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SPI Management Newsletter 05.05.23

U.S. Faces Default Risk as Soon as June 1 Without Debt Ceiling Increase, Yellen Warns

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has issued a warning that the U.S. government could default on its debt obligations as early as June 1 if Congress does not take action to raise the debt ceiling. This new estimate has moved up the timeline from previous projections and comes amid ongoing debates between Republicans and Democrats on how to address the debt ceiling issue. The Congressional Budget Office has also updated its projection, stating that the risk of the Treasury running out of funds in early June is significantly greater than previously anticipated, due to lower-than-expected tax receipts this year.

President Biden has invited top Republican and Democratic leaders to discuss raising the country's $31.4 trillion borrowing limit next week. The Republicans are pushing for spending cuts in exchange for raising the borrowing limit, while the Democrats argue that the limit should be raised without conditions. So far, both sides have made little progress in reaching an agreement, with the Republicans passing legislation to raise the limit for about a year, provided there are spending caps, bolstered work requirements for federal assistance, and repeals of some of Biden's signature legislative accomplishments. Meanwhile, the Democrats, who control the Senate, have rejected these demands, and President Biden has said he would veto the House-passed legislation.

The impasse has raised concerns about the potential for the U.S. to default on its debt, which could have wide-ranging and dangerous consequences for the global financial system. U.S. government debt is considered a safe-haven asset worldwide, and it plays a crucial role in the financial system by helping set interest rates across the economy. Doubts about the U.S. being able to repay buyers of its securities could lead to a global crisis, while missed payments on other U.S. obligations, such as Social Security benefits, could cause economic pain domestically. Signs of concern about the government's ability to pay its bills have already started to appear in the bond market, with investors flocking to short-term Treasury bills expected to mature before the possibility of a default.

Federal Reserve Chair Hints at Possible Pause in Interest Rate Hikes Amid Economic Shifts

Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell has hinted at a possible pause in the central bank's aggressive campaign to curb inflation after raising the benchmark interest rate above 5% for the first time since 2007. Over the past 14 months, the Fed has increased interest rates 10 times to address inflation, which is now showing signs of slowing. The recent turmoil in the financial sector, coupled with economic growth deceleration and regional bank failures, has strengthened arguments for a pause in rate hikes.

The Federal Open Market Committee acknowledged the changing economic landscape in its statement after raising the federal funds rate by a quarter-point to a new target range of 5% to 5.25%. The committee removed its previous guidance from March, which anticipated further policy tightening to control inflation. Instead, it stated that officials would consider factors such as incoming data and the cumulative impact of recent rate increases when determining future policy adjustments. Powell implied that while the Fed is not ruling out additional rate hikes, it is likely to pause them soon.

European Central Bank Slows Pace of Rate Increases

The European Central Bank (ECB) has slowed the pace of its interest rate increases but indicated that it is not yet ready to pause its campaign against high inflation, diverging from the Federal Reserve's approach. The ECB raised its key rate by a quarter percentage point to 3.25%, a near 15-year high, and announced plans to reduce its bondholdings at a faster pace starting in July. This move could further impact economic growth and inflation.

Despite the slower pace of rate increases, ECB President Christine Lagarde said that the bank is not pausing and that the inflation outlook remains too high. The ECB began raising rates later than the Federal Reserve, and eurozone rates still lag behind those in the U.S. However, analysts suggest that the ECB may be closer to the end of its interest rate cycle than Lagarde indicates.

ECB is trying to balance the need for tighter monetary policy to curb stubbornly high inflation against the risk of going too far in a weak growth environment and amid banking-sector turmoil. Some ECB officials have signaled the need for caution moving forward, as the full impact of rate increases may not be felt for several months.

Adapted from WSJ, Reuters, CNBC, NYT

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