US Sequester Spending Cut on 1 Mar, 2013
By Thomas Kenny, About.com Guide
“Fiscal cliff” is the popular shorthand term used to describe the conundrum that the U.S. government will face at the end of 2012, when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect.
Among the laws set to change at midnight on December 31, 2012, are the end of last year’s temporary payroll tax cuts (resulting in a 2% tax increase for workers), the end of certain tax breaks for businesses, shifts in the alternative minimum tax that would take a larger bite, the end of the tax cuts from 2001-2003, and the beginning of taxes related to President Obama’s health care law. At the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011 will begin to go into effect. According to Barron’s, over 1,000 government programs – including the defense budget and Medicare are in line for “deep, automatic cuts.”
In dealing with the fiscal cliff, U.S. lawmakers have a choice among three options, none of which are particularly attractive:
- They can let the current policy scheduled for the beginning of 2013 – which features a number of tax increases and spending cuts that are expected to weigh heavily on growth and possibly drive the economy back into a recession – go into effect. The plus side: the deficit, as a percentage of GDP, would be cut in half.
- They can cancel some or all of the scheduled tax increases and spending cuts, which would add to the deficit and increase the odds that the United States could face a crisis similar to that which is occurring in Europe. The flip side of this, of course, is that the United States’ debt will continue to grow.
- They could take a middle course, opting for an approach that would address the budget issues to a limited extent, but that would have a more modest impact on growth.
Can a Compromise be Reached?
The oncoming fiscal cliff is a concern for investors since the highly partisan nature of the current political environment could make a compromise difficult to reach. This problem isn’t new, after all: lawmakers have had three years to address this issue, but Congress – mired in political gridlock – has largely put off the search for a solution rather than seeking to solve the problem directly. Republicans want to cut spending and avoid raising taxes, while Democrats are looking for a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Although both parties want to avoid the fiscal cliff, compromise is seen as being difficult to achieve – particularly in an election year. The most likely result, in any event, is that the problem will linger at least until after the election, and there’s a strong possibility that Congress won’t act until the eleventh hour. Another potential obstacle is that the next Congress won’t be sworn in until January 3.
The most likely result is another set of stop-gap measures that would delay a more permanent policy change until 2013 or later. The election will almost certainly have an impact on the direction of future policy, particularly if one party earns a decisive victory. Nevertheless, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that if Congress takes the middle ground – extending the Bush-era tax cuts but cancelling the automatic spending cuts – the result, in the short term, would be modest growth but no major economic hit.
Possible Effects of the Fiscal Cliff
If the current laws slated for 2013 go into effect, the impact on the economy could be dramatic. While the combination of higher taxes and spending cuts would reduce the deficit by an estimated $560 billion, the CBO estimates that the policies set to go into effect would cut gross domestic product (GDP) by four percentage points in 2013, sending the economy into a recession (i.e., negative growth). At the same time, it predicts unemployment would rise by almost a full percentage point, with a loss of about two million jobs. A Wall St. Journal article from May 16, 2012 estimates the following impact in dollar terms: “In all, according to an analysis by J.P. Morgan economist Michael Feroli, $280 billion would be pulled out of the economy by the sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts; $125 million from the expiration of the Obama payroll-tax holiday; $40 million from the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits; and $98 billion from Budget Control Act spending cuts. In all, the tax increases and spending cuts make up about 3.5% of GDP, with the Bush tax cuts making up about half of that, according to the J.P. Morgan report.” Amid an already-fragile recovery and elevated unemployment, the economy is not in a position to avoid this type of shock.
The cost of indecision is likely to have an effect on the economy before 2013 even begins. The CBO anticipates that a lack of resolution will cause households and businesses to begin changing their spending in anticipation of the changes, possible reducing GDP by a full half-percent in the second half of 2012.
Having said this, it’s important to keep in mind that while the term “cliff” indicates an immediate disaster at the beginning of 2013, the impact of the changes – while destructive over a full year – will be gradual at first. What’s more, Congress can act to change laws retroactively after the deadline. As a result, the fiscal cliff won’t necessarily be an impediment to growth even if Congress doesn’t address the issue until after 2013 has already begun.
Definition of ‘Fiscal Cliff’
A combination of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board government spending cuts scheduled to become effective Dec. 31, 2012. The idea behind the fiscal cliff was that if the federal government allowed these two events to proceed as planned, they would have a detrimental effect on an already shaky economy, perhaps sending it back into an official recession as it cut household incomes, increased unemployment rates and undermined consumer and investor confidence. At the same time, it was predicted that going over the fiscal cliff would significantly reduce the federal budget deficit.
Investopedia explains ‘Fiscal Cliff’
Because 2012 was a presidential election year, Congress delayed dealing with the fiscal cliff issue, leading to much speculation about how the scheduled tax and spending changes would play out and the potentially negative consequences of letting both occur without modifications. While the term “cliff” implied that the changes would have immediate, destructive and final consequences, some policy and economic analysts said that the consequences would be gradual and that negative outcomes like tax increases could be undone.
Now that we have the US elections out of the way the markets have reacted with a positive tone prior to the outcome. But the real test is to see if the rally will hold or fade out. Although it is difficult to say how investors feel about the outcome the charts are suggesting that we may see a significant move soon. The reasoning is that up until the elections we have seen a consolidation pattern develop and a breakout is required to resolve the indecisive phase. With breakouts the moves can be swift and volatile in some cases. Once the breakout occurs there could be a trend continuation or a trend reversal at hand. See key levels below:
FTSE 100 back at 5900 again
Taking a lead from the US markets the FTSE 100 has managed to remain above 5830 again and is testing the 5900 resistance level. The last two attempts to break past the 5900 level resulted in the index falling lower. If it manages to clear this level then the route towards 6000-6150 may transpire. The momentum trend has remained positive, which indicates that the index does still have fuel to move higher. But caution is required if the FTSE 100 closes below 5830 and if the current move fails to sustain bullish momentum. The downside is that we could see a triple top formation which could create a bearish pattern resulting in a reversal.
Tuesday’s rally which has helped lift the Dow Jones index away from 13060 may provide an opportunity for the bulls to take the index higher. It will need to move above 13338 in order to prove that the rally will not fizzle out. Above 13338 we still have the 13550 level which needs to be overcome. The negative aspect is that the momentum has been bearish and until a bullish thrust has developed, traders may seek to sell into potential rallies. We may see selling pressure develop by the end of this week unless the index moves past the resistance levels. A clear breakout is required to indicate the next key move.
Gold rallies at support
The support level has held for gold and also created a potential bullish scenario if we see the metal close on its highs by Friday. As the bullish momentum is still intact, the metal may reach for $1,775 where we saw the recent reversal. The price of gold may then move upwards to see $1,840, which becomes the focal point if current support levels are sustained. Failure to hold support may turn gold onto a bearish situation for the short term and bring the commodity down towards $1,550 if the bullish move does not work out. The next few days will need to hold onto positive momentum to avoid the decline.
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