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Unsustainable

Money | Investor confidence in servicing U.S. debt could end 'abruptly'

Issue: "Your right to vote," July 31, 2010

The Congressional Budget Office released its mid-year report on the federal government's long-term budget outlook, once again warning that "an aging population and rapidly rising health care costs will boost outlays for Social Security benefits and sharply increase federal spending for health care programs." The budgetary arm of Congress noted that "unless revenues increase at a similar pace, such spending will cause federal debt to grow to unsustainable levels." Another option: "Decrease spending significantly." The CBO report cautioned that excessive U.S. government debt "could raise the probability of a fiscal crisis in which investors would lose confidence in the government's willingness to fully honor its obligations," thus forcing Washington "to pay much more for debt financing." Such a loss of investor confidence "could occur abruptly," the report warned.

Bankrupt

Although private-sector employment ticked upward in June-an increase of 83,000 jobs-the loss of more than 200,000 temporary census positions resulted in a net decrease of 125,000 "non-farm payroll jobs." The Labor Department said the number of people classified as long-term unemployed-jobless for 27 weeks or more-remained unchanged at 6.8 million.

Consumer bankruptcy filings hit 770,117 for the first six months of the year-a 14 percent increase over January to June 2009-with the highest filing rates in the Southwest and Southeast. "We expect that there will be more than 1.6 million . . . filings by year end," said Sam Gerdano of the American Bankruptcy Institute. That would be one bankruptcy for every 70 households in the United States.

Box-store finance

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Sam's Club launched a pilot program offering loans of up to $25,000 to its small-business members. "As we surveyed small businesses, we found that many of them were not able to finance their operations," company spokeswoman Kristy Reed said. The loan business, conducted mostly online, will be handled by Small Business Administration lender Superior Financial Group and will focus on "micro-entrepreneurs," with an emphasis on businesses owned by minorities, women, and veterans.

Business down? Raise prices

Facing a "dramatic, rapid and unprecedented decline in mail volume," the U.S. Postal Service proposed making customers pay more to send mail-hoping to halve an expected $7 billion deficit by raising the price of first-class stamps to 46 cents (a 2-cent increase) and hiking the cost of sending packages and periodicals. "Unlike private sector businesses," postal officials said in a filing with the Postal Regulatory Commission, "the Postal Service operates under constraints that inhibit its ability to respond quickly to exceptional market changes."
Joseph Slife is the assistant editor of SoundMindInvesting.com.

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