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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 01, 2014 07:31 GMT
NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of companies that are studying potential vaccines for Ebola have been climbing in aftermarket trading after federal officials announced that the first case of the disease has been diagnosed in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a patient being treated at a hospital in Dallas tested positive for the disease.
Ebola is believed to have sickened more than 6,500 people in West Africa, and more than 3,000 people have died. Symptoms can start as much as 21 days after exposure, and the disease isn't contagious until symptoms begin. It takes close contact with bodily fluids to spread the disease.
The World Health Organization has worked to speed up the use of some experimental vaccines and companies are ramping up testing.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will deliver an economic address this week seeking to promote the recovery as the campaign season heads into its final weeks before midterm congressional elections.
Obama plans to deliver a speech tomorrow at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, drawing attention to economic advances since he took office. The White House says he will also press for additional steps that the government can undertake to create jobs and improve wages.
The speech comes amid polls that still show the economy is the top issue with voters and that a majority of voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy. The speech marks a shift from Obama's recent attention to international crises, particularly the start of a new bombing campaign against Islamic extremists.
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) -- A Delaware bankruptcy judge will hold a hearing tomorrow on a request by Trump Entertainment Resorts to be relieved of its pension obligations under a collective bargaining agreement with workers at the Taj Mahal casino.
The judge had previously scheduled a mid-October hearing on Trump's request for permission to terminate the labor agreement as part of an effort to reorganize and avoid closing the casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
But company attorneys have been unable to persuade the union to agree to replace the pension plan with a 401(k) plan. They said yesterday that they need a quick decision on the pension liability because it could torpedo efforts to reorganize.
Union attorneys argue that the pension question can't be separated from the larger issue of the collective bargaining agreement.
PLASTIC BAG BAN-THINGS TO KNOW
SACRAMENTO (AP) -- The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a coalition of plastic bag manufacturers, says it will seek a voter referendum to overturn California's law banning single-use shopping bags, signaling the fight between environmentalists and manufacturers is not over. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation's first statewide ban on the bags yesterday, following the lead of more than 100 California cities and counties.
The group has three months to gather more than 500,000 valid signatures, the number needed to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot. The group says it will push to make sure the law does not take effect until voters have a say.
LEGALIZING POT-COLORADO COMPETITION
DENVER (AP) -- Colorado's new marijuana industry is in for a brand new element today -- competition.
The state gave medical marijuana dispensaries and growers a nine-month exclusive on the new recreational pot business, fearing an unmanageable explosion of new businesses.
The grandfathering period expires today, meaning pot shops and growers who weren't in business before voters approved recreational pot in 2012 are just now able to enter the market.
"There's going to a price war coming. It's inevitable," predicted Toni Fox, a marijuana grower and owner of a Denver pot shop. Fox has received a license for a second shop opening today in Salida (suh-LY'-duh).
Colorado is issuing licenses for 46 more pot shops, in addition to about 200 already in place. Colorado is also licensing 37 more growing facilities and 13 new product manufacturers who make marijuana-infused products.
The expansion means pot prices for consumers could soon drop. Recreational marijuana in Colorado currently wholesales for about $1,800 to $2,500 a pound, depending on quality. The addition of new growers starting today could push the price below $1,000 a pound once those plants mature.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Hollywood's carefully controlled system of movie rollouts is officially under siege.
Windowing -- the practice of opening a movie first in theaters and then in other stages of home video, streaming and television release -- has been under increasing pressure as smaller screens fight against the prominence of the theatrical big screen. Now, Netflix has fired the most notable missive across the bow of windowing, announcing plans to release a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" on the day it hits Imax theaters next August.
The film, produced by the Weinstein Co., isn't a studio production, so it's in many ways only marginally more significant than the plethora of independent films regularly released on video-on-demand. But the announcement constitutes the biggest move yet by a major digital outlet to blow up Hollywood's traditional release pattern.
"This is a very unique opportunity for somebody from the outside coming in to shake up what appears to be an increasingly antiquated release strategy," says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst for BTIG Research. "They had to get into the movie business to reduce windowing, and I think this is an important Step 1 for Netflix."
Exhibitors, in tandem with the major studios, have long sought to guard the theatrical window. Yesterday two of the country's largest theater chains, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, which both have some Imax theaters, promptly refused to carry the film.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The head of the Federal Communications Commission says the agency will consider a petition to ban the Washington Redskins nickname from the public airwaves.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said yesterday that the commission "will be dealing with that issue on the merits, and we'll be responding accordingly."
A law professor has challenged the use of the name on broadcast television, saying it violates FCC rules against indecent content. Native American and other groups have demanded the name be changed, calling it a racial slur.
Wheeler did not offer a timetable for a ruling on the matter. He has previously said he finds the name "offensive and derogatory," but that he hoped Redskins owner Dan Snyder would change it without any formal action.
Snyder has vowed never to change the name.
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