The US recovery is hurtling off a fiscal cliff

Markets are being held hostage to the wrangling in America over raising the limit the government can borrow.

Markets had a shaky week due to the impending stand off in Congress over the annual budget and the debt ceiling. Republicans and Democrats are negotiating to extend the federal government's spending authority, which expires when the fiscal year ends on 1 October. If there is no deal by then, the government would have to stop all non-essential spending and many public-sector workers would not be paid.

Congress also needs to raise the debt ceiling the legal limit on how much America can borrow by mid-October if the Treasury is not to run out of money. The worry is that America's failure to honour its debts could trigger a financial crisis, given how much debt is priced off American borrowing. Negotiations are especially fraught this time because Republicans in the House of Representatives are insisting that funding for President Obama's new health care programme, which became law in 2010, be eliminated.

What the commentators said

Fiscal crises have "taken the steam out of the US recovery", said the Financial Times. They remain "the chief obstacle to more robust growth". In 2011 spending cuts were imposed at a fragile point in the recovery, while another stand off resulted in automatic spending cuts of 10% in all government departments. This fiscal headwind has reduced this year's growth rate by more than 1% of GDP, and will cut next year's figure by around 0.7%.

Expect a "bare-bones" deal at the last minute, said Capital Economics. But don't expect the issue to fade away quickly. A bill to fund the government until mid-December is now being debated, so the spat could flare up again then. That will compound the uncertainty over when the Federal Reserve could begin to taper' its quantitative easing programme. It could be an unhappy Christmas for investors.

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