All week the markets have hung on every word coming out of Washington. Nothing else has mattered: not earnings, not Europe's problems, not even the second coming of Christ could have distracted investors. Now that both political parties have achieved what they wanted, let's please stop the monkey business before it's too late.
Credit Suisse, a global broker/investment banker, said on Thursday that in the unlikely event that the U.S. defaults on its debt, the economy could contract by 5 percent and the stock market could lose one third of its value. Although I believe that is an extreme view, the entire mess over the debt ceiling is causing hesitation and delay among the nation's business sector.
Companies have put all sorts of decisions on hold until the crisis is resolved. That includes hiring and investment decisions that directly impact the employment rate and our economic growth. The timing couldn't be worse. The economy is just starting to recover from a soft patch caused by the slowdown in Japan's economy. In addition, our unemployment rate has recently notched up to 9.2 percent. We can't afford these shenanigans.
However, the increase in our debt ceiling is only one of an emerging two-part problem in our economy. Credit agencies are warning that unless we do something to reduce spending and the deficit, our credit rating may be reduced. Now that wouldn't be the end of the world for America, after all, Japan's credit rating was reduced early this year with little consequence. But it certainly wouldn't help the pace of our recovery nor improve the jobless rate.
As we go down to the wire, it appears that if there is to be a deal on raising the debt limit, then both parties will need to agree to disagree and postpone a big deficit-cutting plan until after Aug. 3. There is simply not enough time to hammer out a compromise in the time allotted. There will be a price to pay for a deal of that sort. The markets and the country's corporations will continue to hesitate until a deal is struck that will satisfy the credit agencies.
A compromise budget-cutting plan that cuts $2 trillion or so from the deficit over 10 years will not cut the mustard. The agencies are on record as wanting at least double that amount in order to stave off a credit reduction. The Democrats, led by President Obama, wanted a "Grand Plan" that would answer the demands of the credit agencies and put to rest the deficit politically as an election issue.
The Republicans want the opposite. They see the economy, the deficit and unemployment as the three most likely opportunities to unseat the Democrats next year. By foot dragging now, they can keep the controversy alive and hopefully capitalize on an anemic and aging recovery while continuing to ask "Where are the jobs?" If in the process either the country defaults or our credit rating is reduced they are betting Obama will be blamed for that along with the economy.
They are counting on voters to forget by election time who did what to whom in this debt controversy. I suspect their gamble will pay off.
After all, how many voters remember that the TARP Plan (just one example) was approved before Obama took office? Did you know that the huge deficit we are saddled with actually occurred during the Bush administration? Between his tax cuts and the initiation of two wars, President Bush, with the aid of today's Republican leadership, not only spent the surplus garnered under the Clinton years but wracked up $8.813 trillion in additional new debt.
The Democrats under Obama have added $1.136 trillion in the form of economic stimulus and tax cuts. Economists argue that without that spending our country would have remained in recession or possibly fallen into a depression. In addition, Obama will spend $152 billion on health-care reform and $278 billion on defense. The vast majority of the money spent on these policy initiatives won't even be spent until years in the future, if at all.
As an independent voter, I am less inclined to listen to either parties' rhetoric and instead focus on the facts. The facts are that the financial crisis, the deficit and the subsequent rise in the unemployment rate are the legacy of the Bush administration. I can applaud the GOP for belatedly realizing that they have been on a spending spree for the last decade, but don't blame others for your party's failings.
Sure, if you choose, you can blame Obama and his team for failing to generate a quick recovery, but enough already with this myth that he is the root cause of today's problems in America. As Americans, we deserve more from Washington.
Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at (toll free) or e-mail him at email@example.com
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