Monday, December 31, 2012

Just a Change of Venue? (Fears About U.S. Deficit/Debt Ceiling Replacing Fiscal Cliff Worries)

With the U.S. fiscal cliff negotiations going down to the wire, it is not surprising that fears related to the fiscal cliff topped the list of investor threats to the stock market for the eleventh week in a row in the VIX and More weekly fear poll. Fears associated with governments and politicians as well as excessive central bank intervention polled in second and third place, respectively.

What I found particularly interesting is the sudden rise in fears related to the U.S. deficit and debt ceiling, as investors appear to be concluding that the current fiscal cliff negotiations are now just one more skirmish in the ongoing war between Democrats and Republicans regarding how to address the U.S. budget deficit. With Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner saying that the U.S. will hit its debt ceiling today and have to resort to extraordinary measures to keep under the legal limit, the stage is set for the next pitched battle when these extraordinary measures can no longer do their trick, in about two months.

So what problems will a fiscal cliff deal resolve? Part of the answer to this question depends upon whether the pending (we hope) deal is merely a stopgap measure or addresses some of the more politically thorny underlying issues related to the budget deficit in a comprehensive way. Of course the trick is structuring the deal in such a way that it does so in a manner which limits any negative impact on the economy.

Stay tuned. A fiscal cliff deal may only signal a change of venue and redirect investor fears to the next battleground.

Once again, thanks to all who participated in this weekly poll.

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