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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 July 28, 2014 17:07 GMT
PENDING HOME SALES
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in June, as the real estate market appears to have cooled off this summer.
The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index slipped 1.1 percent to 102.7 last month. The index remains 7.3 percent below its level a year ago.
Sales have been slowed by a mix of meager wage growth, rising home prices, and mortgage rates that rose steadily through the end of last year.
Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.
Signed contracts in June fell in the Northeast and South. They rose slightly in the Midwest and West. Pending sales in all four U.S. regions are below last year's pace.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government says Medicare's finances have improved. The program's hospital trust fund won't be exhausted until 2030 -- four years later than last year's estimate.
Social Security's massive retirement program will remain solvent until 2034, although disability benefits are in more immediate danger.
The disability trust fund is now projected to run dry in 2016. At that point, the program will collect enough taxes to pay 81 percent of benefits.
In 2030, when the hospital trust fund is projected to be depleted, Medicare will collect enough payroll taxes to pay 85 percent of benefits.
Medicare's improved finances are largely due to a slowdown in health care spending.
DOLLAR TREE-FAMILY DOLLAR
NEW YORK (AP) -- Dollar Tree is buying rival discount store Family Dollar in a cash-and-stock deal valued at about $8.5 billion.
Stockholders of Family Dollar Stores will receive $59.60 in cash and the equivalent of $14.90 in shares of Dollar Tree for each share they own. The companies put the value of the transaction at $74.50 per share.
The boards of both companies have unanimously approved the deal, which is expected to close by early next year.
Shares of Family Dollar Stores Inc., based in Charlotte, North Carolina, spiked 20 percent before the opening bell Monday. Shares of Dollar Tree Inc., based in Chesapeake, Virginia, are up almost 4 percent.
DETROIT (AP) -- One of the companies challenging Detroit's bankruptcy plan says the possible value of the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection is $8.5 billion -- a figure that's higher than previous estimates.
The company also says the city owns or controls as much as $1.2 billion in real estate, including vacant property and homes that could be foreclosed upon.
The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press report an art consultant for Financial Guaranty Insurance estimated the DIA collection is worth almost double a previous estimate.
New York-based Artvest Partners LLC said earlier this month that art eyed for sale by some creditors could be worth more than $4.6 billion, but likely would fetch a quarter of that or less in a forced liquidation.
A trial over Detroit's bankruptcy plan starts Aug. 14.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Virgin America's next destination is Wall Street.
The California-based airline filed today for an initial public offering of shares.
Virgin America Inc., which operates out of Los Angeles and San Francisco, flies to 22 airports in the United States and Mexico and has a fleet of 53 planes. The company offers a variety of perks, such as live TV, movies, leather seats and purple mood lighting.
For the purpose of the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it could raise as much as $115 million, but that number is likely to change.
The company did not say when it expects the IPO to happen or how many shares it plans to sell.
LONDON (AP) -- Lloyds Banking Group is paying $369 million to U.S. and British authorities to settle allegations it manipulated a key global interest rate.
Lloyds, one of the world's largest banks, has become the sixth financial firm sanctioned in the international rate-rigging scandal. The U.S. and British regulators say Lloyds tried to manipulate, and in some cases succeeded, in manipulating the London interbank offered rate, known as LIBOR.
The LIBOR, the rate used by banks to borrow from each other, affects trillions of dollars in contracts around the world, including mortgages, bonds and consumer loans.
Under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, Lloyds will be allowed to avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for admitting responsibility for misconduct and continuing to cooperate in the investigation of major banks' actions regarding LIBOR.
LONDON (AP) -- The former majority shareholder in Yukos Oil Company says it has won in excess of $50 billion in a court ruling against Russia.
One of the largest arbitration cases ever, the claim was filed by a subsidiary for GML Ltd., formerly Group Menetap Ltd., a financial holding company that was once the biggest shareholder in Yukos.
It sought $103.5 billion from Russia as compensation for the expropriation of Yukos.
Former Chief Executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky had built Yukos into Russia's largest investor-owned oil company after the unraveling of the Soviet Union.
GML says the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that the Russian Federation sought to bankrupt Yukos and appropriate its assets and that it was determined to do whatever was necessary to achieve this purpose.
TYSON FOODS-BUSINESS SALE
SPRINGDALE, Ark. (AP) -- Tyson Foods plans to sell its poultry businesses in Mexico and Brazil for $575 million in cash to help pay debt from its recently announced acquisition of Hillshire Brands.
The Springdale, Arkansas, meat processor says it still plans to expand its international operations, especially in Asia, but the businesses it will sell didn't have the scale to gain leading positions in their markets.
Tyson made the announcement the same day it reported fiscal third-quarter earnings that climbed more than 4 percent but missed analyst expectations.
Tyson says its third-quarter earnings climbed to $260 million, or 73 cents per share, from $249 million, or 68 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier.
Revenue climbed 11 percent to $9.68 billion.
BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union's antitrust authority has cleared Apple's $3 billion deal to buy Beats Electronics, which makes headphones and offers music streaming services.
The 28-nation bloc's executive Commission says the transaction does not threaten competition because the firms' combined European market share in both fields will be low while facing strong competitors.
The takeover of Beats Electronics and Beats Music announced in May for $2.6 billion in cash and $400 million in stock is the most expensive acquisition in Apple's 38-year history.
The move to buy Beats, founded by rapper Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, was widely seen as a bid to counter the increasing threat posed by music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify to Apple Inc.'s iTunes store.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Samsung Electronics Co. says it's delaying sales of its first Tizen-powered smartphone. It's the latest setback to the company's ambition to create a mobile platform to rival Google's Android or Apple's iOS. Samsung had planned to start selling the phone, the Samsung Z, in Russia this quarter. But the company indicated that more time is needed to expand Tizen's following of app developers and apps.
Samsung says the postponement is to further enhance the Tizen "ecosystem," which encompasses developers, consumers and devices using the mobile OS.
The delay is a blow to Samsung's push to reduce reliance on Google's Android operating system, which powers Samsung's Galaxy smartphones and tablets.
Samsung has not announced a new release date.
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