'Fiscal cliff': Armageddon or just 'eh'?
NEW YORK (AP) — You've heard the predictions for what happens if the country goes over the "fiscal cliff": The economy will shrink, nervous consumers will stop spending, and the stock market will plunge.
But those doomsday predictions are overblown, some professional investors say.
Even if Congress and the White House can't reach a deal, the higher taxes and lower government spending that would follow would kick in only gradually. A recession is not guaranteed.
What's much more important to the stock market, the experts say, are economic fundamentals.
"History has shown that the economy is going to do what the economy is going to do," says Scott Carmack, co-portfolio manager at Leader Capital in Portland, Ore. "And politics don't create some sort of disaster."
Whatever happens, the "fiscal cliff" — sweeping tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1 — is going to dominate the headlines and the market for the next week.
The Associated Press posed a few big questions to investing experts.
Q: What's going to happen in the stock market between now and the budget deadline of Dec. 31?
The market hates uncertainty. If there's no deal next week, expect stocks to fall.
"We always knew we were going to get some volatility here," Carmack says. "Depending on leaders in Washington to come to some kind of agreement is like pulling teeth."
Besides, there are other incentives for people to pull money out of the market. Some professional investors are selling to lock in gains for the year. Others are selling because investments could be taxed at higher rates next year.
"It's been a pretty good year in the market," says Peter Tuz, co-manager of the Chase Growth and Chase Mid Cap Growth mutual funds in Charlottesville, Va. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up more than 13 percent in 2012.
"People might look at that uncertainty and say, 'I'm happy with that, and now I'll take some money aside, and sell,'" he says.
Q: What about after Jan. 1?
Deal or no deal, many investors don't expect the effects of the "fiscal cliff" to linger in the stock market for too long. One big reason is that everyone has seen it coming for months.
"We're not overly concerned," says David Hefty, CEO of Hefty Wealth Partners in Auburn, Ind. "The thing to keep in mind is that what hurts investors, what hurts the market, are things that are unexpected."
He adds: "Everybody has 2008 burned into their minds. They think the fiscal cliff will be the next 2008 event. A 2008 event is when nobody sees it coming, and everyone is blindsided. Nobody's going to be blindsided by this."
Hefty says he'll watch whether the Federal Reserve continues its policy of pumping money into the economy, and fundamentals like housing and unemployment, to decide how to invest in 2013.
"We're looking at two key things that matter the most," he says. "The 'fiscal cliff' isn't one of them."
Donald Quigley, the co-manager of the Artio Total Return Bond mutual fund, is more wary of the "cliff" for its political impact than its economic impact. If Republicans and Democrats can't reach a compromise, he says, the world could take that as a sign that the U.S. government is dysfunctional.
"It basically says, 'We really don't have our act together,'" Quigley says. "To have to admit that your country is ungovernable is not the best way to run a country."
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