Looking at a looming default

Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Looking at a looming default story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - We're 10 days along in the partial government shutdown, and if this goes on for another week, our Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says we, as a country, will no longer be able to pay all of our bills.

What does that mean for our financial security?

Some in Congress say it really wouldn't amount to much. Most economists, on the other hand, say it could spark global economic chaos.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says if he were a betting man, he'd put his money on those who deal in numbers every day.

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If I was going to have heart surgery, I’m fairly certain I’d want the guy holding the scalpel to be someone who does nothing but heart surgeries. A guy who could almost do it in his sleep.

And so it is with our government and our economy.

So if I hear Congressman Justin Amash of Grand Rapids—and only Mr. Amash—say, "there's no way we'll default on October 17. We have enough money to make interest payments. The real question is how do we restructure our government so we don't keep hitting the debt ceiling?"

He sounds pragmatic, confident, and unconcerned.

And there are others in congress who say "not to worry;" that if we have to start cherry picking for a while, to choose who we're going to pay and who we're not, so what?

Confident and reassuring.

Setting aside the fact Congress has a constitutional responsibility to pay who we owe—on time—there are whole bushel baskets full of economists who are saying loudly and repeatedly that the impact of default could be calamitous; not just for us, but for the world.

I know there's  a widely-held, cynical assumption that if you ask 20 economists the same question, you may get 20 different answers. And on some matters that may be true.

But this time around they're pretty much shouting with one voice. And they're telling Congress to get its act together.

Since cherry picking seems acceptable for the moment, let me cherry pick a few.

Gerald Epstein is an economist at the University of Massachusetts. "A default," he says, "will make the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy look like a cakewalk."

Everybody knows who Warren Buffett is. He may not be an economist but he gets a free pass because he understands money as few others do. "Default," he said, "would be like a nuclear bomb - too horrible to use."

And there's Tim Bitsberger, a former Treasury official under George W. Bush. "If we miss an interest payment, it would blow Lehman Brothers out of the water."

And this from Bloomberg news—it would be "an economic calamity like none the world has seen."

There is a FOX News economist, Peter Morici, who thinks default would be the best thing that could ever happen to the United States, but his evaluation gets neutered by the sheer weight of the other side.

At stake is the perception the world has of us. That perception has already been scarred a little by the government shutdown.

But U.S. Treasury Bonds are thought of as the world's primary risk-free asset.

That rock-solid confidence, despite our $17 trillion deficit, is what has made the dollar the world's most widely-used currency.

If we fail to make payments on those bonds, the perception of us as the world's richest and most stable country will take a dive, along with anyone willing to buy a little slice of America’s debt.

And its beyond my perception that the right wing of the Republican party would be willing to carry the specter of of default, with all of its dark possibilities, to the brink or beyond because it doesn't like Obamacare.

And if Justin Amash and his friends are so willing to reject the warnings of economists all over the country, maybe they'll listen to two organizations that have long supported conservative politics: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

In letters written a few days ago, both are urging Congress to rise above their differences and do what's right for the country.

Raise the debt limit. And do it now.

I couldn't say it any better myself.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on August 21, 2014 07:34 GMT

WORLD MARKETS

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Asian stock markets were dampened by a weak China manufacturing survey Thursday. But Japan gained on the prospect of a stronger dollar after Fed minutes showed policymakers are leaning toward their first rate hike since the 2008 financial crisis.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.8 percent to 15,575.82 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 5,645.70. South Korea's Kospi sank 1.2 percent to 2,047.77 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent to 24,948.59. China's Shanghai Composite was down 0.7 percent to 2,225.44.

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department today will report on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. In the previous week, more people applied for benefits, though the figure remained near pre-recession levels.

The Conference Board will issue its index of leading economic indicators for July. In June, the index, which is designed to predict the economy's future health, increased for a fifth straight month.

The National Association of Realtors will report on existing-home sales in July. In June, sales rose for a third straight month, lifting the figure to the highest level in eight months.

Freddie Mac reports on average U.S. mortgage rates for this week. Last week, the average for the 30-year loan slipped to 4.12 percent from 4.14 percent the previous week.

Also today, two big retailers report their quarterly financial results. Sears reports before the market opens. Gap reports after the closing bell.

CHINA-MANUFACTURING

HONG KONG (AP) -- A survey says Chinese factory activity expanded in August at a slower rate, suggesting the recovery in the world's No. 2 economy is losing momentum.

The HSBC preliminary purchasing managers' index fell to a three-month low of 50.3 from 51.7 in July.

The index is based on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate contraction.

China's economy had been showing signs of revival after a slowdown, with growth edging higher to 7.5 percent in the April-June quarter. But the report on the country's vast manufacturing industry shows the recovery is uneven.

Communist leaders in Beijing have already unveiled small-scale stimulus to bolster growth. HSBC economists said "more policy support is needed to consolidate the recovery."

The final version of the survey is due Sep. 1.

BANK OF AMERICA-SETTLEMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Officials directly familiar with intense private negotiations have told The Associated Press that Bank of America has reached a record settlement of nearly $17 billion with the government. The aim is to resolve a federal investigation into the bank's role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis.

One of the officials, who spoke with The Associated Press said the bank will pay $9.65 billion in cash and provide consumer relief valued at $7 billion. The official spoke on grounds of anonymity because the settlement was not scheduled to be announced until Thursday at the earliest.

The deal is the largest settlement arising from the economic meltdown in which millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. It follows agreements in the last year with Citigroup for $7 billion and with JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $13 billion.

Like the Bank of America deal, those settlements were a mixture of hard cash and "credits" for various forms of consumer aid that the banks promised to provide in coming years.

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY-SETTLEMENT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Warren Buffett's company has agreed to an $896,000 penalty for failing to give advance notice to l regulators about a December 2013 investment in wallboard maker USG Corp.

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that Berkshire Hathaway Inc. should have notified the Justice Department before it converted $325 million of senior USG notes it held into 21.4 million shares of the company.

Because Berkshire was already a significant USG shareholder, antitrust laws required it to notify regulators because of the size of the deal. At the end of June, Berkshire held just over 39 million USG shares.

Berkshire did correct its initial filing after the USG investment and clarify that it should have notified officials. But regulators said Berkshire made a similar mistake six months earlier.

COAL ASH

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina lawmakers have approved legislation they say makes the state the nation's first to address decades of toxic water pollution from residue left behind by coal-burning electricity plants.

The General Assembly on Wednesday approved legislation addressing the problem unmasked six months ago when a coal ash spill from a Duke Energy plant coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. The measure goes to Gov. Pat McCrory before becoming law.

Environmentalists say the legislation improved on earlier efforts, but didn't go far enough.

Lawmakers say the measure would reverse a Superior Court judge's ruling that Duke must take "immediate action" to eliminate groundwater contamination that crosses onto a neighboring property.

Environmental attorney Frank Holleman says that will allow Duke to study the problem indefinitely before starting cleanup.

UPS-DATA BREACH

ATLANTA (AP) -- Some customers of The UPS Store may have had their credit and debit card information exposed by a computer virus found on systems at 51 stores in 24 states.

A spokeswoman for UPS says the information includes names, card numbers and postal and email addresses from about 100,000 transactions between Jan. 20 and Aug. 11.

United Parcel Service Inc. said Wednesday that it was among U.S. retailers who got a Department of Homeland Security bulletin about the malware on July 31. The malware is not identified by current anti-virus software.

Spokeswoman Chelsea Lee says the company isn't aware of any fraud related to the attack.

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