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Bank of America on Bonds, Budget Fight: A Look Ahead

Battles over budgets in Spain and Italy, for instance, regularly cause those countries' borrowing rates to jump. In the United States, traders say a brawl in Washington would have the opposite effect.

That's because rates are also a barometer of worry. When the world economy appears in danger, banks and big investors hide money in Treasuries, ignoring mounting U.S. government debt because they see this country, the world's largest economy, as a trustworthy borrower.

In July, fear that Europe's debt troubles could set off a global financial crisis drove the 10-year Treasury rate to a record low, 1.38%. Since then, the European Central Bank has taken steps to calm the crisis, and the 10-year Treasury rate has climbed. It was 1.70% on Friday.

Today the economy is healthier than it was two years ago, when Misra made her prescient prediction about record-low interest rates.

But a hard enough blow could still send it into a recession. The biggest difference now is that Misra and the rest of the Bank of America strategists think the biggest threat comes from Washington, not Europe.

It's a widely shared view across Wall Street. As they lay out predictions for next year, bankers and money managers paint a mostly sunny picture.

Hiring and the housing market keep getting better, consumer confidence is up, and many predict the stock market will hit an all-time high in 2013. For the first time in years, it's hard to find anyone fretting about Greece. All those signs point to higher long-term rates.

But the next few months could get rough.

"We'd all be talking about our solid economic growth next year, if we weren't talking about the fiscal cliff," says Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at the Royal Bank of Canada.

Porcelli says a final budget agreement is sure to weigh on the economy, mainly because he expects the two sides to let a two-year-old cut in the Social Security payroll tax expire. If that happens, it would be like an immediate pay cut for every worker in the country.
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