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It has been a historic week for the United States and the financial system. Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast with great force, bringing an onslaught of damaging winds and life taking storm surges to several states. Entire cities remain devastated by massive flooding. Unfortunately, the Superstorm also coincides with a financial storm taking place in the country.
The effects of Sandy resulted in the stock exchange being closed for two consecutive days. It was the first time since 1888 that the Big Board closed for back-to-back trading days due to weather issues. Trading quietly resumed on Wednesday, with all three major indices closing relatively unchanged. However, the Treasury Department reminded investors that the U.S. faces an increasing amount of headwinds as we enter 2013.
According to the latest estimates from the Treasury, the nation will reach its $16.4 trillion debt limit by the end of this year. Negotiations to raise the debt cap once again are expected to begin after the November elections. Although, through emergency measures and other financial trickery, the Treasury could continue to pile on debt into the first quarter of 2013. “We continue to expect that these extraordinary measures would provide sufficient ‘headroom’ under the debt limit to allow the government to continue to meet its obligations until early in 2013,” said Matthew Rutherford, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for financial markets, according to The Hill.
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At this point, the national debt limit should really be called the national debt target. Congress seems to have no problem hitting the trillion-dollar figure on a regular basis. Earlier this year, the debt target was raised for the third time to $16.4 trillion, representing a $1.2 trillion increase from the previous $15.2 trillion bulls-eye. The official national debt currently stands at about $16.2 trillion, and the budget deficit in fiscal 2012 came in above $1 trillion for the fourth consecutive year.
In addition to the staggering debt amount, the U.S. faces the looming fiscal cliff, which includes a combination of expiring tax cuts and spending reductions. The Treasury’s committee of private-sector advisers calls the situation a “grave economic risks,” but a “timely and orderly resolution of this uncertainty would contribute meaningfully to an improvement in the economic outlook.”
Impacts from storms of all nature can often be decreased through proper preparations. While it is true that no amount of planning would have prevented Sandy from reaching the East Coast, taking proper action before the storm hit could have been the difference between life and death. The same is true for financial disasters. For thousands of years, civilizations have turned to gold and silver to preserve wealth and hedge against troubling financial situations. The financial clouds have yet to fully pour down on investors, but when they do, precious metals will likely weather the storm better than most assets, if not all.
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Disclosure: Long EXK, AG, HL, PHYS