Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By Christopher S. Rugaber
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The budget agreement Congress reached Wednesday cheered investors and removed the threat of a catastrophic debt default that could have triggered another recession.
Yet the temporary nature of the deal means a cloud will remain over a sluggish U.S. economy that was further slowed by the government’s partial shutdown.
Political fights over taxing and spending will persist over the next few months. The risk of another government shutdown and doubts about the government’s borrowing authority remain. Businesses and consumers may still spend and invest at the same cautious pace they have since the Great Recession officially ended more than four years ago.
The agreement, expected to be approved by the House and Senate late Wednesday, will reopen the government but only until Jan. 15. The deal would enable the United States to keep borrowing to pay its bills, but not past Feb. 7.
The deal followed a two-week shutdown and came a day before a Treasury Department deadline to raise the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit.
“The good news is that we avoid hitting the debt ceiling and all the risks that entails,” said Joel Prakken, co-founder of Macroeconomic Advisers, a forecasting firm. “The bad news is ... this hasn’t produced any clarity. We’re going to be right back at this again after the turn of the year.”
The stock market soared on the news. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 206 points. Bond investors celebrated, too. They sharply drove down the yield on the one-month Treasury bill, which would have come due around the time a default could have occurred. And the yield on the 10-year Treasury, a benchmark for rates on mortgages and other loans, fell.
Investors may now turn to what typically moves stock prices: corporate earnings and economic data. Wall Street is in the midst of earnings season.
“We can go back to focusing on the true reason why stocks are higher: the rebound in housing, rising corporate profits, the resurgence in manufacturing,” said Doug Cote, chief investment strategist for ING U.S. Investment Management.
By itself, the partial government shutdown will have only a limited effect on economic growth, analysts said. Most forecast that the shutdown will dent growth by about 0.15 percentage point per week. But federal employees will receive back pay, suggesting that much of the lost spending could be made up.
Standard & Poor’s estimated that the shutdown has shaved at least 0.6 percentage point from the economy’s annual growth rate in the October-December quarter.
It calculated that that means the shutdown took $24 billion out of the economy.
S&P now expects the economy to grow at a tepid annual rate of roughly 2 percent this quarter. In September, it had predicted a 3 percent growth rate.
“The U.S. economy dodged a bullet today,” said Paul Edelstein, an economist at IHS Global Insight. “But the reprieve will be short. ... The stage is set for another showdown in January.”
IHS lowered its forecast for growth in the October-December quarter to a 1.6 percent annual rate from a 2.2 percent rate.
The new deadlines to fund the government and raise the borrowing limit that are now a few months away could also weigh on growth in the first quarter of 2014.
A study by Prakken’s firm found that uncertainty over future government policies tends to raise borrowing costs for businesses and consumers, depress stock markets and lower business and consumer confidence.
Uncertainty surrounding government tax and budget policies has remained far above historical norms since 2009, Prakken said.
Higher borrowing costs typically make companies less likely to invest and hire. Lower stock markets reduce household wealth and can cut into consumer spending. Macroeconomic Advisers estimates that these factors have slowed growth by 0.3 percentage point each year since 2010.
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