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 August 28, 2015 17:24 GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer says that incoming economic data and market developments will likely determine whether the Fed boosts interest rates in September.
Fischer says that before the recent turbulence in financial markets, there was a "pretty strong case" for starting to hike rates in September. But he adds that the Fed is watching how events unfold following the surprise announcement by the Chinese that they plan to devalue their currency.
Fischer says that central bank officials have not made a decision yet on whether to raise rates but would be closely following data such as next week's jobs report and market moves before the Sept. 16-17 meeting.
Fischer said the plan is still to move rates up very slowly and gradually.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers increased their spending by a moderate amount in July, while income growth was propelled by the largest jump in wages and salaries in eight months.
The Commerce Department says spending rose 0.3 percent in July, helped by a big jump in purchases of big-ticket items such as cars. June's result was revised up to a matching 0.3 percent gain.
Incomes increased 0.4 percent. The key category of wages and salaries rose 0.5 percent, the biggest advance since last November.
The report indicates that consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, got off to a good start in the third quarter. Economists believe the economy will be fueled in the second half of this year by solid income and spending gains.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Plummeting stock prices have taken a toll on U.S. consumer confidence, though there are signs the setback may be temporary.
The University of Michigan says its consumer sentiment index fell to 91.9 this month from 93.1 in July. The index is still up 11.4 percent from a year ago.
The figures provide an early read of the impact on consumers from the 1,900 point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average over six days through Tuesday. Stock prices have since recovered some of those losses.
The University of Michigan surveys consumers throughout the month and so some of the responses were tallied as the stock market plunged.
Even so, the survey also found that Americans remain confident about the U.S. economy and their personal finances.
FACEBOOK-ONE BILLION A DAY
NEW YORK (AP) -- You, your mom, your grandma and elementary school buddy Lawrence might have been some of the billion people who logged in to Facebook on Monday -- the first time that has happened in a single day. That's right, one billion people, or one-seventh of the Earth's population.
It was a big symbolic milestone for the world's biggest online social network, which boasts nearly 1.5 billion users who log in at least once a month. CEO Mark Zuckerberg marked the occasion with a Facebook post.
Most of the billion people who logged in on Monday were outside the U.S. and Canada. Of Facebook's overall users, more than 83 percent come from other countries. This is also where Facebook's next billions of users will likely come from as it grows.
NEW YORK (AP) -- The CEO of adultery website Ashley Madison is stepping down in the wake of the massive breach of the company's computer systems and outing of millions of its members.
Avid Life Media Inc., Ashley Madison's parent company, says Noel Biderman's departure was a mutual decision and in the best interest of the company.
Hackers originally breached Avid Life's systems in July and then posted the information online a month later after the company didn't comply with their demands to shut down.
Ashley Madison, whose slogan is "Life is short. Have an affair," purports to have nearly 40 million members.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is promising to offer a plan within a month to overhaul the tax system, calling himself "king of the tax code."
He's been hinting at such a plan recently, saying that wealthy Americans should pay more.
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Trump says he'll unveil a plan to simplify the tax code and eliminate some deductions, asserting "nobody knows the tax code better than I do."
Trump says hedge fund managers are big supporters of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and GOP rival Jeb Bush and adds, "I will have a plan."
He says hedge fund managers won't be happy.
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- Defense Secretary Ash Carter is announcing that the Pentagon will fund a new venture to develop cutting-edge electronics and sensors that can flex and stretch and could be built into clothing or the skins of ships and aircraft.
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Carter plans to lay out the details for the newly created high-tech innovation institute in a speech Friday in California's Silicon Valley.
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