In yet another of the seemingly endless self-serving fear-mongering exercises, Pimco’s El-Erian Says U.S. Debt Default Might Have ‘Catastrophic’ Effect
Pacific Investment Management Co. LLC Chief Executive Officer Mohamed El-Erian said a short-term default by the U.S. on its debt might have “catastrophic” legal consequences.
“We would be in the land of the unpredictable” if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and the U.S. misses a payment “simply because of the technical linkages,” El-Erian said in an interview on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program, scheduled to air today.
U.S. lawmakers are seeking a path to increasing the debt limit and to cutting at least $1 trillion from the long-term deficit before an Aug. 2 deadline. President Barack Obama plans to hold separate meetings at the White House June 27 with Senate leaders Arizona Democrat Harry Reid and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell in an effort to break an impasse that scuttled a seven-week negotiating effort led by Vice President Joe Biden.
“My advice is please try and get together and solve this issue in the context of a medium-term reform package,” El-Erian said. “If you can’t do that and you’re going to kick the can down the road, kick the can rather than face something that could be catastrophic in terms of legal contracts being triggered.”
“So when we look at Treasuries, we see the big buyer stepping away from the market, for certain. And we ask the question, who else is going to be buying at these levels, and we can’t identify another buyer of the size of the Fed.”
El-Erian said the U.S. fiscal problems are dwarfed by those of Greece, whose debt reached 143 percent of gross domestic product last year.
“It is inevitable that Greece would have to restructure its debt,” he said. “Greece has two problems: it has too much debt and it cannot grow. And until these problems are solved, more and more of Europe is going to become contaminated.”
“Land of the Predictable”
I mock the lame fear-mongering excuses of government officials, politicians, and in this case buyers of government and agency debt who do not want to see interest rates rise out of fear of what it would do to the short-term value of their portfolios.
Thus it was entirely predictable that Pimco would issue a “Catastrophic” warning. As for who would buy US government debt, that answer is quite easy to explain: China and Japan would as a function of trade-deficit math, and they would add to that total, as would the UK, Canada, and Europe. El-Erian knows just that (as much as anyone knows anything in the land of the unknowable).
The biggest irony in El-Erian’s statement is Pimco would be a buyer, and so would millions of others if interest rates rose high enough.
Finally, interest rates would come crashing back down as soon as an agreement was worked out and there is no doubt an agreement will be reached sooner rather than later.
The only thing “unpredictable” is the exact nature of that agreement.
Shutdowns Happened Twice Before
Please note that US government shutdowns have happened twice before, in 1995 and 1996 under president Clinton.
The United States federal government shutdown of 1995 and 1996 was the result of a conflict between Democratic President Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress over funding for Medicare, education, the environment and public health. It took place after Clinton vetoed the spending bill which Congress sent him. Thereupon, the Federal government of the United States put non-essential government workers on furlough and suspended non-essential services from November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996. The major players were President Bill Clinton and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich.
Nothing Catastrophic Happened
Amidst all this fear-mongering by president Obama, Pimco, and others, I calmly point out that nothing catastrophic happened last time, and there is no reason to believe anything catastrophic would happen this time.
President Obama’s Hypocrisy
Inquiring minds just may be interested in knowing Obama’s track record on debt ceilings when he was Senator Obama.
The Obama administration is warning of catastrophic consequences if Congress does not increase the debt ceiling, the legal limit on how much the federal government can borrow, but Barack Obama held a different view on the issue as a senator in 2006.
Five years ago, then-Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) voted against raising the debt ceiling and even spoke about it on the Senate floor before the Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-48 to increase it.
“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure,” Obama said on March 16, 2006. “Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”
Failure of Leadership
I remind the president “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”
I urge Congress to disregard the self-serving fear-mongering of president Obama and Pimco CEO El-Erian because we have a debt problem and a failure of leadership to do anything about it. Americans deserve better, and the way to do that is to act responsibly on a deficit-reduction package, now, not 10 years from now.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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