January 1, 2013

Political brinksmanship still threatens US economy

Christopher S. Rugabe and Paul Wiseman / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

"The process matters almost as much as what they actually do," Harris says.

Outside Washington, the economy has been getting some good news. Europe's financial crisis appears to have eased, reducing the threat of a renewed financial crisis. And the U.S. real estate market finally appears to be recovering from the housing bust.

But the old worries have been replaced by new ones about political gridlock, says Joseph LaVorgna, an economist at Deutsche Bank.

The partisan divide has left businesses and consumers wondering what's going to happen to their taxes and to federal contracts.

Companies have plenty of cash. But they reduced spending on industrial equipment, computers and software from July to September, the first quarterly drop since mid-2009 when the economy was still in recession. And hiring has been stuck at a modest level of about 150,000 new jobs per month this year.

"What we see is fear," says Darin Harris, chief operating for Primrose Schools, an Atlanta company with 250 franchised preschools in 17 states. He says franchise owners have been reluctant to invest in a second or third school until they know what tax rates are going to be and where government spending is headed. "All those things make our small business owners reluctant to reinvest."

Consumer confidence fell in December for the second straight month, according to a survey by the Conference Board, which blamed the drop on worries about the fiscal cliff. The uncertainty is also believed to have dinged holiday shopping, which grew at the slowest pace this year since 2008.

"Every kind of brinksmanship moment is a reminder to people to not trust the economy," Harris says.

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