The Finance 202: Trump sets Wall Street on edge with shutdown threat – Washington Post
President Donald Trump gestures during a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Markets on Wednesday started waking up to the dangers confronting them out of Washington in September. They include a possible government shutdown and a potential crisis over raising the debt ceiling. All in a government controlled by Republicans — but with a chaos agent at its apex: President Trump.
The unusual thing is that this is a problem of the president’s own making — at least for now.
Trump’s threats during his Tuesday night rally in Phoenix to shut down the government if he’s denied border wall funding and to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement stoked new fears on Wednesday among market players. The S&P 500 started down and stayed down, shedding 0.3 percent on the day; the dollar fell; and some investors sought safe haven in U.S. Treasuries and gold.
Market watchers describe an uncanniness in the looming fiscal showdowns.On the one hand, they’ve seen this before. Amid ratcheted-up partisan tension in the capital, staring contests over must-pass government funding bills and even more mandatory debt-ceiling hikes have become the norm as lawmakers look for rare points of leverage.
The recent tradition holds that after some posturing — and, in 2011, a genuinely scary brush against the debt ceiling, and in 2013, a 16-day government shutdown — leaders muddle through to a resolution. Rational actors ensure that happens before the feds self-inflict an economic cataclysm.
But things could be different this time, as observers noted. “The main actor on the stage is a Jekyll and Hyde, and nobody knows which Trump is going to show up,” says Pete Cohn, a senior analyst with Height Securities. “Typically his threats don’t materialize. But people watch this process and they cannot believe what comes out of the president’s mouth. So we’re hearing a lot of apprehension.”
Analysts who handicap Washington outcomes for Wall Street for the most part rate the potential for serious damage in the fall pretty low. “Somebody has to want to have a shutdown,” says Andy Laperriere, head of U.S. policy research at Cornerstone Macro. In a note to clients last week, Goldman Sachs economist Alec Phillips placed even odds on a brief shutdown but discounted the probability of a major disruption:
“Low approval ratings raise legislative risks. In the near term, we believe there is a 50% chance of a brief government shutdown, as the president seeks to solidify support among his base by embracing more controversial positions, despite needing Democratic support to pass spending legislation. That said, we expect that the debt limit, which needs to be raised around the same time, will prevent a longer shutdown from occurring.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
That said, the same crowd is attuned to risks from a new and different breed of Washington dysfunction. The warning signals have grown louder in recent days, picking up even further following Trump’s extended rant in Phoenix. My colleagues Mike DeBonis, Damian Paletta, and Elise Viebeck report:
Trump is now at odds not only with Democrats, who cemented their objections to funding the wall Wednesday, but also with Republicans, who must reconcile his brash rhetoric with the governing realities of Congress.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) played down the prospect of a shutdown, telling reporters Wednesday that even if the wall debate remains unresolved, Congress probably would pass a stopgap extension of funding to prevent a lapse when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
Other lawmakers chided the president for the attacks he fired off during a campaign-style rally in Phoenix on Tuesday evening — including indirect references to Arizona’s two Republican senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain…
Republicans face a litany of high-stakes deadlines when they return to Washington after Labor Day: to extend funding for government agencies, raise the nation’s borrowing limit, and reauthorize programs for flood insurance and children’s health. GOP leaders also hope to begin an ambitious effort to rewrite the federal tax code in a bid to rescue their foundering legislative agenda.
“So I don’t think anyone is interested in having a shutdown,” Ryan said at a tax policy event in Oregon. “I don’t think it’s in our interest to do so.”
The new tension was piled on top of revelations about Trump’s deteriorating ties to key Republican power-brokers on Capitol Hill. Hours before the president took the stage Tuesday, the New York Times posted an explosive report that Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are barely on speaking terms, with McConnell privately doubting whether his presidency can be salvaged. One particularly eye-popping passage from that Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin report:
In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.
During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.
Both Trump and McConnell issued kumbaya statements Wednesday affirming they are committed to working together, though neither directly disputed the accuracy of the Times story. And CNN reports that they have no plans to speak before meeting in person after Labor Day.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
McConnell, it turns out, wasn’t the only Senate Republican on the unhappy end of a Trump tongue lashing over Russia-related matters. Politico reports the president also gave earfuls to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Thom Thillis (R-N.C.) over Senate measures designed to tie his hands on Russian sanctions and the investigation into his campaign’s alleged Russia ties.
In normal times, investors could feel free to ignore this level of Beltway Kremlinology. But these are not normal times, a fact reflected in market reactions to rumors of staffing changes at the White House.
Stocks shuddered last week when it appeared National Economic Council director Gary Cohn was eyeing the exits, since he’s considered a stabilizing presence in the West Wing and a key to the success of a tax code overhaul. And stocks rallied Friday on word that the Stephen K. Bannon, chief strategist and the driving populist force on Trump’s team, was leaving.
