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May 27, 2017

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Euro survival a good guide to US fiscal cliff cliffhanger

LONDON -- Battle-weary investors heading into another intense and market-sensitive period of political brinkmanship in Washington may do well to consult their European campaign maps.

While the two years of attrition in European markets may not be a blueprint for victory per se, they may provide some clue as to how investor minds better equipped to deal with hard data and mathematical models should navigate political minefields.

Global money managers in the United States and around the world have for years expressed frustration and dismay at the inability of Europe's fractious political and national elites to find a silver bullet to end the euro sovereign debt crisis.

The economic and financial solutions are there, many argued. Only political infighting, partisan positions and ideological posturing stood in the way of key compromises to stabilize the bloc and neutralize the systemic threat to the world economy.

That sounds mightily familiar to anyone trying map the next six weeks of U.S. political negotiations to sidestep the looming "fiscal cliff" — which, in the absence of a deal, could see about US$600 billion of expiring tax cuts and automatic government spending cuts shock the world's biggest economy back into recession.

Figure out exactly how freshly re-elected Democratic President Barack Obama and his opponents in the still Republican House of Representatives thrash this one out and you you'll be fine.

But no one's 100-percent sure how this will go, or at least the precise timing of it. The risks of failure — however large or small — are obvious. And what of temporary failure or delay? What about kicking the can down the road again?

A Reuters poll on Friday showed most economists believe an agreement will be reached before the deadline but that partisan bickering beforehand could damage the economy.

"It remains our view that a compromise will emerge as neither side wants to be blamed for plunging the economy back into recession," Keith Wade, chief strategist at Schroders said this week. "The difficulty is that time is limited. Given what we have seen in the past and in Europe today, politicians will want to take any agreement to the wire."

For long-term investors trying to see through the fog, how do you retain your nerve or conviction about the eventual outcome during weeks of stomach-churning market moves as negotiating positions are relayed via alarming news headlines?

European Playbook?

This has been the playbook in Europe throughout the euro crisis to date — a "war" that's far from over given this week's latest anxiety about Greece, the unresolved issue of a sovereign Spanish bailout and signs of sharp German economic slowdown.

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