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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 September 22, 2014 17:29 GMT
NEW YORK (AP) -- Hundreds of activists protesting what they say is Wall Street's role in the climate crisis have gathered in lower Manhattan's financial district.
Scores of environmental activists dressed in blue are marching, carrying signs, chanting and sitting down on Broadway and elsewhere as workers and tourists look on.
Organizers say the protest is meant to highlight the role corporations play in stalling political action to combat global warming. It comes a day after more than 100,000 participated in the People's Climate March through Manhattan.
Participants in Monday's sit-down say they anticipate being arrested to push home their political point.
Urban farmer Ben Shapiro from Youngstown, Ohio, says he came to disrupt Wall Street and actively "confront the system."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer Americans bought homes in August, as investors retreated from real estate and first-time buyers remained scarce.
The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes fell 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million. That snaps a four-month streak of gains. August sales are down from a July rate of 5.14 million, a figure that was revised slightly downward.
Much of the slowdown came from the exodus of investors, who had been buying properties in the aftermath of the housing bust and recession. Investors accounted for just 12 percent of August purchases, compared to 17 percent a year earlier.
Overall, the pace of home sales has dropped 5.3 percent year-over-year.
Rising prices through much of 2013 and weak income growth priced out many would-be buyers.
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- The head of the European Central Bank is warning that the eurozone's already tepid economic recovery "is losing momentum."
Mario Draghi is telling members of the European parliament that recent economic indicators have given "no indication" of an upturn since August. The 18 countries that use the euro saw no economic growth at all in the second quarter.
Draghi says growth is being threatened by geopolitical disturbances and the failure of member governments to reform their economies and make them more efficient.
The ECB chief also defended the bank's new stimulus program, an offer of cheap, long-term loans to banks. Banks took only 82.6 billion euros at the first offering last week, less than many market analysts expected. Draghi says the takeup was within the bank's expectations.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Apple says it sold more than 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models, a record for a new model, in the three days after the phones went on sale.
A year ago, Apple Inc. said it had sold 9 million of the then-new iPhone 5C and 5S models.
The iPhone is available in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore and the U.K. It will go on sale in 20 more countries on Sept. 26 and others by the end of the year.
CEO Tim Cook said Monday that demand for the phones has exceeded the company's expectations. Besides larger screens, the new phones offer faster performance and a wireless chip for making credit card payments. The phones start at $199 with a two-year service contact.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Charles Plosser, a leading inflation "hawk" at the Federal Reserve, says he will retire in March.
Plosser, who has been president of the Fed's Philadelphia regional bank since August 2006, has been among the leaders of the officials known as hawks for their concerns that a continuation of low-interest rate policies could ignite inflation.
He has dissented at the past two Fed meetings, when the central bank voted to maintain its plan to keep a key short-term rate at a record low for a "considerable time."
Plosser, 66, would have given up his vote on the Fed's policymaking committee next year as part of the normal rotation of votes among the regional bank presidents. And the rules governing the Fed's 12 regional banks would have required his retirement in 2016.
GENERAL MOTORS-IGNITION SWITCH DEATHS
DETROIT (AP) -- The death toll from crashes involving General Motors small cars with faulty ignition switches has risen to at least 21.
Compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg says in an Internet posting he received 143 death claims as of Friday. He has determined that 21 are eligible for compensation so far. Last week 19 death claims were deemed eligible for payments.
Feinberg also has received 532 injury claims. Of those, 16 are eligible for compensation thus far. The rest are still being reviewed.
GM has admitted knowing about the ignition switch problem in small cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt for more than a decade. Yet it didn't begin recalling the cars until February.
The switches can unexpectedly shut off the engine and cause crashes.
GM hired Feinberg to compensate crash victims.
PARIS (AP) -- Air France pilots are rejecting the company's offer to delay the expansion of its low-cost carrier, Transavia, after a seven-day strike that the airline says is costing it up to 20 million euros ($25 million) a day.
Pilots unions went on strike last week after Air France-KLM announced plans to save 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) over several years in part by transferring European operations to Transavia. The company, which is cutting costs to try to stay competitive with budget airlines, says talks are deadlocked. About half the airlines' flights have been cancelled since the strike began.
The main pilots' union, SNPL, says Monday's offer to delay the expansion until December is a smokescreen, accusing the airline of trying to outsource jobs to countries with lower taxes and cheaper labor.
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Clorox is shutting down its operations in Venezuela, citing restrictions by the government, supply disruptions and economic uncertainty.
Shares jumped 3 percent before the opening bell Monday.
The U.S. consumer products company said that for almost three years it has had to sell more than two-thirds of its products at prices frozen by the Venezuelan government. Over that same time span, there has been a sharp rise in inflation that resulted in significantly higher costs for Clorox. The company says it's selling products at a loss in the country.
The Clorox Co. met repeatedly met with government authorities and said it had expected significant price hikes. However, the increases that were approved were "nowhere near sufficient" and it said the company would be forced to continue operating at a loss.
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