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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Events that could shake US markets this month, rated on a Bernanke scale

by  Associated Press September could be a wild month for markets by MATTHEW CRAFT, Associated Press - 4 September 2013 15:32-04:00

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors are bracing themselves for a wild month.

September is historically the worst month for the stock market. Since 1945, the Standard & Poor's 500 index has fallen in September nearly six in every 10 times. On average, it has lost 0.6 percent.

This September looks especially troublesome. The next four weeks are packed with events that could derail the market's 16 percent advance this year. There's a report on employment, a debate on attacking Syria, and a federal budget deadline that could be a prelude to another fight over the debt ceiling.

And then there's a crucial meeting of the Federal Reserve. Investors have spent all summer wondering whether the Fed will announce plans to start phasing out its support for the economy at the end of the meeting.

In May, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the Fed was prepared to cut back its bond-buying program if the economy looked strong enough. Wall Street has been awash with speculation over the Fed's timing ever since. In every big market move this summer, traders and investors thought they saw Bernanke's influence.

Here's a look at events that could shake markets this month. In tribute to Bernanke's sway, the events are rated on a scale of 1 Bernanke (No biggie) to 5 Bernankes (Uh-oh).

The U.S. Jobs Report: Sept. 6

Rating: 3 Bernankes.

The government's employment report is always a big event for markets, but this one is special: it's the last major economic report before the Fed's monthly meeting. That's when many in the market think the Fed will decide to ease off its huge bond-purchasing program, which has kept interest rates at historic lows and helped the economy and the stock market. But if the report shows a weaker job market, the Fed may postpone those plans. As a result, some traders say a hiring slowdown could jolt stocks up.

Confused? So are many investors.

U.S. Congress Debates Syria Strike: Sept. 9.

Rating: 2 Bernankes.

Congress officially returns from summer vacation Sept. 9, and Syria will likely be at the top of the agenda. President Barack Obama has asked for Congress to support a military strike against President Bashar Assad's regime for allegedly using chemical weapons in its civil war.

Investors say they're concerned about the consequences of a military strike. A wider conflict would likely drive up oil prices, pinching U.S. consumer spending. And when oil prices soar, stock prices fall.

On August 27, the price of oil climbed above $109 a barrel, its highest level in more than two years, on speculation that a U.S. attack on Syria was imminent. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 170 points, or 1 percent, to 14,776 that day.

The Fed Meeting: Sept. 17-18.

Rating: 3 Bernankes.

Many on Wall Street think this is the meeting in which the Fed agrees to start winding down its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. Traders had the last few months to prepare for it. So if the Fed acts as expected, the stock market is likely to respond with "a collective yawn," says Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ.

But what if things don't turn out that way? A deep cut to the Fed's bond-buying program — to $55 billion a month, for example — could roil stock, bond and currency markets. But Bernanke's Fed prides itself on giving markets plenty of notice, so the odds of that happening seem slim.

Germany's Elections: Sept. 22.

Rating: 2 Bernankes.

From late 2009 until last year, worries that a European government would fail to pay its debts often sent the U.S. stock market into a tailspin.

Germany's elections will likely push Europe's debt problems back into the spotlight, if only because of what happens afterward. Chancellor Angela Merkel's party currently leads in polls, so many investors are banking on Merkel getting a third term in office with a stronger government.

The new German government is generally expected to take up sweeping reforms for the 17 countries that use the euro currency. That could easily lead to some public spats between government leaders, especially if Greece runs into trouble again.

As a group, the countries of the eurozone make up the world's second-largest economy. So if things get heated, U.S. investors will take notice, says Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. "That's likely to cause some volatility," he says.

U.S. Budget Deadlines: Sept. 30.

Rating: 5 Bernankes.

To keep the government running, Congress needs to pass a short-term spending bill before the fiscal year starts Oct. 1. Any problem could lead to a government shutdown. But that's seen as a prologue to the main event -- another debt-ceiling standoff.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned that the government would lose the ability to pay all its bills by the middle of October unless lawmakers raise the government's $16.7 trillion borrowing limit ahead of time. John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, said he plans to use the debt ceiling to demand deeper spending cuts and promised "a whale of a fight."

