Here’s Who Profits If the Government Defaults

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-65654641/stock-photo-neon-sign-in-a-pawn-shop-window-new-york-city.html?src=yExiyBlyFiScSllvA-kymQ-1-4">Gregory James Van Raalte</a>/Shutterstock


If House Republicans don’t agree to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and a default ensues, the economic effects would be “catastrophic,” in the words of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The nation’s borrowing costs would spike, as would interest rates for average Americans, and the stock market would plummet. But not everyone will lose if a default causes an economic catastrophe. Here’s who could profit from a financial calamity:

1. Short sellers: Most folks invest in stocks and bonds hoping the value of their investments will increase. But there’s also money to be made by short selling—betting that the value of a stock or bond will drop. Short selling is an investment strategy that’s typically employed by sophisticated investors and financial firms, but technically anyone can do it. Investors who bet that the value of US Treasury securities will dip would likely profit. Because a default could cause the US stock market to crash, shorting almost any US stock could make you money. In fact, you can even invest in specific mutual funds that specialize in short selling. “It’s a very powerful and disillusioning feeling to know that smart rich people can make money even when America goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel,” says Jeff Connaughton, a former investment banker and White House lawyer during the Clinton administration.

2. Investors in gold and silver: Gold and silver typically rise in value when when the stock market is volatile, because they hold their value better than paper money or other assets. The price of both metals rose this week as default fears heightened.

3. Bitcoin investors (maybe): The value of this untraceable virtual currency has tracked closely with gold over the past year, suggesting that it could serve as a more stable investment during a financial crisis.

4. Currency traders: Traders who bet that the US dollar will decrease in value relative to foreign currencies stand to profit off of a US government default.

5. Pawn shops: If the effects of a default are catastrophic, stocks will plummet, pension funds could dry up, credit card interest rates will rise, and jobs will be lost. Though credit markets may freeze up, as they did in the wake of the 2008 meltdown, pawn shops ought to do well, as they did following the last crisis.

6. Bankruptcy lawyers: See above.

7. Mortgage servicers: Mortgage rates typically rise and fall along with Treasury rates. If a default causes a spike in interest rates, home owners could see their monthly mortgage bills soar, causing some homeowners to default on their loans and wind up in foreclosure. You’d think this would be bad news for all parties involved—families, lenders, investors, mortgage servicers. But the latter actually turn a good profit by foreclosing on people; investors take the losses, while servicers make back all the money they’re owed in a foreclosure sale, plus all sorts of fees borrowers have to pay on their delinquent loans.

8. The canned and freeze-dried food industries: Doomsday preppers are already getting ready for the collapse of civilization that could result from a financial meltdown by stocking up on pork and beans and freeze-dried meals.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.