US stock markets sank and gold soared Monday as there was still no sign of a plan to raise the US debt cap, eight days before the country could be forced into default.
Dow blue chips fell 0.5 percent, and the S&P 500 lost 0.4 percent, after Democratic and Republican politicians spent the weekend still far apart on a deficit-cutting plan that would allow the country to keep borrowing and honor its commitments.
Gold and the Swiss franc -- popular safe-havens when both the dollar and the euro are looking risky -- both jumped: gold pushed up to a record $1,624 an ounce, and the greenback lost 1.6 percent to the Swiss franc, buying 0.8056 francs compared to 0.8185 francs late Friday.
Bond prices were reasonably steady, however. Yields on US debt, at the center of the default worries, were slightly up yet remained low.
But analysts credited the central role that top-rated triple-A US Treasury bonds play in US and global markets for that.
They said that there is not much alternative for the banks and funds which hold them as core capital, even if they are downgraded.
Yields on short-term Treasury bills auctioned Monday were slightly higher than in recent weeks, but generally followed market trends and were no different than in June.
"The bigger picture for Treasuries, though, is that they could continue to show relative strength regardless of what happens," said Scott Atkinson at Briefing.com.
"If the US loses its AAA status, what will that say about the state of the global economy? As the US goes, so goes the world," he said.
"Thus, a downgrade might drive more investors to the relative safety of Treasuries. It is good to be the king."
Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson-ICAP, agreed.
"Treasuries are unique, nothing can take their place," Crandall said.
"As we get closer, and the rhetoric gets more heated, there is really not much the market can do to protect themselves."
But, in a small sign of possible bond market nervousness, the yield on a Treasury bill maturing on August 4 -- two days after the expected date that the government runs out of enough money to pay all its bills -- pushed upward beyond market trends for a third straight trading day.