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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 02, 2014 07:31 GMT
LONDON (AP) -- The euro has fallen to a near one-year low against the dollar in the wake of soft European economic data and uncertainty over the crisis in Ukraine.
Europe's single currency fell to a low of $1.3119 after a survey Monday showed that the manufacturing sector across the 18-nation eurozone lost momentum in August. The euro hasn't been lower since early September of last year.
The main reason behind the euro's recent weakness has been a growing expectation that the European Central Bank may be considering a monetary stimulus to boost the ailing eurozone economy. In the second quarter, growth in the eurozone ground to a halt.
The crisis in Ukraine has also hobbled the eurozone's economic outlook. Uncertainty over how the conflict will turn out has made businesses hesitant to invest.
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Europe's economic recovery is in danger. Governments are under pressure to save it, but they are also struggling with political obstacles and disagreement among themselves over what to do.
Instead, the region is pinning its hopes -- once again -- on the European Central Bank, which is expected to launch new stimulus measures if the economy gets any worse.
Europe's lack of growth is looming larger and larger, however, and the ECB says it can't save the economy alone.
For more than five years since the eurozone hit turbulence over too much debt in 2009, governments' answer has been to raise taxes and restrain spending. And there's been some progress. Deficits have shrunk, and countries that needed bailout loans are slowly getting their act together.
But second quarter growth was zero, after only four quarters of measly expansion
BEIJING (AP) -- An American business group warns that foreign companies in China feel increasingly targeted for unfair enforcement of anti-monopoly and other laws and says investment might decline if conditions fail to improve.
The American Chamber of Commerce's report adds to mounting complaints about a flurry of investigations of global automakers, technology suppliers and other companies in recent months. Some foreign managers say Chinese authorities appear to be trying to hamper them and shield domestic rivals from competition.
The American Chamber of Commerce in China says almost half of companies responding to a survey "believe that foreign companies are being targeted." It said the risk was increasing that China "will permanently lose its luster as a desirable investment destination."
Uncertainty over regulatory investigations adds to challenges for foreign companies at a time when China's growth is slowing and they face more competition from ambitious local rivals.
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- President Barack Obama is touting signs of a continuing emergence from the Great Recession, telling people in Milwaukee the nation's business engines, quote, "a revving a little louder."
The president has used a Labor Day address to put on a new push for increasing the federal minimum wage. Thirteen states have acted on their own to raise their minimum wages.
Until now, Obama and his White House aides had been reluctant to draw too much attention to positive economic trends, worried that some might not be real.
But in Milwaukee, he dared to say, in his words, "We're on a streak."
White House still insist that they are not yet declaring full victory over the lingering effects of a recession that officially ended five years ago.
NEW YORK (AP) -- McDonald's, Wendy's and other fast-food restaurants are expected to be targeted with acts of civil disobedience that could lead to arrests Thursday as labor organizers escalate their campaign to unionize the industry's workers.
Kendall Fells, an organizing director for Fast Food Forward, said workers in a couple of dozen cities were trained to peacefully engage in civil disobedience ahead of this week's planned protests.
Fells declined to specify what is in store for the protests in roughly 150 U.S. cities. But workers recently cited sit-ins as an example of tactics they could use to intensify their push.
The "Fight for $15" campaign is being backed by the Service Employees International Union.
The National Restaurant Association called the protests attempts by labor groups "to boost their dwindling membership."
CHICAGO (AP) -- A new study says Americans' eating habits have improved -- except among the poor.
Those results show a widening wealth gap when it comes to diet. Yet even among wealthier adults, food choices remain far from ideal.
The 12-year study used an index of healthy eating where a perfect score is 110. U.S. adults averaged just 40 points in 1999, and that climbed to 47 points in 2010. Scores for low-income adults were lower than the average and barely budged during the years studied.
Higher scores mean greater intake of heart-healthy foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. Low scores mean less of those foods and a greater chance for diet-related illnesses including diabetes, heart problems and obesity.
The study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina business recruiters offered Toyota more than $100 million for the world's largest carmaker to move its North American headquarters to Charlotte rather than a Dallas suburb but still lost out to a Texas offer half that size.
Texas and local officials in the Dallas suburb of Plano offered Toyota less than $50 million.
Both Toyota and North Carolina Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker agree that the company's decision shows incentive money was just one of many considerations the company considered when deciding to move from the Los Angeles area.
North Carolina recruiting documents and emails released last week after a public records request show only about a quarter of the people filling nearly 3,000 jobs were expected to move from Southern California. The pay for those jobs averages $105,000 a year.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- The most spectacular and costly failure in Atlantic City's 36-year history of casino gambling has begun to play out as $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel empties its hotel.
The casino is scheduled to close Tuesday.
Revel is shutting down a little over two years after opening with high hopes of revitalizing Atlantic City's struggling gambling market.
But the business has been mired in its second bankruptcy in as many years, Revel has been unable to find anyone willing to buy the property and keep it open as a casino.
Analysts and competitors say Revel was hampered by business decisions including a total smoking ban, the lack of a buffet and daily bus trips to and from the casino, and the lack of a players' database from which to solicit customers.
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