The tough talk has reminded many in the financial markets of the debt-ceiling fight in August 2011, when markets plunged around the world.

"Another standoff could spark a market riot," Luschini says. But, like many investors, he expects Congress to come around at the last minute. Things will turn out all right, eventually.

News Topics: Business, Economy, Monetary policy, Government programs, Government budgets, Legislature, Government and politics, Stock indices and averages, Employment figures, Stock markets, Economic policy, Government business and finance, Government policy, Government finance, Financial markets, Labor economy, Leading economic indicators

People, Places and Companies: Ben Bernanke, Barack Obama, Bashar Assad, Angela Merkel, Jacob Lew, John Boehner, Syria, Germany, United States, Middle East, Western Europe, Europe, North America

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This article is published under the terms of the News Licensing Group, LLC. privacy policy, in addition to the terms of use and privacy policy for this website.


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We need a fair system for restructuring sovereign debt

If the debt vultures have their way, there will never be a fresh start for indebted countries - and no one will agree to restructuring

A recent decision by a United States appeals court threatens to upend global sovereign debt markets. It may even lead to the US no longer being viewed as a good place to issue sovereign debt. At the very least, it renders non-viable all debt restructurings under the standard debt contracts. In the process, a basic principle of modern capitalism – that when debtors cannot pay back creditors, a fresh start is needed – has been overturned.

The trouble began a dozen years ago, when Argentina had no choice but to devalue its currency and default on its debt. Under the existing regime, the country had been on a rapid downward spiral of the kind that has now become familiar in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. Unemployment was soaring, and austerity, rather than restoring fiscal balance, simply exacerbated the economic downturn.

Devaluation and debt restructuring worked. In subsequent years, until the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, Argentina's annual GDP growth was 8% or higher, one of the fastest rates in the world.

Even former creditors benefited from this rebound. In a highly innovative move, Argentina exchanged old debt for new debt – at about 30 cents on the dollar or a little more – plus a GDP-indexed bond. The more Argentina grew, the more it paid to its former creditors.

Argentina's interests and those of its creditors were thus aligned: both wanted growth. It was the equivalent of a "Chapter 11" restructuring of American corporate debt, in which debt is swapped for equity, with bondholders becoming new shareholders.

Debt restructurings often entail conflicts among different claimants. That is why, for domestic debt disputes, countries have bankruptcy laws and courts. But there is no such mechanism to adjudicate international debt disputes.

Once upon a time, such contracts were enforced by armed intervention, as Mexico, Venezuela, Egypt, and a host of other countries learned at great cost in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After the Argentine crisis, President George W. Bush's administration vetoed proposals to create a mechanism for sovereign-debt restructuring. As a result, there is not even the pretence of attempting fair and efficient restructurings.

Poor countries are typically at a huge disadvantage in bargaining with big multinational lenders, which are usually backed by powerful home-country governments. Often, debtor countries are squeezed so hard for payment that they are bankrupt again after a few years.

Economists applauded Argentina's attempt to avoid this outcome through a deep restructuring accompanied by the GDP-linked bonds. But a few "vulture" funds – most notoriously the hedge fund Elliott Management, headed by the billionaire Paul E. Singer – saw Argentina's travails as an opportunity to make huge profits at the expense of the Argentine people. They bought the old bonds at a fraction of their face value, and then used litigation to try to force Argentina to pay 100 cents on the dollar.

Americans have seen how financial firms put their own interests ahead of those of the country – and the world. The vulture funds have raised greed to a new level.

Their litigation strategy took advantage of a standard contractual clause (called pari passu) intended to ensure that all claimants are treated equally. Incredibly, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York decided that this meant that if Argentina paid in full what it owed those who had accepted debt restructuring, it had to pay in full what it owed to the vultures.

If this principle prevails, no one would ever accept debt restructuring. There would never be a fresh start – with all of the unpleasant consequences that this implies.

