Some investors are unruffled by the approaching "cliff." Even if Republicans and Democrats can't reach a deal, some investors think the effect of the higher taxes and lower government spending would be more like the anti-climactic Y2K scare than a true Armageddon. The impact would be felt only gradually â¿¿ for example, workers might get more taxes withheld from their first couple of paychecks in the new year â¿¿ but then Congress could always retroactively repeal those higher taxes, these investors reason.
Others are more concerned. The higher taxes and lower government spending could take more than $600 billion out of the U.S. economy and send it back into recession. Politically, the U.S. would send a message that its lawmakers can't cooperate. And without a deal, investors would have no good read on the country's long-term policy for taxes and spending, or how the government plans to eventually trim its deficit.
Tim Speiss, partner in charge of the personal wealth advisers practice at EisnerAmper in New York, followed the "cliff" negotiations on Monday and wondered if the U.S. would get its debt rating cut again. The Standard & Poor's ratings agency cut its rating of the U.S. amid similar negotiations, when lawmakers were arguing over the government's borrowing limit in August 2011. S&P said at the time that "America's governance and policymaking (is) becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable." Its rating cut sent the stock market into a tailspin.
The other major ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch, have suggested that they might lower their ratings of the U.S. if the country goes over the "fiscal cliff.""That is, unfortunately, the big story," Speiss said. It's also one of the only stories. There's been little other news to trade on during the holiday season, giving the "fiscal cliff" drama outsized influence. No major companies are scheduled to report earnings this week, and the major economic indicator this week, the government's monthly jobs report, won't be released until Friday.