Sunday, June 7, 2009

TICK TOCK


U.S. Debt $668,621 Per Household

No that's not a typo: that's the statistic according to USA Today. The folks over there have done some really great work this week with another interesting interactive chart attached to an article about the nation's debt. If they keep this up, I'll have to stop considering it a useless free newspaper I step over when leaving a hotel room. The numbers it reports are staggering.


Again, I wish I could include the
interactive chart it shows, but it breaks down the $668,621 by various components of federal government debt ($546,668) and personal debt ($121,953). Presumably that means this astronomical figure does not even include state and local government debt. I thought it might be fun to put this number into perspective.

Because it's pretty hard to identify what the weighted-average interest rate is for this debt, I show a few different scenarios. That way you can decide for yourself which scenario you find most plausible. The interest rate is shown, along with two different time horizons for each scenario. I then provide the amount of money that would be needed to pay off the debt per household, per year.

Scenario #1: 5%
30 years: $43,469
50 years: $36,603

Scenario #2: 3%
30 years: $34,092
50 years: $25,971

Scenario #3: 0%
30 years: $22,274
50 years: $13,364

So in the hopelessly optimistic best case scenario, each American household would have to pay $13,364 per year for 50 years. That is, of course, assuming that the federal government closes the deficit (fat chance), and each household does not incur additional debt (doubtful). And recall: it does not include state and local debt. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the 2007 median household income was $50,233 -- before taxes. So you can kind of imagine how impossible even the best case scenario of $13,364 per household, per year would be anyway.

I admit this is a gross oversimplification. It does not consider inflation, which is sure to happen, and which will help a bit. But if you assume the above interest rates are real interest rates (nominal interest rate minus inflation), then this might make the 0% scenario a little more likely -- but probably not for 30 or 50 years, I hope. My scenarios also do not consider U.S. population growth, which there undoubtedly will be.

Despite its simplicity, I think this analysis shows just how dire a situation the nation's debt poses. I know there's a popular argument that we've always been in debt, so it's nothing to worry about. As these numbers continue to grow, however, I think the plausibility of that argument wanes.



Debtclock

Who Is Going To Lend Us The Money To Fund Our Exploding Debt?

The key questions here are:

  • "Who is going to lend us the $2 trillion a year necessary to fund this spending?" and
  • What interest rates are they going to demand to do it?"

It used to be China who was lending us the money, but China's getting queasy, and our borrowing has now exploded far beyond what they are willing to lend.




The Big Collapse Could Be Very Near

The Federal Reserve appears to be increasingly nervous about the long term bond market. This is serious. How panicked are they? After leaking a story on Friday, they are back at it on Sunday.

The Federal Reserve leaked to CNBC's Steve Liesman on Friday that they weren't targeting long rates. Why such a leak? Probably because the Fed did not want to appear impotent in controlling the long rate. So they put out the word through Liesman that they weren't targetting the long rate. Can you imagine what would happen to the markets if it sensed long rates were beyond the control of the Fed?

The Fed can of course print money to buy up every Treasury bond in existence, but the inflationary ramifications would be Zimbabwe like, and crush the dollar on international currency markets. Are we near the phase where all hell breaks loose? I have never even answered,
maybe, to this question before. It's always been, "no." Now it'smaybe.

What really has me spooked is another article out this afternoon (on a Sunday) that Drudge has even picked up. It's a Reuters story by Alister Bull. The headline:
Federal Reserve puzzled by yield curve steepening.

Translation, the Fed doesn't know what is going on, but they are really scared.



The Federal Reserve is studying significant moves in the U.S. government bond market last week that could have big implications for the central bank's strategy to combat the country's recession.

But the Fed is not really sure what is driving the sharp rise in long-dated bond yields, and especially a widening gap between short and long term yields.

