Urgency builds in US debt talks before Asian markets open

It really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone but American policymakers are running into the debt ceiling deadline, and there's suddenly a sense of urgency to do the right thing.

The objective is to reach an agreement, at least of some sort, before Asian markets open for the week. Without an accord, the uncertainty of what will happen in the US will leave investors surging to the sidelines.

"Who knows where that is going to go," Nick Kalivas, an analyst at MF Global in Chicago, told Reuters. "We're vulnerable to a buyers' strike if we don't get any news."

While the debt situation will determine the direction of the markets, there are still more earnings to come this week and a few key numbers on the world's biggest economy.

On the earnings deck, there's United Parcel Service, Texas Instruments, Boeing, Visa, Exxon Mobil and Amazon.com Inc among others.

On average, it's been a better than expected quarter for America's biggest companies. Since July 11, 82 per cent of S&P 500 companies that released quarterly results exceeded the average analyst earnings estimate, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

According to Reuters data, about one third of the S&P 500's US$12.3 trillion market cap have reported. And the results have outpaced consensus estimates by 3.8 per cent, with a mere 7 per cent missing, Morgan Stanley numbers show.

In particular, tech stocks have been powering ahead on earnings and driving shares sharply higher. On Friday, the Nasdaq-100 Index rose 1.1 per cent to the highest level since February 2001.

"You're seeing fast money gravitate to the large-cap tech names, viewing them as better able to withstand slower economic growth," Mark Bronzo, who helps manage US$26 billion at Security Global Investors, told Bloomberg.

On Friday, Advanced Micro Devices Inc, SanDisk Corp and Skyworks Solutions Inc surged, following on Apple Inc's heels.

The Dow Jones industrial average slid 43.25 points, or 0.34 per cent, to 12,681.16 on Friday. The S&P 500 edged up 1.22 points, or 0.09 per cent, to 1,345.02. The Nasdaq Composite gained 24.40 points, or 0.86 per cent, to 2,858.83. For the week, the Nasdaq led with a 2.5 per cent advance, followed by the S&P's 2.2 per cent rise and then the Dow's 1.6 per cent gain.

Corporate earnings are intrinsically linked to the economy and this week there will be regional manufacturing data from Chicago and New York, a reading of consumer sentiment, the Fed's Beige Book and the first reading of second-quarter growth.

Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at BlackRock, told Reuters that investors needed to be on alert for any economic changes.

And while there was some relief for bond holders last week, the crisis in Europe is far from complete. Fitch has issued a fresh warning, saying Greece would be temporary default because of the second bailout.

"Fitch considers the nature of private sector involvement ... to constitute a restricted default event," Fitch says. "However, the reduction in interest rates and extension of maturities potentially offers Greece a window of opportunity to regain solvency, despite the formidable challenges that it faces."

As for the window for the US to put its house in order fast closes, Obama administration officials are working hard to keep investors in a positive frame of mind. But it will be more than words that will be needed and needed very soon.

- BusinessDesk

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