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 December 22, 2014 08:26 GMT

ECONOMY-THE WEEK AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- This is a shortened trading week with the stock and bond markets closed on Christmas Day.

However, there are some interesting government economic reports being released ahead of the holiday.

Today, the National Association of Realtors will report on how many existing homes were sold in November.

On Tuesday, the government will report on last month's new home sales, as well as November's durable goods numbers and personal income and spending for November. It will also report the third-quarter gross domestic product

This week, the government will be releasing last week's jobless claims number a day early, on Christmas Eve. Also on Wednesday, Freddie Mac will report this week's mortgage rates.

SKOREA-ECONOMY

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea has lowered its growth forecast for next weak citing the persistently weak sentiment among consumers and businesses.

The finance ministry said Monday that Asia's fourth-largest economy will expand 3.8 percent in 2015. Six months ago, it forecast 4.0 percent growth.

The downward revision, representing some improvement from 3.4 percent growth this year, shows the government's challenge in encouraging consumers to spend more and businesses to boost investment despite its expansionary policies and the central bank's two rate cuts this year.

Director-General Lee Chanwoo said the recovery in consumer spending and capital expenditure remains weaker than expected in the last two months.

Lee said consumers and businesses still have great uncertainties about next year and the last quarter's improvement in the economy stemmed mostly from the government policies.

SAFEWAY SALE-HAGGEN

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) -- The Washington state-based grocery chain Haggen Inc. plans to buy 146 Albertsons and Safeway stores in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona.

The Bellingham Herald reports the sales are required under the federal review of Safeway's sale to an investment group that owns Albertsons.

If Haggen's plans announced Friday get Federal Trade Commission approval, the Bellingham-based company would expand from 18 stores and 16 pharmacies in the Northwest to 164 stores and 106 pharmacies in the five states.

Details of the deal haven't been released.

This is the largest of several sales related to the $7.6 billion sale of Safeway to investors led by Cerberus Capital Management. Associated Food Stores is buying eight stores in Montana and Wyoming, Associated Wholesale Grocers is purchasing 12 stores in Texas, and Supervalu is buying two Albertsons stores in Everett and Woodinville, Washington.

GAS PRICES

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) -- The average price of regular gasoline nationwide has dropped another 25 cents a gallon in the past two weeks, to $2.47.

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said Sunday that prices will likely keep falling.

Lundberg says the average price of regular gasoline is the lowest it's been in more than five years.

She says lower crude oil prices are driving prices down, along with an abundant oil supply and the rising value of the U.S. dollar.

The highest-priced gas in the Lower 48 states was found in Long Island, New York, at $2.82 a gallon. The lowest was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at $2.06 a gallon.

California's lowest average was in Sacramento, at $2.58 a gallon.

The average price for midgrade gas in the U.S. is $2.71. For premium it's $2.87.

MINE EXPLOSION-INSPECTIONS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Deaths and injuries at the nation's coal mines have been declining since a West Virginia underground mining disaster killed 29 workers less than five years ago.

Coal mines are on pace this year to set a new low mark in mining deaths. So far in 2014 there have been 15 coal mine-related deaths, and with less than a month left in the year, the number could stay below the record 18 set in 2009.

Federal mine safety officials say increased enforcement efforts since the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 have improved the safety at all the nation's mines. Assistant Labor Secretary Joe Main says officials focused on making coal mines safer after the West Virginia tragedy.

MIDEAST OIL

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's oil chief is dismissing allegations that his kingdom conspired to bring down oil prices in order to harm other countries and told a summit of Arab energy leaders that he was confident the market would stabilize.

The kingdom, which is dependent on oil revenues, is able to weather lower oil prices due to large reserves built up over the years. Non-OPEC member Russia and other nations like Iraq, Iran and Venezuela need prices substantially above present levels to meet budget goals and want to drive prices up.

Saudi Arabia maintains it is opposed to cutting production because of fears its market share could erode.

The price of U.S. crude has dipped below $60 a barrel, its lowest in five years. Naimi said he was certain that the oil market would recover with the improvement of the global economy.

An OPEC meeting last month failed to agree on production cuts, mainly because of Saudi opposition to curb its own exports. OPEC controls about 40 percent of the world oil market and Saudi Arabia is the cartel's largest producer.

DISH NETWORK-FOX BLACKOUT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dish Network subscribers were unable to watch Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network on Sunday when the channels were taken down as part of contract negotiations.

The Fox blackout is just the latest skirmish as cable and satellite TV providers fight with networks over subscription fees. Dish Network just settled disputes that led to the temporary blackout of some local CBS stations and a separate blackout related to Turner Broadcasting channels -- including Cartoon Network, CNN, Boomerang and Turner Classic Movies.

Dish has more than 14 million satellite TV customers.

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