The GOP divisions over the smashup of fiscal deadlines is likely to set Wall Street increasingly on edge. Fitch Ratings said Wednesday said failure to raise the debt ceiling in a “timely manner” could prompt a downgrade of the country’s AAA credit rating, the Wall Street Journal reports. Per Fitch’s Charles Seville, James McCormack and Mark Brown, “Brinkmanship over the debt limit could ultimately have rating consequences, as failure to raise it would jeopardise the Treasury’s ability to meet debt service and other obligations.”
It’s an odd fact that the unfolding drama’s most central figure doesn’t appear to appreciate his role in it.
In the same Phoenix speech that saw Trump leveling threats that jangled the market, he also boasted of his presidency’s salutary effect on it. (“The stock market is at its all-time high in history,” he said, minutes after talking up a government shutdown and moments following the NAFTA jab.)
Investors new wariness arguably reflects a broader truth about how quickly whatever promise Trump’s victory held has curdled into something else. His pledge to shake things up in Washington stirred sleepy equities into a surprising run after his election win. Now, his promises to shake things up actively endanger the rally he helped fuel less than a year ago.
For those bracing for September turbulence, Height’s Cohn has some advice: “Remember that you do have skilled legislators in charge who have navigated these fights in the past. History shows they tend to get these things worked out, even if it’s ugly.”
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Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. (AP/Michael Dwyer)
— Central bankers and economists from everywhere converge on Jackson Hole, Wyo. today for the start of the Kansas Fed’s annual symposium there: The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos previews what to watch for:
The main events for the conference will be speeches on Friday by Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. Both the Fed and the ECB have been moving gingerly toward removing the extraordinary stimulus unfurled during the financial crisis—including with major announcements at the annual Fed conference over the past decade…
1. The ECB Taper
Analysts expect Mr. Draghi to lay out the case to start reducing the asset purchases some time next year, though he is expected to proceed cautiously after policy makers last month indicated concerns over the strengthening of the euro in anticipation of the tapering…
2. Financial Regulation
Ms. Yellen’s speech on financial stability will mark nearly 10 years since the beginning of the 2007-09 financial crisis… Several Fed officials have cautioned against paring back rules too hastily…
3. Financial Conditions
Ms. Yellen’s speech also could provide an opportunity for her to defend the basic architecture of the postcrisis system given new concerns over potential instability…
4. The Lowflation Dilemma
Fed officials initially dismissed weak inflation readings this spring as largely due to one-off factors, but subsequent readings also have shown softness, suggesting inflation isn’t picking up despite continued tightening of the labor market…
5. Succession Planning
The subject of who will be Fed leader next year isn’t on the agenda, either. But the questions of whether Ms. Yellen will be asked to serve a second term by President Donald Trump, whether she would accept, and who might replace her if she doesn’t return will hang over the confab.
— Three of Wall Street’s biggest banks — HSBC, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley — see mounting evidence that global markets are on a collision course with a downturn. Bloomberg’s Sid Verma and Cecile Gutscher: “Analysts at the Wall Street behemoths cite signals including the breakdown of long-standing relationships between stocks, bonds and commodities as well as investors ignoring valuation fundamentals and data. It all means stock and credit markets are at risk of a painful drop… Just like they did in the run-up to the 2007 crisis, investors are pricing assets based on the risks specific to an individual security and industry, and shrugging off broader drivers, such as the latest release of manufacturing data, the model shows. As traders look for excuses to stay bullish, traditional relationships within and between asset classes tend to break down… Signals that investors aren’t paying much attention to earnings is another sign that the global rally may soon run out of steam. For the first time since the mid-2000s, companies that outperformed analysts’ profit and sales estimates across 11 sectors saw no reward from investors.”
— The robots are coming for your job. A new study suggests one in four American jobs could be shipped abroad in the coming years and half could be supplanted by automation. CNBC’s Nick Wells reports: “A new paper titled, “How Vulnerable are American Communities to Automation, Trade, and Urbanization?” combines several recent studies on employment trends to present a stark view of the future job situation for certain parts of the country… Jobs most at risk of being replaced by automation are often lower-income, the researchers said. The quintile of workers in jobs most at risk of automation made an average of $38,000 a year. Data entry keyers, telemarketers and hand sewers were all in the top 10 of most automatable, and each had average annual wages under $30,000.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average hasn’t closed up 1% or more since April 25, which was 83 trading sessions ago. If it fails to do so again Wednesday, it’ll mark the longest such streak for the blue-chip index since the 102 trading days ending in March 2007.
