Somebody Turn the Lights Back On

By Marcelo Bermúdez, President, Figueroa Capital Group, subsidiary of Charles Dunn Co.: As of Oct. 15, a deal is within striking distance to give the Fed authority to borrow through mid-February 2014.

bermudez_marcelo cropdFormer MSNBC business news host Dylan Ratigan’s 2011 rant about the financial crisis is actively floating around social media pages again. This is likely due to Thursday’s critical deadline for the Treasury to continue borrowing or the world will implode and modern man becomes a television episode of Falling Skies meets The West Wing.  As of Oct. 15, a deal is within striking distance to give the Fed authority to borrow through mid-February 2014. Currently the Fed’s borrowing limit is $16.699 trillion. The ceiling only determines how much it can borrow since Congress has already set a budget and approved spending bills like Medicare and payments to government employees.

Some of the damage has already been done, unfortunately.  Although the FHA is still open, less than 100 of the nearly 3,000 government employees are working through the shutdown which means deals are not closing or would-be buyers are losing out to traditional banks. The SBA is also closed for business so any owner-user or traditional operating capital lending deals are at a standstill. Any operator using new market tax credits or similar allocations that include any government grants will need to wait as well. The shipping market is also getting hit since any ship or truckload requiring an EPA, FDA or similar agency approval, will have to wait, causing storage and demurrage charges.  Similar to the FHA, HUD is also working a skeleton crew. Assuming our elected officials cannot get it together, the already fragile GDP, employment, and financial market numbers will plummet. Goldman Sachs estimates the GDP would drop by 4.2 percent and credit markets would freeze worse than they did in 2008.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX, was leading a charge to leverage the shutdown and ‘defund’ Obamacare. The attempt has not succeeded and seems to be largely off the table as the deadline approaches and the debt issue has overshadowed the healthcare conversation. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, was quoted on Sunday, Oct. 13 that Republican members of Congress had “unrealistic expectations. We never had the leverage through the shutdown to repeal or replace.”

Congress has raised the debt limit over 40 times. The Bipartisan Policy Center report estimates Congress would need to raise the debt ceiling by around $1.1 trillion to allow the government to meet all of its obligations through the end of 2014. Most other democracies around the world do not have a debt limit and many, from economists to congressional leaders from both parties over the last 60 years, think it should be abolished. The University of Chicago released a survey in early 2013 indicating that 84 percent of academic economists believe that it should be removed since it “creates unneeded uncertainty and can potentially lead to worse financial outcomes.” While we certainly need to take the credit card away from the angst-filled teenager we call Congress, let’s hope we can avert disaster one more time and begin a mature discussion on how to balance our budget.