In debt crises, blame tends to fall on the debtors. They borrowed too much. But the creditors are equally to blame – they lent too much and imprudently. Indeed, lenders are supposed to be experts on risk management and assessment, and in that sense, the onus should be on them. The risk of default or debt restructuring induces creditors to be more careful in their lending decisions.

The repercussions of this miscarriage of justice may be felt for a long time. After all, what developing country with its citizens' long-term interests in mind will be prepared to issue bonds through the US financial system, when America's courts – as so many other parts of its political system – seem to allow financial interests to trump the public interest?

Countries would be well advised not to include pari passu clauses in future debt contracts, at least without specifying more fully what is intended. Such contracts should also include collective-action clauses, which make it impossible for vulture funds to hold up debt restructuring. When a sufficient proportion of creditors agree to a restructuring plan (in the case of Argentina, the holders of more than 90% of the country's debt did), the others can be forced to go along.

The fact that the International Monetary Fund, the US Department of Justice, and anti-poverty NGOs all joined in opposing the vulture funds is revealing. But so, too, is the court's decision, which evidently assigned little weight to their arguments.

For those in developing and emerging-market countries who harbor grievances against the advanced countries, there is now one more reason for discontent with a brand of globalization that has been managed to serve rich countries' interests (especially their financial sectors' interests).

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the United Nations Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System urged that we design an efficient and fair system for the restructuring of sovereign debt. The US court's tendentious, economically dangerous ruling shows why we need such a system now.

• Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University. His most recent book is The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers our Future.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.

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Europe’s public health experts and practitioners gathered in Brussels at the annual conference of the European Public Health Alliance, to plan for a healthier future as MEPs plotted in Strasbourg on how to delay the Tobacco Products Directive.

Perhaps there was a subliminal reminder of this central piece of legislation as the introduction was given by Tonio Borg, Health commissioner, who passed on his high hopes for the directive.

There were other issues as public health, like so much else, has been affected by austerity, with spending cuts hitting budgets and a rise in unemployment being two of the most noticeable aspects. It was noted during the meeting that research shows that unemployment doubles the risk of illness and 60% have a lower chance of recovery.

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Wednesday, September 11

by  Associated Press Wednesday, September 11 by The Associated Press, Associated Press - 3 September 2013 20:34-04:00

Today is Wednesday, September 11, the 254th day of 2013. There are 111 days left in the year.

Highlights in history on this date:

1297 - Scottish rebels under William Wallace slaughter a larger English force at Stirling Bridge.

1499 - French forces take Milan, Italy, with little opposition.

1557 - Pope Paul IV makes peace with Philip II of Spain.

1697 - Prince Eugene of Savoy defeats Turks at Zenta, Hungary.

1783 - American statesman and philosopher Benjamin Franklin negotiates a peace settlement between United States, Great Britain and France; calling it the Treaty of Paris.

1830 - Republic of Ecuador is established and granted a constitution by Colombia under which it is to be part of the Confederation of Colombia.

1914 - Two Australian battalions land near Rabaul and occupy the German colony on New Britain, off northeastern New Guinea.

1922 - British mandate in Palestine is proclaimed while Arabs declare day of mourning.

1936 - U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt dedicates Boulder Dam — now Hoover Dam — by pressing a key in Washington to signal the startup of the dam's first hydroelectric generator in Nevada.

1944 - U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill meet in Canada at the second Quebec Conference.

1955 - Thirteen U.S. Air Force men are killed when a B-29 plane crashes in the Pacific between Japan and Formosa.

1973 - Chile's President Salvador Allende dies in a U.S.-supported military coup, and military officials say he committed suicide rather than surrender.

1978 - At least 20 dead and 100 wounded are reported in gun battles between Nicaraguan troops and rebels intent on toppling President Anastasio Somoza.

1990 - U.S. President George H.W. Bush addresses a national television audience to gain support for his deployment of U.S. military forces to the Persian Gulf region to confront the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

1991 - Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev says thousands of Soviet troops will soon leave Cuba; Germany says it will launch an international emergency aid program to help Soviet Union through the winter.

