Still, consumers have benefited from rising home values and cheaper fuel prices. A gallon of regular gasoline at the pump averaged $3.29 nationally yesterday, down from a recent high of $3.87 in September, according to AAA, the biggest U.S. motoring group.
Automobile sales, meantime, have been a bright spot as consumers take advantage of cheaper borrowing costs. Motor vehicle purchases are expected to grow in 2013 by 3 percent, Jim Lentz, U.S. sales chief for Tokyo-based Toyota Motor Corp., said at an industry conference this week.
“The U.S. economy is expected to continue to improve,” Lentz said. “Consumers appear to be more upbeat about the business and labor conditions.”
The debt limit has been periodically raised since its creation in 1917, when Congress and President Woodrow Wilson authorized the Treasury to issue long-term securities to help finance entry into World War I. Since 1960, Congress has raised or revised the limit 79 times, including 49 times under Republican presidents, according to the Treasury Department, noting the U.S. never has defaulted on its obligations.
The last time Congress fought over raising the ceiling, Obama signed an increase on Aug. 2, 2011, the day that Treasury warned U.S. borrowing authority would expire. Standard & Poor’s cut the nation’s credit rating.
Still, U.S. Treasury bond investors -- who most directly bear the risk of any government default -- haven’t shown alarm over political fights ultimately resolved in Washington. Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes declined after Aug. 5, 2011, the day of the S&P downgrade, and continued to fall.
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