, wasn't immediately returned.
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