US debt ceiling talks fuels fear among finance firms
Several lobbyists, representing dozens of bankers, investors and credit rating agencies, are worried that dynamics at play in Washington could rule out a deal before an October deadline.
Washington - Failure to raise ceiling from current $19.8 trillion could lead to default, sending shockwaves across global markets
Published: Thu 31 Aug 2017, 8:55 PM
Last updated: Thu 31 Aug 2017, 10:56 PM
Financial firms are sounding alarm bells and dusting off contingency plans over fears an increasingly dysfunctional US Congress may fail to reach a deal to raise the country's debt limit.
Several lobbyists, representing dozens of bankers, investors and credit rating agencies, told Reuters they are worried that dynamics at play in Washington - a bitterly-divided Republican party and unpredictable President Donald Trump - could rule out a deal before an October deadline.
Policymakers have vowed to provide disaster relief to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, boosting hopes the debt limit battle could be included in an agreement on a legislative package.
But the acrimonious atmosphere following Trump's remarks about the Charlottesville protests this month, which cost him key backers in the business community and raised worries about his ability to broker a deal, still lingers.
The debt ceiling is a legal cap on how much money the government can borrow to fund its budget deficits and meet debt obligations. Failure to raise it from the current $19.8 trillion could lead to default, sending shockwaves across global markets.
"The stakes here are incredibly high. The economic impact associated with debt default is so immense," said Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, one of the country's key financial lobby groups. "We're monitoring this extremely closely and we will mobilise as needed throughout September."
While leading lawmakers and the administration have pledged it will get done, some corners of financial markets are already on edge. After all, Goldman Sachs estimated that failure to lift the cap would force a government spending cut equal to between three and four per cent of US gross domestic product, which would have crippling economic consequences.
Moreover, previous debt limit negotiations went down to the wire, and the now-notorious 2011 standoff led S&P Global Ratings to downgrade US sovereign debt for the first time. The episode wiped $2.4 trillion off US stocks.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (Sifma), a trade group representing hundreds of financial firms, said it had reprised contingency plans drawn-up during the previous showdowns and was working with firms to prepare for extreme volatility in the event of a default. These plans aim to ensure firms have enough technology capacity, staff and cash to handle high trading volumes. A separate plan being reviewed by another trade organisation, the Treasury Market Practices Group, includes protocols for trading in defaulted Treasuries, according to information on its website. The Sifma is also planning for that.
"We want to make sure we're on the same page and prepared, should anything happen," said Robert Toomey, Sifma managing director and associate counsel. "We believe this will get done, but we still have to prepare for it notwithstanding." A spokesman for the TMPG was not immediately available for comment.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged Congress to raise the cap by September 29 and said last week he was "100 per cent confident" this would happen. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have also promised the United States would not default.