Debt ceiling debates in Congress, consumer confidence: What to know this week

·9 min read

Investors this week are set to closely monitor developments in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers race to pass legislation to avoid a government shutdown by the end of the month and debate raising the debt ceiling. Elsewhere, economic data on consumer confidence is also due for release.

The Senate is expected to vote Monday on a procedural motion over the legislation passed by the House of Representatives last week. That bill included a plan to temporarily fund the government through early December, and came alongside a measure to raise the government debt ceiling through December 2022.

The latter point has been an area of contention for Senate Republicans, who are only narrowly outnumbered by Democratic lawmakers in both chambers and who have threatened to block the bill in its current form. 

Senate Republicans including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have suggested that Democratic lawmakers should use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt ceiling without Republican support. McConnell has, however, supported a short-term government funding bill that excludes a debt ceiling suspension. 

"If they [the Democrats] want to tax, borrow and spend historic sums of money without our input, they’ll have to raise the debt limit without our help. This is the reality,” McConnell said on the Senate floor last week.

Democratic lawmakers, for their part, have called for the move to raise the debt limit be bipartisan to prevent the government from defaulting on its obligations. The Treasury Department has warned that the U.S. could default on its debts as soon as October in absence of congressional action. 

"The U.S. has always paid its bills on time, but the overwhelming consensus among economists and Treasury officials of both parties is that failing to raise the debt limit would produce widespread economic catastrophe," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell also warned of the consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling during his post-FOMC meeting press conference last week.

"It's just very important that the debt ceiling be raised in a timely fashion so that the United States can pay its bills when and as they come due. That's a critically important thing," he said. "The failure to do that is something that could result in severe reactions, severe damage to the economy and to the financial markets ... no one should assume that the Fed or anyone else can protect the markets or the economy in the event of a failure." 

A dead Elm tree is removed on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
A dead Elm tree is removed on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Amid the standoff, the Office of Management and Budget began warning federal agencies last week to prepare for a potential government shutdown. The reminder served as a standard warning one week out from Congress's deadline to reach an agreement to at least temporarily continue funding the government. 

Though leaders of both political parties have agreed that a continuing resolution to avoid the shutdown at the end of the month is needed, the ongoing tension over raising the debt limit has served as a potential roadblock in this effort. 

"We still expect Congress to avert a partial government shutdown at the start of October. Republicans won’t vote for the current continuing resolution being touted by the Democratic leadership, which also includes a new debt ceiling suspension," wrote Paul Ashworth, chief North America economist for Capital Economics, in a note Friday. "But we expect a Plan B to emerge next week with the latter stripped out, which Republicans will support."

"The bigger issue is that there doesn’t appear to be an easy path to raising the debt ceiling by mid-October, which is when estimates suggest the Treasury’s will exhaust the 'extraordinary measures it is currently using to keep the lights on," he added. 

Investors have also grown jittery as the debates wore on, with stocks posting their worst day since May last week amid a confluence of concerns that also included debt concerns with China Evergrande.

Many strategists, however, have suggested market participants need not be overly concerned about the impacts of a potential government shutdown. 

"Historically, we've seen that government shutdowns tend to be short-lived," Jordan Jackson, JPMorgan Asset Management global market strategist, told Yahoo Finance Live on Friday. "We also know that for those non-essential federal employees, they do get furlough pay as well."

"If it lasts more than 30 days, it's certainly going to have a bigger impact on the economy. But generally speaking, these shutdowns tend to be short-lived and markets — while they may correct in the short-term — they do sort of continue to grind higher," he added. "I think it's certainly a risk in terms of a short-term mini correction there. But again, with all the liquidity out there, I think any sort of blip in the markets will be short-lived."

Historical equity performance during and immediately following a government shutdown has also tended to point to a muted market impact.

"In the 14 government shutdowns since 1980, the S&P 500 generated median returns of -0.1% on the dates of budget authority expiration, 0.1% during the shutdown periods, and 0.3% on the dates of resolution," David Kostin, Goldman Sachs chief equity strategist, wrote in a note published on Sept. 21. 

