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 April 17, 2015 17:12 GMT

CONSUMER PRICES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rising gas prices in March led to a slight increase in inflation, a sign that some of the broader economic impact from cheaper oil is fading.

The Labor Department says the consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in March. Inflation moved at that same pace in February, which ended three straight monthly declines caused largely by falling oil and gasoline prices.

Gas prices remain about 33 percent lower than a year ago, but they bounced up 3.9 percent from February to March. Over the past 12 months, consumer prices have slumped 0.1 percent.

Outside food and energy, core prices also rose 0.2 percent in March. The cost of clothes, housing, cars, and medical care increased, while food and airfare decreased. Core prices have risen 1.8 percent in the past year.

LEADING INDICATORS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An index designed to predict the future health of the economy slowly crept upward for the third straight month, a sign that the pace of growth has been weakening since the start of 2015.

The New York-based Conference Board says its index of leading indicators rose 0.2 percent in March, after gains of 0.1 percent in February and 0.2 percent in January.

Building permits were the weakest part of the index, while slowdowns in average working hours and new factory orders have also been in a drag over the past six months.

Conference Board economists say that the modest gains may be signaling a continued decline in growth over the coming months.

EARNS-GENERAL ELECTRIC

NEW YORK (AP) -- The industrial heart of General Electric, the company's new focus, posted lower revenue and earnings in the first quarter amid an enormous overall loss resulting from its recently-announced sale of most of the assets in its finance subsidiary.

Net income from the part of GE that the company will retain after the sale fell 5 percent to $3.1 billion, the company said Friday. Adjusted earnings per share fell 6 percent to 31 cents, a penny better than analysts polled by Zacks Investment Research expected, on average.

Revenue fell 12 percent to $29.4 billion, below the $34.4 billion analysts expected.

GE announced last week it would sell most of the assets in its GE Capital subsidiary, the latest and most dramatic move by the company to transform itself into a more focused industrial conglomerate that makes large, complicated equipment for other businesses.

Costs and charges associated with the sale totaling $14.1 billion pushed the company to an overall loss of $13.57 billion in the quarter, down from a profit of $3 billion during last year's first quarter. On a per-share basis, the company lost $1.35.

EARNS-REYNOLDS AMERICAN

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Reynolds American's first-quarter profit climbed, helped by increased cigarette prices. Its adjusted profit beat analysts' expectations.

The parent of the Camel and Pall Mall cigarette brands earned $389 million, or 73 cents per share, for the three months ended March 31. A year earlier it earned $363 million, or 67 cents per share.

Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs, were 86 cents per share.

Revenue amounted to $2.06 billion in the period.

Reynolds American Inc. still expects full-year adjusted earnings in the range of $3.65 to $3.80 per share. Analysts polled by FactSet predict earnings of $3.79 per share.

BLOOMBERG-TERMINALS DOWN

LONDON (AP) -- Bloomberg LP's trading terminals, which are used by most of the world's biggest financial firms, went down for a few hours today due to apparent technical problems, prompting the British government to postpone a planned 3 billion-pound ($4.4 billion) debt issue.

Users said the outage started as trading was getting in full swing around 8 a.m. in London.

By day's end in London, Bloomberg said its service had been "fully restored." In a statement, it said hardware and software failures in its network caused excessive volumes that led to customer disconnections as a result of the machines being overwhelmed.

Though the outage is an extremely rare phenomenon for the firm started by former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, in the early 1980s, it's likely to cause concern at the company.

Bloomberg has become the world's biggest financial information provider, overtaking rival Reuters.

JAPAN-US-TRADE

TOKYO (AP) -- Top Japan and U.S. trade officials plan to meet this weekend, seeking to close gaps over autos and farm trade before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Washington later this month.

Economy minister Akira Amari announced plans for the talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman late Friday.

The U.S. and Japan must agree on market-opening measures before the 12 countries involved can reach a long-delayed final accord on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a Pacific Rim trade pact.

An agreement by U.S. lawmakers Thursday to propose legislation allowing President Barack Obama to negotiate trade accords for overall congressional review appeared to help move things along.

The plan for Cabinet-level talks suggests the two sides made progress this week on resolving differences over the pace and scale of market opening.

OBAMA-TRADE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says the politics of international trade have always been difficult, especially within the Democratic Party. But he says U.S. opposition to new trade agreements would give China a leg up in setting the rules for commerce.

Obama's seeking to reassure critics by saying deals with Asia and Europe would have enforceable labor and environmental protections.

Obama spoke at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Top congressional lawmakers reached a deal Thursday to pave the way for the broadest trade policy pact in years. Under the agreement, Obama would be allowed to negotiate trade accords that Congress could approve or reject, but not change.

That authority would set the stage for Obama to complete a sweeping trade agreement with 11 Pacific nations.

CHINA-TIGHTER STOCK RULES

BEIJING (AP) -- China's securities regulator is tightening control over lending to small investors trading stocks.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission has banned a type of financing called an umbrella trust, tightened control over other financing and told brokerages to limit potential risks, the commission said in a statement Friday.

The statement cited comments by the commission's deputy chairman, Zhang Yujun, to a gathering of brokerage executives.

China's stock market has doubled over the past year as more small investors shift money into stocks. Tighter control over lending might reflect concerns that investors are taking on too much risk.

Zhang was cited as saying the commission plans to intensify inspection and law enforcement efforts.

GREECE-BAILOUT

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek officials say negotiators are to meet representatives of the country's creditors again on Saturday to "find common ground" in tortuous talks over the future of Greece's bailout.

Dependent on funds from two multi-billion euro bailouts since 2010, Greece is fast running out of cash. Negotiations with representatives of its creditors in other eurozone countries, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank have not gone well, with the new left-wing government in Athens insisting their demands are too onerous.

For their part, the creditors insist the country must produce credible reforms before they unlock the final 7.2 billion euro installment. Without it, Greece could default on debts it must repay the IMF next month, and run out of cash to pay salaries and pensions.

OIL TRAINS-SAFETY

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal transportation officials say they're taking a series of steps to improve the safety of trains hauling crude oil and other flammable liquids, including an emergency order limiting train speeds to no more than 40 mph in "high impact" urban areas.

Among other steps announced Friday by the Department of Transportation is a warning to railroads to use the latest technology to check for flaws in train wheels.

Major freight railroads are already limiting oil trains to no more 40 mph in urban areas under a voluntary agreement, but the order makes that a requirement and extends it to trains carrying other flammable liquids like ethanol.

There have been dozens of fiery crashes over past decade involving trains hauling oil and ethanol in the U.S. and Canada.

FEDERAL LANDS-ROYALTIES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is taking the first step toward a possible increase in the fees charged for oil and gas companies to drill on federal lands.

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comments on proposed regulations that would give the government more flexibility to set fees.

Government auditors have consistently questioned whether the public is getting a fair return from the 12.5 percent royalty now being charged.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says the current regulations have failed to keep pace with technological advances and market conditions.

A low royalty rate encourages oil and gas exploration, and any increase would likely raise protests from industry and others that it will lessen production and increase prices at the pump.

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