Yesterday Reuters reported that a troubling, yet potentially inevitable development may be imminent: the default of the US, granted, a short-lived one (though we are not sure just how the world's "reserve" currency will be backed by a national that is technically insolvent). Luckily for the US, everyone else (except China) is just as bankrupt. Yet if there is one thing pushing Lehman into competitive bankruptcy just so that Goldman would have a monopoly in the US fixed income sales and trading market, it is that any such action will have massive downstream consequences, and in the pyramid of "unpredictable downstream effects", the insolvency of the US is at the very top. And just to make it clear, now that a default is becoming a palpable option, China announced that the United States is "playing with fire" if it opts to briefly default on its debt, which could undermine the dollar, Li Daokui, an adviser to China's central bank said on Wednesday. Yet the statement could very well backfire after Li, speaking on the sidelines of a forum, said China needs to dissuade the United States from defaulting on its debt, but he believed China may hang on to its investment in U.S. Treasuries in any case. This is precisely the case made by Stanley Druckenmiller: in fact, should there be a technical default, US bonds will become a true safe haven investment as America will for the first time take a step to indicate that it believes the relentless abuse of its fiscal situation is coming to an end.
In the meantime, here is why the soap opera in DC may take a big turn for the worse:
An increasing number of Republicans do not believe the Obama administration's dire predictions of economic "catastrophe" if the debt limit is not increased. They argue a period of technical default can be managed without plunging markets into chaos.
Establishment Republicans including Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who announced his presidential candidacy last month, are backing a short-term default if it leads to deep, immediate spending cuts.
Jeff Sessions and Paul Ryan, the top Republicans on the Senate and House Budget Committees, have also said failure to raise the debt limit would not trigger immediate catastrophe.
Republican Senator Pat Toomey has even introduced legislation directing the Treasury to prioritize debt service over other payments if the debt limit is not raised. It has 22 Republican co-sponsors in the Senate and 98 in the House of Representatives, although no members of the Republican leadership have backed it.
David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a Republican advocate for raising the debt limit, said he holds regular question-and-answer sessions with Republican congressman over a beer.
"I have yet to meet one Republican who actually says a failure to raise the debt limit scares them," Frum said. "It is deeply, deeply troubling the number of Republicans I now talk to -- and I include the mainstream -- who think a technical default is manageable.
Many on Wall Street disagree. They fear even the briefest default would cause a steep climb in interest rates worldwide and a tumbling dollar, which would tip a fragile economy back into recession and cause financial market upheaval on a scale not seen since the collapse of Lehman Bros.
Fueling skepticism over this outcome is an argument made last month by legendary investor Stan Druckenmiller, a one-time ally of George Soros, who said he would favor a short-term default if in exchange lawmakers in Washington struck a deal for massive spending cuts and a medium-term plan to tackle the $1.4 trillion deficit.
"That had a lot of impact on Republicans," said Vin Weber, a veteran Republican strategist and party moderate. He said the idea that a short-term default would not be a problem "is definitely becoming a mainstream belief."
That this is happening despite Geithner's constant cries of "wolf" is no longer surprising. At this point the only credibility redeeming move for the tax avoider is to resign. Which is why it is not surprising that the SecTres now needs the support of "strategists" from Bank of America, who alas have demonstrated about the same amount of correct predictive ability.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says failure to increase the debt limit by August 2 will lead to a crisis in the markets that could plunge the back into recession. Priya Misra, head of rates research at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, said $25.6 billion in Treasury interest payments due on August 15 could be in jeopardy if the August 2 deadline is not met. The resulting losses could spark a bank run of the sort seen when Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008.
If the United States defaults, money market mutual funds that invest in short-term government bills, considered one of the most secure investments, could "break the buck" by falling below $1 a share, Misra said.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says failure to increase the debt limit by August 2 will lead to a crisis in the markets that could plunge the back into recession.
Priya Misra, head of rates research at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, said $25.6 billion in Treasury interest payments due on August 15 could be in jeopardy if the August 2 deadline is not met.
The resulting losses could spark a bank run of the sort seen when Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008.
The summer, traditionally a time when bond traders would leave for the Hamptons around 10 am each Friday, is about to see far less traffic on the LIE, as everyone remains glued to their terminals late into Friday in anticipation of US insolvency news.