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 May 26, 2015 17:47 GMT
CHARTER-TIME WARNER CABLE
NEW YORK (AP) -- Charter Communications will spend $55.33 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable in a cash-and-stock deal that would instantly create one of the largest pay-television and broadband operators in the U.S.
As part of the agreement, Charter will also buy Bright House Networks for more than $10 billion.
Charter will provide $100 in cash and shares of a new public parent company equal to 0.5409 shares of Charter for each outstanding Time Warner Cable Inc. share. The transaction values each Time Warner Cable share at about $195.71.
The companies on Tuesday valued Time Warner Cable at a total of $78.7 billion.
Shares of Charter Communications Inc. are up more than 3 percent in premarket trading.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell slightly in April. But orders in a category that indicates business investment posted a second increase, a hopeful sign that this key sector is starting to revive.
The Commerce Department says that total orders for durable goods slipped 0.5 percent from March, when total orders had surged 5.1 percent. The big swing was driven by changes in commercial aircraft, an extremely volatile category that had jumped in March but fell in April.
Orders in the business investment category rose 1 percent in April after a 1.5 percent increase in March. The results followed a sizable 5.1 percent fall in February. Business investment has been hurt by a stronger dollar cutting into exports and cutbacks in the energy industry.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Conference Board says consumer confidence rebounded this month as the job market showed signs of improvement.
The business research group's consumer confidence index rose to 95.4 in May from 94.3 in April. The April reading had been sharp drop from March's 101.4.
Consumers' assessment of current economic conditions improved, but their outlook for the next six months slipped. Their expectations for the for the job market improved, however.
Employers added a healthy 223,000 jobs last month, up from a lackluster 85,000 in March. And the unemployment rate slid to 5.4 percent, lowest since May 2008, six months into the Great Recession.
NEW HOME SALES
WASHINGTON (AP) -- More Americans bought new homes in April -- fresh evidence that the improved job market is powering the real estate sector.
The Commerce Department says new-home sales climbed 6.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 517,000. Sales recovered from an annual pace of 484,000 in March.
Purchases of new homes are volatile on a monthly basis, although sales during the first four months of 2015 are 23.7 percent higher than in 2014. Employers have added 3.1 million jobs over the past year, with those new paychecks starting to trickle into housing.
Sales increased in the Midwest and South last month, while slumping in the Northeast and West where prices are generally higher.
The median sales price has risen 8.3 percent since April 2014 to $297,300.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. home prices rose at a steady pace in March, pushed higher by a limited supply of houses for sale.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5 percent in March from 12 months earlier. Prices increased at the same pace in February.
Home values are rising at a faster rate than incomes, potentially pricing many would-be buyers out of the market. Yet current increases have moderated from the double-digit gains of late 2013 and early last year.
The biggest increases were in San Francisco and Denver, where prices rose 10.3 percent and 10 percent respectively.
The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. The index measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The March figures are the latest available.
DEUTSCHE BANK-SEC SETTLEMENT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Germany's Deutsche Bank AG has agreed to pay $55 million to settle civil charges of filing incorrect reports during the financial crisis that downplayed risks of huge losses.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced the settlement Tuesday with the big German bank, which is a prominent institution on Wall Street. Deutsche Bank neither admitted nor denied the allegations but did agree to refrain from future violations of the securities laws.
The SEC said that in some quarterly reports in 2008, Deutsche Bank inflated the value of its transactions designed to hedge against losses on securities in the credit markets, which were turbulent at the time. That created a "gap risk" worth billions of dollars that wasn't properly taken into account in the bank's reports, the agency said.
BEIJING (AP) -- An official of the International Monetary Fund says it believes China's currency is no longer undervalued -- a stance that might help Beijing in its wrangling with Washington over exchange rate controls.
The IMF's first deputy managing director, David Lipton, also said Tuesday that Beijing should work toward having a floating exchange rate in two to three years.
Lipton spoke after meeting Chinese officials to discuss economic and financial policy.
The United States and some other governments have complained for years that China suppresses the value of its currency, the yuan, giving its exporters an unfair price advantage and hurting their foreign competitors.
Referring to the yuan, Lipton said that after recent changes in global exchange rates, "We believe that it is no longer undervalued."
LONDON (AP) -- A British prosecutor says a former Citibank and UBS trader motivated by greed served as the ringmaster in the alleged manipulation of a key interest rate, the London Interbank Lending Rate, or Libor.
The charges against trader Tom Hayes, who specialized in products pegged to yen-denominated Libor, relate to the period from August 2006 to September 2010. He is charged with conspiring with employees from other leading institutions.
Prosecutor Mukul Chawla says the 35-year-old Hayes' greed "led to his dishonesty on an enormous scale."
Libor is a key rate that banks use to borrow from each other. Indirectly, the rate affects what people pay when they take out loans, such as a car loan.
Hayes denies all eight charges in the case that opened Tuesday at Southwark Crown Court.
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