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Raising the Debt Ceiling

How investors can profit off a default

Marketplace Staff Jul 28, 2011
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Stacey Vanek Smith: The debt ceiling battle is setting up to be a squeaker. The U.S. Treasury has said the deadline to raise the debt ceiling is Tuesday, Aug. 2 — meanwhile, a vote is set for today on a revised plan from Republican House Speaker John Boehner to raise the debt ceiling for just a few months. Not everyone is losing sleep over the debt ceiling issues, though.

Our economics correspondent Chris Farrell joins me now. Good morning, Chris.

Chris Farrell: Good morning, Stacey.

Vanek Smith: So Chris, how are investors able to make money off of a downgrade, or a default?

Farrell: Three main tactics, Stacey. One is a sort of the safer, more opportunistic bets. Then there are the more speculative bets that are going to make a profit off of a decline. And then, the classic plays.

Vanek Smith: Tell me about some of the safer bets.

Farrell: OK, the safer bet stocks might break. And you’ve picked out the stocks you want to buy. As soon as they plummet, you buy those stocks, you hold onto them, then there’ll be a deal — there will be a deal — market rally, and you sell them. So you can buy stocks or bonds at a cheap price, and then make a quick buck.

Vanek Smith: And then what about the more speculative plays?

Farrell: This is where you start having fun. Now you can put in the bear market mutual funds, or these exchange-traded funds that for every percentage point the S&P 500 drops, you’ll gain three times the amount of money. I mean, all kinds of fun, if you’re on Wall Street. But typically what you’re trying to do is play off a decline and profit from the decline in the bond market or in the stock market.

Vanek Smith: What are some of the other ways investors could potentially benefit?

Farrell: We can’t end this conversation without talking about gold.

Vanek Smith: I knew it was coming, I did.

Farrell: It was coming. It’s the classic catastrophe play. Gold’s at over $1,600; if you adjust for inflation, it sure looks like it’s heading its all-time peak. But you’ve got some other plays: the Swiss franc is at an all-time high against the U.S. dollar. And then the Australian dollar, 28-year high — the Canadian dollar: highest since 2007. So again money’s fleeing in, and then of course, there’s a deal or when there’s a deal, you’ll see a lot of selling.

Vanek Smith: What about those of us with 401(k)s and 403(b)s — is there any way that we can possibly protect ourselves or benefit from this situation?

Farrell: Think about all the turmoil over the past five years. Most people probably have a pretty conservative portfolio in their 401(k), 403(b) — stay the course and let the madness go on.

Vanek Smith: That is our economics correspondent Chris Farrell. Chris, thank you so much.

Farrell: Thanks a lot.

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