Slow and sober – what credit and debt means to the US, and to us
Update: Here is the China view, from Xinhua:
China side-stepping U.S. financial crisis with innovative strategies – After watching Congress play politics and care not a whit about upholding the honor of United States, can the world assume that America is not about to become a deadbeat to beat all deadbeat nations in history?
Even if the United States Treasury eventually honors its obligations after undergoing the tortuous exercise between House, Senate and the White House, will the rest of the world continue to have faith and confidence in the value of the dollar? China, the country that holds more U.S. federal debt than any other foreign country, is taking action to sidestep potential future U.S. default. Full story
U.S. debt ceiling deal is double-edge sword for China – The roller-coaster debate over raising the US national debt ceiling finally concluded after the two parties made compromises. The Democratic Party-led administration removed the political restraint of debt default before the general election in 2012, and the Republican Party-led House of Representatives secured a promise to cut government spending over the next decade.
The two parties had threatened each other using the interests of global creditors, staging a preview of next year’s general election. Meanwhile, the hidden trouble in the global financial market and economic recovery has temporarily been avoided. Full story
Time to reconsider buying of US assets – While the Chinese government made it clear that it was unhappy about the possibility that the United States could default on its debt, it was also clear that China’s concerns are not a major factor in US politics. The United States has always been an incredibly insular country. The vast majority of the public has very little interest in or concern for what is going elsewhere in the world, except insofar as it directly affects the US. Full story
Earlier – Lots of outrage, vitriol and prognosis about the US credit rating downgrade. Does it affect anything in our real lives? What will it do to prices and household assets? What will it do to food inflation and the cost of living? At what point does credit rating become meaningless for an economy that’s deep in debt anyway (and exporting wars all over the planet)? Here are some signposts.
CEPR has savaged the New York Times for an article which asserted that members of the congressional panel will have to “mute ideological disagreements.” It is not clear that members of Congress have ideological disagreements. Members of Congress get elected because of their ability to appeal to powerful interest groups, said CEPR. “The differences around proposals to cut programs like Social Security and Medicare or to raise taxes on the wealthy most obviously stem from the different interest groups being represented. It is not obvious that the ideology of individual members of Congress matters, since their ability to keep their jobs will depend on the extent to which members of Congress can keep their backers satisfied.”
It also would have been useful to include the views of members of Congress who ridiculed the downgrade, pointing out that S&P had rated hundreds of billions of subprime mortgage backed securities as investment grade. It also had given top investment grade ratings to both Lehman and AIG until the day they collapsed. It also was off by $2 trillion in its calculations of U.S. indebtedness. In other words, there are very good reasons not to take S&P’s ratings seriously and there certainly many people who do not, including it seems investors in financial markets.
In Triple Crisis only a few days ago, C P Chandrashekar discussed the debt of Greece and what it means for Europe and its currency. “What is galling to most is the fact that at the end of all this, the problem remains unresolved. Greek public debt is still in excess of its gross domestic product. Servicing that even on slightly lighter terms seems near impossible in the midst of austerity that spells recession. Another bail-out is inevitable. The danger is that next time around governments across Europe and elsewhere may be overcome with bail-out fatigue and just risk wholesale default. The banks and private creditors would then get their due. But that is small comfort, since the fall-out for the rest may be too much to bear.”
In the Financial Times, Eswar Prasad and Mengjie Ding say that their analysis paints a sobering picture of worsening public debt dynamics and a sharply rising debt burden in advanced economies. These rising debt levels combined with heightened concerns about fiscal solvency now constitute a major threat to global financial stability.
“Recent events in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and other economies on the periphery of the eurozone show the risks of debt buildups that are not tackled. Bond investors can quickly turn against a vulnerable country with high debt levels, leaving the country little breathing room to balance its fiscal books and precipitating a crisis. Overall, the worldwide picture of government debt is not pretty.”
Via Economists View, a veteran’s look at S&P’s competency to do anything at all:
Back when I was an in-house lawyer for an investment bank, I had extensive interactions with all three rating agencies. We needed to get a lot of deals rated, and I was almost always involved in that process in the deals I worked on. To say that S&P analysts aren’t the sharpest tools in the drawer is a massive understatement.
I’ve seen S&P make far more basic mistakes than the one they made in miscalculating the US’s debt-to-GDP ratio. I’ve seen an S&P managing director who didn’t know the order of operations, and when we pointed it out to him, stopped taking our calls. Despite impressive-sounding titles, these guys personify “amateur hour.” (And my opinion of S&P isn’t just based on a few deals; it’s based on countless deals, meetings, and phone calls over 20 years. It’s also the opinion of practically everyone else who deals with the rating agencies on a semi-regular basis.)