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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 October 31, 2014 07:28 GMT
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average surged 5 percent and the yen slid against the dollar after the Bank of Japan unexpectedly announced new stimulus to boost a flagging economic recovery.
Other Asian stock markets were also higher after the Japanese central bank's announcement Friday. The dollar rose 1.2 percent to 110.64 yen.
The bank said it would increase its asset purchases by between 10 trillion yen and 20 trillion yen ($90.7 billion to $181.3 billion) to about 80 trillion yen ($725 billion) annually.
The Nikkei was up 4.6 percent at 16,380.11 after shedding some of its initial gains. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.2 percent and Seoul's Kospi was up 0.1 percent.
ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Today. the Commerce Department will release its September report on consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity in the U.S.
Also, the University of Michigan will issue its monthly index of consumer sentiment for October. In September, the index reached its highest level since July 2013, led by greater optimism that the economy will grow and incomes will rise.
The Labor Department will also release the third-quarter employment cost index.
Before the market opens, Exxon Mobil will report its quarterly financial results.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Citigroup is slashing its third-quarter earnings by $600 million, saying that recent investigations by regulators have altered the results it reported earlier this month.
The New York-based bank on Thursday revised its quarterly net income to $2.8 billion from a previously reported $3.4 billion, citing legal expenses.
The bank's operating expenses rose from $12.36 billion to about $13 billion.
The company said in a statement the unexpected increase came from "rapidly-evolving regulatory inquiries and investigations, including very recent communications with certain regulatory agencies related to previously-disclosed matters."
Citi previously reported third-quarter net income of $3.44 billion, or $1.07 per share, on Oct. 14. The results exceeded Wall Street estimates.
Like other major banks, Citigroup has been the target of lawsuits and government investigations for its role in the mortgage meltdown that helped spur the financial crisis of 2008.
SURGICAL GOWNS LAWSUIT
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A lawsuit says Kimberly-Clark Corp. falsely claimed its surgical gowns met the highest standards for protecting against Ebola and other infectious diseases.
Lead attorney Michael Avenatti says the Texas hospital where two nurses contracted Ebola used to stock the gowns but it's not clear if the nurses had used them.
The $500 million fraud suit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles on behalf of a surgeon who wore the gowns.
The lawsuit says Kimberly-Clark knew for a year that the gowns failed industry tests and allowed the transfer of bodily fluids, bacteria and viruses, but the company still promoted them as having the highest level of impermeability.
The maker of Kleenex and other consumer products says it doesn't comment on lawsuits but stands behind its products' safety.
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