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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 October 31, 2014 07:28 GMT

WORLD-FINANCIAL MARKETS

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average surged 5 percent and the yen slid against the dollar after the Bank of Japan unexpectedly announced new stimulus to boost a flagging economic recovery.

Other Asian stock markets were also higher after the Japanese central bank's announcement Friday. The dollar rose 1.2 percent to 110.64 yen.

The bank said it would increase its asset purchases by between 10 trillion yen and 20 trillion yen ($90.7 billion to $181.3 billion) to about 80 trillion yen ($725 billion) annually.

The Nikkei was up 4.6 percent at 16,380.11 after shedding some of its initial gains. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.2 percent and Seoul's Kospi was up 0.1 percent.

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Today. the Commerce Department will release its September report on consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity in the U.S.

Also, the University of Michigan will issue its monthly index of consumer sentiment for October. In September, the index reached its highest level since July 2013, led by greater optimism that the economy will grow and incomes will rise.

The Labor Department will also release the third-quarter employment cost index.

Before the market opens, Exxon Mobil will report its quarterly financial results.

CITI-REVISED EARNS

NEW YORK (AP) -- Citigroup is slashing its third-quarter earnings by $600 million, saying that recent investigations by regulators have altered the results it reported earlier this month.

The New York-based bank on Thursday revised its quarterly net income to $2.8 billion from a previously reported $3.4 billion, citing legal expenses.

The bank's operating expenses rose from $12.36 billion to about $13 billion.

The company said in a statement the unexpected increase came from "rapidly-evolving regulatory inquiries and investigations, including very recent communications with certain regulatory agencies related to previously-disclosed matters."

Citi previously reported third-quarter net income of $3.44 billion, or $1.07 per share, on Oct. 14. The results exceeded Wall Street estimates.

Like other major banks, Citigroup has been the target of lawsuits and government investigations for its role in the mortgage meltdown that helped spur the financial crisis of 2008.

SURGICAL GOWNS LAWSUIT

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A lawsuit says Kimberly-Clark Corp. falsely claimed its surgical gowns met the highest standards for protecting against Ebola and other infectious diseases.

Lead attorney Michael Avenatti says the Texas hospital where two nurses contracted Ebola used to stock the gowns but it's not clear if the nurses had used them.

The $500 million fraud suit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles on behalf of a surgeon who wore the gowns.

The lawsuit says Kimberly-Clark knew for a year that the gowns failed industry tests and allowed the transfer of bodily fluids, bacteria and viruses, but the company still promoted them as having the highest level of impermeability.

The maker of Kleenex and other consumer products says it doesn't comment on lawsuits but stands behind its products' safety.

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