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 April 24, 2015 18:03 GMT
AMAZON-CLOUD COMPUTING BUSINESS
NEW YORK (AP) -- Amazon's profitable cloud-computing services business is growing by leaps and bounds.
That growth helped the e-commerce company Thursday post a 15 percent first-quarter revenue jump and a smaller-than-expected loss. The results sent Amazon's shares up 6 percent in aftermarket trading.
Investors have been growing restless with Amazon's long-term strategy of plowing most of the money it makes into new areas like cloud computing, streaming video and hardware -- leading to razor-thin profits or, in this quarter's case, a loss.
Because Amazon had never broken out details on Amazon Web Services before, it wasn't clear if it was operating at a profit or loss. But details released on Thursday show that surging revenue isn't coming at expense of a profit in that business, reassuring investors.
Amazon has rolled out a series of new offerings in recent months.
DEATH OF COMCAST-TIME WARNER CABLE
NEW YORK (AP) -- Comcast is dropping its $45 billion bid for Time Warner Cable after heavy regulatory pushback.
The combined company would have put nearly 30 percent of TV and about 55 percent of broadband subscribers under one roof, which would give the resulting behemoth unprecedented power over what Americans watch and download.
Competitors, consumer groups, and politicians have criticized the deal, saying it would lead to higher prices and less choice.
Even with the Comcast saying Friday that the deal was off, cable companies are likely to keep combining as costs rise for the shows, sports and movies they pipe to subscribers and video customers decrease.
Many analysts expect that Charter Communications Inc., which lost out on its bid for Time Warner Cable Inc. to Comcast Corp., to resurrect its effort.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods increased by the largest amount in eight months. But a key category that tracks business investment plans dropped for a seventh month, suggesting that manufacturing is still struggling through a soft patch.
The Commerce Department says orders for durable goods rebounded 4 percent in March after having fallen 1.4 percent in February. The strength was led by a big jump in demand for commercial aircraft. But outside of the transportation category, orders were down for a sixth straight month.
There was also a 0.5 percent drop in demand in the category that serves as a proxy for business investment plans. The decline followed a 2.2 percent drop in February. This key investment category has been down seven consecutive months.
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) on Friday reported first-quarter earnings of $932 million.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based company said it had net income of $1.30 per share. Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs and pretax expenses, came to $1.73 per share.
The results surpassed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.70 per share.
The world's largest airline posted revenue of $9.83 billion in the period, also topping Street forecasts. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $9.82 billion.
American Airlines shares have dropped 4 percent since the beginning of the year. The stock has increased 39 percent in the last 12 months.
RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- European creditors have been turning up the heat on Greece today. They're pressing Greek officials to deliver an economic reform program that the country will need in order to avoid a possible default -- and even an exit from the euro currency group.
At a meeting today in Latvia, Greece's finance minister heard a series of rebukes from his counterparts in the eurozone for failing to come up with a comprehensive list of economic reforms.
The eurozone's top official calls it a "very critical discussion."
Others spoke of being "tired" and "annoyed" with the way the talks were going. Austria's finance minister says they made those points "very vigorously."
Two months ago, Greece won an agreement from the eurozone under which it would get the remaining money in its bailout fund -- about $7.7 billion -- but only if it came up with a set of reforms that everyone could agree on.
There are just days to go before that deadline, and Athens has yet to present a full list.
EUROPE GM CROPS
BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union has authorized the use of more genetically modified food and feed amid a row over whether EU member states should be able to independently ban certain GM products.
The EU's executive commission said Friday that it has approved 10 GM foods, including strands of maize, soybean and cotton, after they "have been proved to be safe." Two kinds of GM cut flowers were also authorized.
The European bio-industries association expressed satisfaction that the EU has "finally decided to authorize imports of safe products."
The EU and its member nations have been locked in a dispute over whether countries should be allowed to individually ban GM produce that EU institutions consider safe.
DIET PEPSI-NEW SWEETENER
NEW YORK (AP) -- PepsiCo says it's dropping aspartame from Diet Pepsi in response to customer feedback and replacing it with sucralose, another artificial sweetener commonly known as Splenda.
The decision to swap sweeteners comes as Americans keep turning away from popular diet sodas. Coca-Cola said this week that sales volume for Diet Coke fell 5 percent in North America in the first three months of the year.
Executives at Coke and Pepsi blame the declines on perceptions that aspartame, first sold under the brand name Nutrasweet, isn't safe. That's even though the Food and Drug Administration says more than 100 studies support aspartame's safety.
Still, PepsiCo says it wanted to listen to its customers.
Andrea Foote, PepsiCo spokeswoman, says the reformulated Diet Pepsi drinks will start hitting shelves in August.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Major recalls from two well-known ice cream companies due to the discovery of listeria bacteria raise questions about how the pathogen could have contaminated multiple ice cream manufacturing plants -- and whether the discoveries are related.
Blue Bell Creameries of Texas and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams of Ohio both took products off shelves this week after listeria was discovered in their products. Blue Bell ice cream is linked to 10 illnesses in four states, including three deaths. There are no known illnesses linked to the Jeni's recall.
The recalls are unusual: Listeria is rarely found in ice cream because it can't grow at freezing temperatures. A spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration says it has no evidence, for now, that the two recalls are connected.
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York's attorney general has filed suit against two tanning salon chains, accusing them of downplaying health risks while playing up the allure of bronze skin.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (SHNEYE'-dur-muhn) filed the lawsuits against Portofino Spas and Total Tan Thursday. He says both franchises falsely advertise the health benefits of indoor tanning by promoting it as a safe alternative to tanning outdoors.
Schneiderman says there's nothing safe about indoor tanning. He accuses the two companies of supporting the opposite message.
Attorneys for Total Tan denied the allegations. Representatives for Portofino didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Schneiderman says lawsuits are also coming against Planet Fitness and Beach Bum Tanning.
A spokesman for Planet Fitness says the company is working toward a resolution. Representatives for Beach Bum Tanning didn't comment.
GENERAL MOTORS-EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION
DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors CEO Mary Barra's compensation more than tripled in 2014 to $15.8 million in her tumultuous first year in the automaker's top job.
Barra and other top executives got only 74 percent of the cash incentives they could have received, because GM fell short of goals set by the board. But her stock awards more than doubled from 2013 when she was senior vice president of for product development and purchasing.
GM reported its 2014 compensation Friday in its proxy filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company also announced that its annual stockholders meeting will be held on June 9 at GM's Detroit headquarters.
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