"One notable exception was the most recent federal shutdown in December 2018, when the S&P 500 fell 2% on the spending authority expiration date," he added. "However, this decline was likely driven primarily by investor concerns about Fed tightening." 

Kostin also noted that the typical government shutdown since 1980 has only lasted three days before ultimately being resolved. More recent shutdowns have lasted several times longer, however, with the duration of the four most recent federal shutdowns averaging 18 days, Kostin said. 

Consumer confidence

On the economic data front, one of the most closely watched new pieces of data will be on consumer confidence.

The Conference Board is set to release its September consumer confidence index Tuesday morning. Economists expect the index to tick up only slightly compared to August, with consumers' views on the coronavirus and rising prices stabilizing near the lowest level since February. 

Specifically, consensus economists are looking for the index to rise to 115.0 in September after dropping to 113.8 in August. During the last monthly report, consumers' assessments of current business and labor market conditions both eased, and expectations for the next six months out also deteriorated.

"Consumer confidence fell to a six-month low in August, due to concerns around the Delta variant and inflation," wrote Bank of America economist Michelle Meyer in a note on Friday. "We think these concerns largely remained in September."

At the time, Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said it was still "too soon to conclude" whether decline in consumer confidence would "result in consumers significantly curtailing their spending in the months ahead." 

The latest spending data has also been equivocal. The Commerce Department's latest report showed retail sales rose 0.7% in August after declining in July. However, the categories posting the biggest declines were areas like e-commerce shops and grocery stores, suggesting consumer behavior was shifting back toward stay-in-place trends and away from in-person events like restaurant dining amid the latest wave of the coronavirus. 

Economic calendar

  • Monday: Durable goods orders, August preliminary (0.6% expected, -0.1% in July); Durable goods excluding transportation, August preliminary (0.5% expected, 0.8% in July); Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, August preliminary (0.3% expected, 0.1% in July); Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, August preliminary (0.9% in July); Dallas Fed Manufacturing Activity Index, September (11.0 expected, 9.0 in July)

  • Tuesday: Advance goods trade balance, August (-$87.0 billion expected, -$86.4 billion in July); Wholesale inventories, month-over-month, August preliminary (0.6% in July); Retail inventories, month-over-month, August (0.4% in July); FHFA House Price Index, month-over-month, July (1.5% expected, 1.6% in July); S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index, month-over-month, July (1.62% expected, 1.77% in June); S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index, month-over-month, July (20.1% expected, 19.08% in June); Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, September (114.2 expected, 113.8 in August); Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index, September (9 in August)

  • Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, week ended September 24 (4.9% during prior month); Pending home sales, month-over-month, August (1.0% expected, -1.8% in July)

  • Thursday: Initial jobless claims, week ended September 25 (320,000 expected, 351,000 during prior week); Continuing claims, week ended September 18 (2.845 million during prior week); GDP annualized, quarter-over-quarter, second-quarter third estimate (6.7% expected, 6.6% in prior estimate); Personal consumption, second-quarter third estimate (11.9% in prior estimate); Core personal consumption expenditures, second quarter third estimate (6.1% in prior estimate); MNI Chicago PMI, September (65.0 expected, 66.8 in August)

  • Friday: Personal income, August (0.2% expected, 1.1% in July); Personal spending, August (0.7% expected, 0.3% in July); Personal consumption expenditures core deflator, month-over-over, August (0.2% expected, 0.3% in July); Personal consumption expenditures core deflator, year-over-year, August (3.6% expected, 3.6% in July); Markit manufacturing PMI, September final (60.5 in prior estimate); Construction spending, month-over-month, August (0.3% expected, 0.3% in July); University of Michigan sentiment, September final (71.0 expected, 71.0 in prior print); ISM Manufacturing, September (59.5 expected, 59.9 in August)

Earnings calendar 

  • Monday: Aurora Cannabis (ACB) after market close

  • Tuesday: Micron Technology (MU) after market close. 

  • Wednesday: No notable reports scheduled for release

  • Thursday: CarMax (KMX), Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) before market open; Jefferies (JEF) after market close

  • Friday: No notable reports scheduled for release

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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