Monday, August 1, 2011

On the Eve of the Vote: Five Things

As we have watched the slow slog towards August 2nd and the expiration of the debt ceiling, there are a few things we should consider in advance of that date and a couple of additional thoughts in the days immediately following. Like most things, the debt ceiling expiration date is mostly arbitrary, much like the turning of a new year or the end of a quarter. In other words, 08.02.11 means little to the average person and in the days following, should not be of much concern. Here's why.

Borrowing: We have been in one of the most favorable borrowing environments since records began being kept. If you qualify for a loan, be it a home mortgage or other big ticket purchase, the date will not change your ability to borrow. It may cost you more but prudent borrowers should have already considered this eventuality prior to beginning their purchase. Interest rates may and probably should go up if an agreement isn't reached. The phrase "lock-it-in" will be considered sage advice as it should be. On the flip side, there is little likelihood the seller of whatever big ticket item you are purchasing may just offer additional financial incentives to offset any increased borrowing cost.

Selling: An increase in interest rates would not benefit those who believe their homes are worth a certain amount. It would stymy the housing market, slow the sale of automobiles and create a situation that most retailers have been dealing with already: more saving than spending. While less spending will not get the economy moving and certainly won't create more jobs, despite the argument in Congress that less spending has the opposite effect. We'll just be stuck in neutral for longer than we had hoped. But not as long as many suggest we will.

Markets, Bonds: If you are a conservative investor with money in bonds, you are much smarter than the media gives you credit. Savvy bond investors ladder their holdings for just such an event and will probably fair well. Yes, the foreign investor might become a little more cautious and the next Treasury auction will be weaker than most hope it will be. But over the long-term, the real reason folks hold bonds, the effect will be offset as time moves on. Yet, if you are in bond mutual funds, you should have little to worry about as long as your holdings aren't too much of your portfolio. If you're older, cash might be a better place in the interim.

Markets, Stocks: More than one person has suggested getting into much safer investments before the 08.02.11 deadline. Cash is okay but if history tells us anything, this might be amongst the worst long-term decisions you could make. Most companies could borrow if they needed to no matter what happens. But why bother. Most of the corporate debt has been refinanced to historically low levels. And most companies in the S&P 500, an index of the largest companies in the country, are flush with cash reserves. That has been the most worrisome part of the recovery: businesses could have hired, they could have afforded to hire but they didn't. Selling stocks even if they dip somewhat should provide an opportunity to buy shares that are worth more for less. If you are buying steadily, this should prove an advantage for those with time.

You: Turn off the television or change the channel. None of what you are hearing, none of the talking heads everyone is trotting out means anything. The politicians involved in the debate are saying little or nothing and in many respects, act like this is the first time such an event has ever happened. Personally, the President should simply invoke his right in the 14th amendment and raise it without Congress. Yes, it will cause an uproar and yes, it would be the right thing to do. But creating tension among the American people is not a solution to solving some of the nation's biggest concerns.

In the three years since the Great Recession began, you should have put all of your plan in place: reduced your personal debt, created a modicum of savings and in the process, increased your contributions to your retirement plans. If you haven't, this will probably send the message again that your wealth is not what Washington thinks it is. You should be much more pliable and hopefully, just a tad smarter - or jaded.

Paul Petillo is the managing editor of and a fellow Boomer.

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