Where should you put your money if the U.S., the world's safest bet, suddenly isn't? Here's a cheat sheet for the world's most risk-averse investors.
The odds that the U.S. will default on its debt on or after August 2 increase each day. Some credit analysts believe the odds are in favor of insolvency. In the event of default, credit rating agencies like Moody's and Standard & Poor's will most likely downgrade the country's credit rating from a perfect AAA.
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U.S. bonds have always been considered a safe haven. Debt problems in Europe have caused international capital market investors to buy U.S. paper. This has kept the interest rates the federal government has to pay very low, despite unprecedented levels of American borrowing. The safe haven status could be ruined by a rating agency action.
These investment might not have high yields, and many are expensive. But they are assets that are unlikely to lose their value in the event of a default and downgrade. The United States issues 60% of the AAA-rated government debt in the world. A downgrade would force portfolio managers with a guaranteed holding of AAA-rated assets to flood the market looking for other places to park their cash. The potential for instability caused by that flood is yet another reason why we should fear a downgrade.