Congress managed to avert a recurring crisis last Thursday, as it passed a short-term appropriations bill that will keep the lights on in the hallowed halls of Washington through December 3rd.
That leaves members with the rest of what Hayes Brown calls “the to-do list from hell” — at the top of which is what to do about the debt ceiling.
After exploding out of the starting gate a few weeks ago, the paper markets are getting a big smack in the face this week.
Stocks slumped for a third straight session yesterday, as the S&P declined by 0.8%, and it’s now down 2.5% for the week – on track for the first negative week of the year.
On the other hand, Treasuries have done well this week. Remember that bond prices move in the opposite direction of their yields (thus, falling yields mean rising prices).
The benchmark 10-year yield, which started this holiday-shortened week at just shy of 3.5%, took a nosedive on Wednesday and is now poised to finish the week about 10 basis points lower – at 3.4%.
Notably, the 10-year vs. the 2-year yield curve inversion (3.4% vs. 4.2%) continue to signal that investors at best see the Fed reversing course over the coming year and reducing rates. At worst, they see a coming recession.
The 10-year vs. 90-day yield inversion is even greater.
In the precious metals market, gold is up 0.7% for the week and is up 5.6% since January 1st. Silver is slightly up for the week (0.2%) but is slightly down since the start of the year (0.3%).
Matt Phillips is right when he observes that “the debt ceiling circus has arrived in D.C.” and it’s not going away anytime soon.
He writes today that the closer the federal government gets to “stiffing creditors” and going into an unprecedented default, “the bigger the implications will be for the markets and the economy.”
As I wrote in Friday’s article, the government hit its $31.4 trillion debt limit last Thursday.
While that’s a big deal, it’s nothing compared to what will happen to financial markets if the government defaults sometime mid-year.
For now, it just means the Treasury Department has to start using "extraordinary measures" – like drawing down its cash balances and deferring contributions to government pension funds – to keep paying its bills.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress that her department can keep juggling payments at least until June.
Markets don't appear to be overly worried at this point. But just wait. As Phillips points out, the longer the debt ceiling drama plays out — and the closer the government comes to default — the crazier markets will get.
That's exactly what happened in the summer of 2011, when we last came perilously close to the Thelma & Louise Driving Over the Edge moment into the abyss.
That year, as the crisis got worse into July and early August, the S&P 500 plummeted 15% and credit spreads that determined costs for home mortgages and corporate borrowings surged.
That jump came as investors grew leery of lending in the face of growing risk and uncertainty.
On the other side, those who say they want to cut government debt levels will likely claim that the turmoil the debt fight raised over a decade ago was worth it – despite the U.S.’s lowered credit rating.
They point to the Budget Control Act of 2011 that resulted from that debt limit fight, which helped cut federal budget deficits in subsequent years (note that it hasn’t actually helped cut the national debt, an important distinction).
So, however it turns out, the fight over raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default is going to hang over the markets for a good chunk of the year.
And, at least for investors, according to Phillips, “it's likely to be a bummer.”