A Whole Foods Market in the Manhattan. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
— Amazon’s bid to buy Whole Foods cleared two major hurdles Wednesday. Whole Foods shareholders gave the deal a thumbs-up, as did the Federal Trade Commission (Amazon head Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post). The Associated Press reports: “By buying Whole Foods, Amazon is taking a bold step into brick-and-mortar, with more than 460 stores and potentially very lucrative data about how shoppers behave offline… The FTC investigated whether the takeover ‘substantially lessened competition’ or ‘constituted an unfair method of competition,’ said Bruce Hoffman, the acting director of the agency’s Bureau of Competition. ‘Based on our investigation we have decided not to pursue this matter further.'”
Uber said Wednesday its sales hit $1.75 billion in the second quarter, up 17% from the prior quarter. And it trimmed its losses.But Uber still lost a lot of money — $645 million in the three months that ended in June.
MONEY ON THE HILL
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks during his visit to Intel in Hillsboro, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
— Even as corporate chiefs scramble to distance themselves from Trump’s White House, congressional Republicans are still seeking out CEOs, hoping to enlist them to push the GOP agenda. Bloomberg’s Ben Brody, Matthew Townsend, Justin Sink, and Julie Johnsson report: “House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday visited Intel Corp., whose chief was one of the first to depart a White House manufacturing council amid last week’s turmoil. On Thursday, Ryan plans to speak to workers at aerospace giant Boeing Co., a previous target of Trump’s ire whose CEO also had a seat on the manufacturing panel. Boeing in particular faces a delicate dance with Trump and congressional Republicans. The largest U.S. exporter and second-biggest U.S. defense contractor would likely gain from a tax overhaul and other elements of Republicans’ agenda. At the same time, Boeing is waiting to close nearly $20 billion in commercial jet orders to Iran, which Trump has accused of not holding up its end of a nuclear accord struck under the Obama administration. The company also wants to reopen the U.S. Export-Import Bank to help finance jet purchases for customers unable to tap conventional credit markets. Ryan, before he became speaker, had derided the Ex-Im bank as corporate welfare.”
— Congressional Republicans are still divided on a lot of fundamentals of a plan to rewrite the tax code. But one proposal looks sure to generate unanimous GOP support: A repeal of the estate tax. CNNMoney’s Jeanne Sahadi reports: “House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady calls it ‘un-American.’ … But that assertion overlooks a few key details about the estate tax, which the Congressional Budget Office projects will raise between $25 billion and $34 billion a year over the next decade… 1. It only affects 0.2% of all estates today… 2. Only a tiny fraction of family farms and businesses are affected… 3. Some money in big estates is never taxed.”
American Express credit cards. (Reuters/Jim Bourg)
— American Express will pay a $96 million tab for overcharging customers in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories on interest rates and engaging in other discriminatory practices, federal regulators announced Wednesday. Reuters’s Pete Schroeder: “The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that more than 200,000 consumers at two of the company’s banking subsidiaries had been harmed by the practices, which also included stricter credit cutoffs and less debt forgiveness than offered to customers in U.S. states. American Express said in a statement the discrepancy was discovered in an internal review and reported to the CFPB in 2013. The company voluntarily agreed to provide $95 million in compensation to affected customers, but said it “absolutely does not” agree with the CFPB’s contention that it had discriminated against clients.”
— Prosecutors saw their hand strengthened in the fight against insider trading by a court ruling Wednesday upholding the conviction of former SAC Capital Advisors LLP portfolio manager Mathew Martoma. The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Hong: “The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan found that the government no longer needs to show a “meaningfully close personal relationship” between the provider of insider information and the recipient of the tip. The 2-1 ruling rejects part of a 2014 decision in the Second Circuit that had imposed this requirement. Chief Judge Robert Katzmann wrote, as an example, that a businessman who gives an inside tip to his doorman as an end-of-year gift would be committing illegal insider trading, even if he and the doorman aren’t close friends. The ruling once again thrusts Mr. Martoma’s case and the contentious area of insider-trading law into the spotlight. Mr. Martoma, 43 years old, is serving a nine-year prison sentence after a jury convicted him of trading on inside information provided by two doctors about the trial of an Alzheimer’s drug, which netted $275 million in profits and avoided losses.”
From The Post’s Philip Bump: “Since 2014, the longest we’ve gone without a campaign event is 62 days.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, right, laughs as he flies a drone straight at the cameras during his visit to Intel in Hillsboro, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan).
- House Speaker Paul D. Ryan visits Boeing Company in Everett, Wash.
- The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo. begins.
- The Heritage Foundation holds an event on protecting public employees’ first amendment rights.
- Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet L. Yellen speaks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo. on Friday.
Watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to President Trump’s threat to cancel NAFTA:
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Hillary Clinton calls Trump a “creep” in her new book, “What Happened”:
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