1992 - Hurricane Iniki strikes Hawaiian islands of Kauai, Oahu and Niilau, killing six people.

1993 - In front of human rights observers, a prominent supporter of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is dragged from a Mass and assassinated outside a church in Haiti.

1996 - Iraq fires two missiles at U.S. F-16 jets patrolling a "no-fly" zone in northern Iraq. Both missiles miss, but the United States responds by sending B-52 bombers to the region.

1998 - Independent counsel Kenneth Starr tells the U.S. Congress there are 11 grounds for impeachment of President Bill Clinton; Russian lawmakers approve Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister.

2001 - Terrorists crash two hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City, bringing down the twin 110-story towers, killing more than 2,700 people. Another hijacked jetliner slams into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., killing at least 189 people. A fourth hijacked plane crashes in rural southern Pennsylvania, killing 44 people aboard.

2002 - The entire 21-member Palestinian cabinet resigns, after it becomes evident that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could not prevent a vote of no-confidence in the cabinet by the Palestinian Legislative Council.

2003 - Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh dies in a hospital after being stabbed repeatedly the previous day by an unidentified male attacker while shopping at a department store in Stockholm.

2004 - A U.S. soldier admits abusing inmates at Abu Ghraib prison, receiving a lighter sentence in return for his testimony against others charged in the scandal.

2005 - Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi scores a political triumph as the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party heads for a landslide win in an election touted as a referendum on his push to privatize Japan's cash-swelled postal system.

2006 - The Islamic group Hamas makes a deal to share power with the more moderate Fatah headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after six months of crushing sanctions imposed to force the militants to recognize Israel and end violence.

2007 - The World Health Organization issues an alert urging more doctors to travel to Congo to combat an outbreak of Ebola fever. The Congolese government declares a quarantine of the area in southeastern Congo.

2008 - Spain's highest court rejects plans for a referendum in the Basque region on self-determination.

2009 - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warns the country's reformist opposition it will face a "harsh response" for confronting the Islamic establishment.

2010 - Greece's prime minister promises to lower corporate taxes to help revive the debt-plagued country's shrinking economy, while thousands of protesters march — mostly peacefully — against the government's harsh austerity measures.

2011 - A convoy carrying ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son al-Saadi crosses into neighboring Niger, a spokesman for Niger's government says, one of the highest-profile former regime figures to flee to the landlocked African nation.

2012 - Mainly ultraconservative protesters climb the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Egypt's capital and bring down the American flag, replacing it with a black Islamic flag to protest a U.S.-produced film attacking the Prophet Muhammad.

Today's Birthdays:

D.H. Lawrence, English author (1885-1930); O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), U.S. writer (1862-1910); Ferdinand Marcos, Philippine president (1917-1989); Tom Landry, U.S. football coach (1924-2000); Brian DePalma, U.S. film director (1940--); Harry Connick Jr., U.S. singer/actor (1967--); Moby, U.S. DJ/musician (1965--); Mickey Hart, U.S. rock drummer (1943--).

Thought for Today:

There is nothing so powerful as the truth, and nothing so strange — Daniel Webster, U.S. statesman (1782-1852).

News Topics: Terrorist attacks, Terrorism, War and unrest, General news, Business, Arts and entertainment, International agreements, Government and politics, Plane crashes, Hijacking, September 11 attacks, International relations, Aviation accidents and incidents, Transportation accidents, Accidents, Accidents and disasters, Transportation, Crime, Events

People, Places and Companies: William Wallace, Winston Churchill, George H. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Ken Starr, Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat, Junichiro Koizumi, Mahmoud Abbas, Ali Khamenei, Muammar Gaddafi, D.H. Lawrence, Ferdinand Marcos, Harry Connick Jr., Mickey Hart, Daniel Webster, Palestinian territories, Niger, Iraq, United States, Middle East, Spain, West Africa, Africa, North America, Western Europe, Europe

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