Do rising U.S. Treasury yields and a steepening yield curve suggest an economic recovery is more certain, meaning less need for safe haven government
bonds and a healthy demand for credit? If so, there might be less need for the
Fed to expand the money supply by buying more U.S. Treasuries.

Or does the steepening yield curve mean investors are worried about the deterioration in the U.S. fiscal outlook, or the potential for a collapse in the U.S. dollar as the Fed floods the world with newly minted currency as part of its quantitative easing program. This might be an argument to augment to step up asset purchases.

Another possibility is that China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt, has decided to refocus its portfolio by leaning more heavily on shorter-term maturities...

An obvious culprit for the move in bond yields is the country's record fiscal deficit, which will generate a massive amount of new government issuance.

The U.S. Treasury must sell a record net $2 trillion in new debt in 2009 to fund a $1.8 trillion projected fiscal deficit, resulting from falling tax revenues, an economic stimulus package and sundry bank bailouts.

It's the Chinese, and any other Treasury bond buyer who follows the markets, that have pulled away, to varying degrees from buying Treasury long securities. No one wants to be the last one holding bonds, where the new debt about to be issued is in the trillions.

Bull continues with the part of the message the Fed really wanted to get out:
With officials still grappling to divine the factors steepening the yield curve, a speedy decision on whether to ramp up the Treasury debt purchase program or the related plan to snap up mortgage-related debt seems unlikely.

"I'm in wait-and-see mode," said one Fed official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We laid out the asset purchase plan and we're following it. That is going to have some affect on various interest rates, but together with a hundred other things. So I don't think we should be chasing a long-term interest rate," the official said.
It's the same message as Friday. The Fed does not want to spook the world into thinking that it can't push long term rates down, so it says it is not trying. But if rates continue to climb, a panic out of Treasury securities is a very likely scenario. And Bernanke has only one play to force long rates back down, buy every long bond in sight, which of course is highly inflationary and puts upward pressure on rates. How's that for a dilemma?

The end of the current financial system, as we know it, maybe iminent. If you would have asked me even two weeks ago if collapse was imminent, I would have said it was highly unlikely, now I am saying it is possible. Bernanke may be able to patch things up short-term, if he is lucky, but long term the U.S. financial structure is in serious trouble. There is just too much Treasury debt that needs to be raised. An international panic out of Treasury securities, even a slow controlled panic, means the Fed will be the major buyer. This will ultimately mean record inflation.

And keep this in mind, we have never seen a collapse of a currency like the dollar. Even the hyperinflation during Germany's Wiemar Period can not serve as an example. Since the dollar is the reserve currency of most of the world, a panic out of the dollar means more dollars will return to the U.S. shores than any country has ever experienced.

Other countries have had collapsed currencies, but never in the history of world of finance has so much currency been held outside a country of issue that could come flying back, almost on a moments notice. If the panic out of the dollar starts, even if Bernanke stops printing money (unlikely), all the dollars flying back into the U.S. could cause a huge price inflation all on its own.
The Newest Ruse: Banks Capitalizing on “Toxic Assets” to Book Puffed-Up Profits
Surprise! Another Ranking Member of Congress states: "Banks Run The Place"
06-01-2009 Daily Kos
The Leftist Blog reports that Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN) echoes, almost to the letter, what Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the 2nd ranking democrat in the Senate said a month earlier.
Read Full Story
\http://www.moneymorning.com/2009/06/02/banks-toxic-assets/
http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2009/05/big-collapse-could-be-very-near.html
http://www.moneyandmarkets.com/fed-failure-3-34034
http://www.moneyandmarkets.com/geithner-goes-begging-in-china-what-it-means-to-you-2-34113
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/6/1/737466/-Another-Ranking-Member-of-Congress:-Banks-Run-The-Place
http://business.theatlantic.com/2009/05/us_debt_668621_per_household.php
http://www.businessinsider.com/henry-blodget-who-is-going-to-lend-us-the-money-to-fund-our-exploding-debt-2009-6

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