Geithner Pledges to Cut Deficit Amid Rating Concern
May 21 (Bloomberg) — Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the Obama administration is committed to reducing the federal budget deficit after concerns rose that the U.S. debt rating may eventually be threatened with a downgrade.
“It’s very important that this Congress and this president put in place policies that will bring those deficits down to a sustainable level over the medium term,” Geithner said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. He added that the target is reducing the gap to 3 percent of gross domestic product or smaller, from a projected 12.9 percent this year.
The dollar, Treasuries and American stocks slumped today on concern about the U.S. government’s debt rating. Bill Gross, the co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Co., said the U.S. “eventually” will lose its AAA grade.
Geithner, 47, also said that the rise in yields on Treasury securities this year “is a sign that things are improving” and that “there is a little less acute concern about the depth of the recession.”
Benchmark 10-year Treasury yields jumped 17 basis points to 3.37 percent at 4:53 p.m. in New York. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Stock Index fell 1.7 percent to 888.33, and the dollar tumbled 0.8 percent to $1.3890 per euro.
Gross said in an interview today on Bloomberg Television that while a U.S. sovereign rating cut is “certainly nothing that’s going to happen overnight,” financial markets are “beginning to anticipate the possibility.”
Britain saw its own AAA rating endangered earlier today when Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook on the nation’s grade to “negative” from “stable,” citing a debt level approaching 100 percent of U.K. GDP.
It’s “critically important” to bring down the American deficit, Geithner said.
Ten-year Treasury yields have climbed about 1 percentage point so far this year, in part after U.S. economic figures indicated that the worst of the deepest recession in half a century has passed. The yield on 30-year bonds has jumped to 4.31 percent, from 2.68 percent at the beginning of the year.
The Treasury chief said it’s still “possible” that the unemployment rate may reach 10 percent or higher, cautioning that the economic recovery is still in the “early stages.”
“The important thing to recognize is that growth will stabilize and start to increase first before unemployment peaks and starts to come down,” he said. “These early signs of stability are very important” although “this is still a very challenging period for businesses and families across the United States.”
Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell by 12,000 in the week ended May 16 to 631,000, according to Labor Department statistics released today. Still, the number of workers collecting unemployment checks rose to a record of more than 6.6 million in the week ended May 9.
As of April, the unemployment rate was 8.9 percent, the highest level since 1983. The economy has lost 5.7 million jobs since the recession started in December 2007.
To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Schmidt in Washington at [email protected]
Last Updated: May 21, 2009 17:39 EDT
By Robert Schmidt