Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Sep 27, 2023

U.S. Policy: The Economic Impact of a Government Shutdown

With Michael Zezas
U.S. Public Policy Research for Investors


Michael Zezas: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, Global Head of Fixed Income and Thematic Research for Morgan Stanley.

Ariana Salvatore: And I'm Ariana Salvatore from our U.S. Public Policy Research Team.

Michael Zezas: Along with our colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, we'll be talking about the market and economic impacts of a potential government shutdown later this week. It's Wednesday, September 27th at 10 a.m. in New York.

Michael Zezas: So, Ariana, let's get right into it. Congress is up against a tight deadline with government funding set to expire on the first day of the next fiscal year, which is October 1st. What's the state of play?

Ariana Salvatore: So the first thing I'll say is that the situation is very fluid at the moment with lots of uncertainty between now and Sunday. Last night, the Senate voted to advance a bipartisan clean C.R. or continuing resolution, which could eventually serve as the legislative vehicle to avoid a lapse in appropriations. Clean, in this sense, means that the bill includes little to no funding for Ukraine aid or disaster relief, two items that Republicans had previously taken opposition to. Right now, the ball's in Speaker McCarthy's court. He can choose one of three options, first, to bring the Senate C.R. to the floor and rely on moderates, and perhaps even some Democrats, to cross the aisle and pass the bill. Second, he can ignore it and try to continue with the House-led funding process. Or third, he can take the C.R. out on some Republican policy items like border funding, for example, and send it back to the Senate where it's almost certainly dead on arrival. Options two and three, because of that, increase the likelihood of a shutdown. But option number one really doesn't solve the problem either, as it would just punt the issue until later in the Fall, and in our view, increase the chances of McCarthy facing a motion to vacate the chair or a motion to oust him as speaker. So all of this is to say that a shutdown seems pretty likely at the time we're recording this. The question is, of course, how long it could last. Michael, how are you thinking about the possible duration of a shutdown, assuming we do, in fact, get to Sunday without significant progress being made here?

Michael Zezas: So there's a few scenarios to consider here. One is a pretty brief shutdown, one that lasts for less than a week and ultimately ends with a continuing resolution. Perhaps Speaker McCarthy agrees to put the Senate pass continuing resolution on the floor for a vote. Another scenario is one that lasts for a few weeks. And here you might have a situation where House Republicans continue to oppose any continuing resolution. And after enduring a shutdown for enough time, federal employees' paychecks begin to lapse, economic pressure begins to build and all of a sudden there's just more acceptance around the idea of a continuing resolution to allow more time for negotiation. And then another scenario would be something that lasts quite a bit longer, several weeks. And here, you clearly have a breakdown in negotiation positions, members of the Republican caucus perhaps refusing to vote for any type of continuing resolution, there being major roadblocks on the issues you spoke about already, Ariana. And the potential way to fix this would have to be through something like a discharge petition where members of the House of Representatives work around Speaker McCarthy using procedural rules. But that's something that takes a long time to play out and could take several weeks to play out. So given all this uncertainty, sometimes it helps to look back at history as a guide. Ariana, what can we learn from similarities or differences between this and prior shutdown episodes?

Ariana Salvatore: Well, for starters, while shutdowns are not necessarily routine, they're also not without precedent. There have been about 20 in total in U.S. history, but more recent ones have lasted longer. For example, the most recent in 2019 under President Trump, was also the longest clocking in at just over a month. However, that case was also unique to what we're seeing today because it was a partial shutdown, meaning that there were some agencies that had already received full-year funding. We've actually never had a full shutdown last more than about a week like we're seeing right now. This time around, because no agencies have received funding, we think there could be a broader based impact relative to the last shutdown that we saw. Michael, given that your focus is across all of fixed income, how are you thinking about the impact of a shutdown across our strategists market views?

Michael Zezas: Yeah, well, our economists have flagged that a shutdown could shave about 0.05 percentage points off of fourth quarter growth every single week. That's not a substantial enough number on its own to necessarily impact markets, but it's coming at a time when there's other pieces of data coming in around the economy and other events in the economy that our economists have flagged that are pretty meaningful. The UAW strike, if it lasts for a long time and expands big enough, could have a substantial impact on GDP. There's the beginning of repayment of student loans that could crimp consumer behavior. And so, if you combine all those effects together, then it could make for a fourth quarter where the economic data is looking quite a bit weaker and inflation pressure is looking like it's cooling meaningfully. Those are the types of things that our strategists think should limit increases in bond yields from here. And that in turn means that total returns for bonds, both Treasury bonds and corporate bonds, look pretty attractive to us and it's one of the reasons that we continue to favor bonds over equities.

Michael Zezas: So obviously, we'll continue to track this closely as the debate evolves. And Arianna, thanks for taking the time to talk.

Ariana Salvatore: Great speaking with you, Michael.

Michael Zezas: And thank you for listening. If you enjoy the show, please share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

If government funding expires next week, the shutdown combined with other economic issues could make for a weak fourth quarter.

Other Thoughts on the Market From Michael Zezas