Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
My takeaways from yesterday’s fiscal cliff deal.
First, thank God people will now stop talking about “going over the fiscal cliff”. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke has done many terrible things at the central bank, but coining the phrase “fiscal cliff” was clearly one of the worst.
Second, anyone thinking that this is somehow the end of the story when it comes to the U.S. budget difficulties should be immediately absolved of that notion since, before you know it, there will be another catchy phrase to describe what is about to happen over the next two months.
Based on what I’ve been reading, it will be termed an “abyss” of some sort - the debt ceiling abyss, the sequestration abyss, the government funding abyss, or, my personal favorite appearing in the title above, sans the “abyss” moniker. This Bloomberg report summarizes what lies ahead:
If anything, the U.S. faces an even more ominous deadline in a few months. The debt ceiling was hit as of New Year’s Eve. The U.S. Treasury will dip into its tool bag to keep the country’s borrowing ability going, but that will last only about two months. Also in early March, the sequestration — $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, half in defense and half in domestic programs - springs back, unless Congress finds a way to offset it with other spending cuts. Weeks later, the law that keeps the government funded expires. It all means that, in late February and early March, Congress will face a sequestration, a government default and a government shutdown. Republicans say they’ll use the leverage created by the debt ceiling to force Obama to accept spending cuts, particularly in entitlement programs. Obama resisted that notion on Dec. 31, saying he wants more tax increases and won’t accept Republican plans to “shove” spending cuts past him. “If they think that’s going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they’ve got another thing coming,” he said.
Per this story at The Hill, the duo of Simpson and Bowles probably best characterized the result as follows:
“We have all known for over a year that this fiscal cliff was coming. In fact Washington politicians set it up to force themselves to seriously deal with our Nation’s long term fiscal problems,” Simpson and Bowles added. “Yet even after taking the Country to the brink of economic disaster, Washington still could not forge a common sense bipartisan consensus on a plan that stabilizes the debt.”
What does this mean for financial markets in general and precious metals in particular? These thoughts from the Bank of Nova Scotia appearing in this Globe & Mail report today provide a good summary:
The U.S. budget agreement is likely to prove [U.S. dollar] negative in the medium term as it averts the fiscal cliff today but fails to provide a credible medium-term fiscal plan and instead forces major issues, like the debt ceiling and $110-billion in spending cuts, out to March 1, and highlights how challenged the U.S. political system has become. In addition, it potentially lays the foundation for a rating agency downgrade.
Anyone who grew tired and angry about the fiscal cliff debate over the last couple months should enjoy the current reprieve while they can because it will be just days (maybe only hours) before we start hearing about the much more difficult (and dangerous) debate that lies ahead.