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 November 26, 2014 19:13 GMT

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits jumped last week, pushing total applications above 300,000 for the first time in nearly three months.

The Labor Department says weekly applications rose 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 313,000, the highest level since the first week of September. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 6,250 to 294,000.

The increase is unlikely to raise concerns about the broader health of the job market. At least some of the rise occurred because of seasonal layoffs in businesses affected by the cold weather, such as construction. The department seeks to control for such seasonal factors but doesn't always do so perfectly.

Applications had been under 300,000 for 10 straight weeks, an unusually low level that indicates companies are laying off few workers.

CONSUMER SPENDING

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers picked up spending by a modest amount in October, a slight improvement after no gain at all in the previous month.

The Commerce Department says consumer spending rose 0.2 percent last month, while September was revised from a decline to a flat reading. Income grew 0.2 percent in October, matching the modest September gain.

Spending is closely watched because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. Solid job gains this year are helping to lift spending, which is giving a bolstering the overall economy.

Economic growth came in at a solid 3.9 percent in the July-September quarter. Economists are looking for growth of around 2.5 percent in the current quarter, and they believe 2015 will see further spending gains and growth of around 3 percent.

DURABLE GOODS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods rose in October, but a key category that tracks business investment plans declined sharply for a second straight month.

The Commerce Department says orders for durable goods increased 0.4 percent last month following a 0.9 percent drop in September and an even bigger 18.3 percent plunge in August. The two months of declines reflected big swings in the volatile category of commercial aircraft.

The small October gain was unimpressive, with declines in a number of categories including machinery, computers and primary metals such as steel.

A key category viewed as a proxy for business investment spending fell 1.3 percent in October after a similar 1.3 percent September drop. It was the biggest setback since a 1.4 percent May decline.

NEW HOME SALES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sales of new U.S. homes edged up modestly in October, led by a big jump in activity in the Midwest.

The Commerce Department says new home sales advanced 0.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000. That followed a smaller 0.4 percent gain in September and put sales at the highest point since May.

The strength last month came from a big 15.8 percent increase in sales in the Midwest and a smaller 7.1 percent rise in the Northeast. Those increases offset a 1.9 percent fall in sales in the South, which accounts for half of the new-home market, and a 2.7 percent drop in the West.

Housing has struggled to recover since the recession ended in June 2009.

PENDING-HOME SALES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans signing contracts to buy homes fell slightly in October as tight credit and lagging wages remained financial hurdles for would-be homebuyers.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index fell 1.1 percent the past month to 104.1. The index remains below its 2013 average but is 2.2 percent higher than last October.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.

Housing has struggled to fully rebound since the recession ended more than five years ago. Many potential buyers lack the savings and strong credit history needed to afford a home, causing them to rent or remain in their existing houses instead of upgrading.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. long-term mortgage rates ticked down for the third straight week, a positive trend for potential homebuyers.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage declined to 3.97 percent this week from 3.99 percent last week. Rates are now about a half-point lower than at the beginning of the year.

Long-term mortgage rates fell as low as 3.31 percent toward the end of 2012, partly because of the Federal Reserve's bond-purchase program, which was intended to keep rates low. That program has since ended.

Rates have fallen in recent weeks amid economic slowdowns in Europe and China and the start of a recession in Japan.

The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, was unchanged at 3.17 percent.

CONSUMER SENTIMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Greater optimism about income growth and future spending pushed U.S. consumer sentiment to a fresh 7-year high in November.

The University of Michigan says its index of consumer sentiment rose to 88.8 in November from 86.9 in October. That's the highest since July 2007, five months before the Great Recession began.

The report adds to a mixed picture of U.S. consumers heading into the holiday shopping season. A separate measure of consumer confidence, released Tuesday, fell sharply after reaching its own 7-year high last month. And Americans are spending at a sluggish pace despite a pickup in job creation this year.

Still, the Michigan survey found consumers said they were more likely to spend on big-ticket items such as appliances and autos than at any time since the recession began.

AIR BAG RECALL DEMAND

DETROIT (AP) -- U.S. safety regulators are threatening fines and legal action against Takata Corp. for failing to admit that its driver's-side air bag inflators are defective and should be recalled nationwide.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent a letter to the company Wednesday detailing the threats, which include a public hearing and possible court action.

Takata of Japan has refused demands for the national recall, saying that a recall limited to high-humidity states is sufficient. But the agency says two inflators have ruptured in cars outside the high-humidity zone, injuring drivers by spewing metal fragments.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says Takata must act quickly or the agency will use all of its authority and resources to get the national recall done.

OBAMA-SMOG

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is announcing steps to cut levels of smog-forming pollution linked to asthma, lung damage and other health problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency is calling for a new, lower threshold for ozone pollution of 65 to 70 parts per billion. That's down from the current standard of 75 parts per billion, put in place by President George W. Bush in 2008.

But the EPA is leaving open the possibility it could enact an even lower standard of 60 parts per billion sought by environmental groups.

The EPA estimates that meeting the stricter rules will cost industry about $3.9 billion in 2025 if the government goes with a standard of 70 parts per billion. At a level of 65 parts per billion, the EPA said, the cost grows to $15 billion.

Industry groups say the cost would actually be far higher and that it would be nearly impossible for refineries and other businesses to comply. But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says lower ozone standards would actually spur more businesses, investment and jobs by making communities healthier.

The EPA was under a court-ordered Dec. 1 deadline to issue a new smog standard.

CONGRESS-TAXES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A White House veto threat appears to have put on ice a congressional effort to permanently renew a handful of generous tax breaks for businesses and individuals. Officials say that the plan, brewing behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, favored corporations over the working class.

The unusual veto threat came before the parameters of a potential agreement were even revealed.

Speculation on Capitol Hill on Tuesday focused on a potential agreement to permanently enact tax breaks on business investments in new equipment and research and development, part of a plan that would renew dozens of expired tax breaks for businesses and individuals.

The White House immediately threatened a veto, saying Congress should also make permanent more generous tax credits for the working poor and people with children.

IMMIGRATION-BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Many immigrants in the United States illegally who apply for work permits under President Barack Obama's new executive actions would be eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits upon reaching retirement age, according to the White House.

Under Obama's actions, immigrants who are spared deportation would be eligible to obtain work permits and a Social Security number. As a result, they would pay into the Social Security system through payroll taxes.

Not all such immigrants would be entitled to the benefits, however, because like all Social Security and Medicare recipients they would have to work 10 years to become eligible for retirement payments and health care.

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