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Posts Tagged ‘deficit funding’

Bernanke Conundrum

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 8th, 2009 7:27 AM |

Overnight markets indicate that Treasury prices are lower and interest rates subsequently higher (remember the inverse relationship between bond prices and interest rates). 2yr Treasury notes are trading at 1.33% and 10yr Treasury notes are trading at 3.85% (both are .03% higher from Friday’s close).

If interest rates are higher, clearly that move must be an indication that economic activity is improving and equity markets should be higher overnight, correct? In “normal” economic times, perhaps that line of reasoning would hold water, but in the Uncle Sam economy, we need to go deeper.

Equity futures indicate our stock markets will open lower by approximately 1%. What’s going on? Welcome to the Bernanke conundrum! What is the riddle wrapped inside our economic enigma? How can Fed chair Ben Bernanke nurse our economy back to health while at the same time maintaining the necessary fiscal independence, integrity, and discipline of robust Fed policy?

Big Ben has used aggressive measures to backstop a wide swath of our markets. In the process, he has created a fair amount of stability but with an effective government guarantee “insurance” policy as the cost of stability. Some of these policies have lessened in size as certain sectors have normalized. However, the major Fed programs remain in place. What are these?

1. quantitative easing: commitment to buy $1.3 trillion in total of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities in an attempt to keep these rates down. Then why are rates rising? More on this in a second.

2. commitment to provide necessary liquidity as needed to support the “wards of the state” including Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, GM, AIG, Citigroup.

These programs in conjunction with the massive deficit spending programs undertaken by the Obama administration have ballooned our expected funding needs in calendar 2009 to upwards of $3 trillion, a fourfold increase over prior years.

In my opinion, interest rates are moving up much less on any real signs of economic improvement than on these funding needs and very real signs of a monetary printing press malfunction. What’s that? With the Fed Funds rate at 0-.25%, the Fed is literally flooding the economy with cash. Where is that cash going? Is it flowing through to the economy? Not really.

The cash is pouring into the banking system to cushion and support financial institutions from the ongoing losses connected to rising defaults on credit cards, residential mortgages, commercial real estate, and corporate loans.

The market is now very clearly sending a signal to Bernanke, Geithner, Obama and team that if they want to continue their programs as designed (and they do and will), the price, that is the rate of interest, is going up. Why?

The market is very concerned that the flood of liquidity will lead to inflation if not rampant inflation and potentially hyperinflation. How does Bernanke head that off?

Withdraw the very liquidity that he has found so necessary to pour into the financial system. How does he do that?Two ways.

1. increase the Fed Funds rate: that is, make borrowing more expensive.

2. reverse the quantitative easing program so that the Fed actually sells Treasury and mortgage-backed securities into the market and takes liquidity out in the process. What are the impacts of both those maneuvers? Higher interest rates.

In fact, interest rates are moving higher already in anticipation of Bernanke being forced to make these moves. Can Bernanke “thread this needle?” What will happen if interest rates move higher?

Slow the economy, especially housing given higher mortgage rates, and lower earnings especially for financial institutions. To wit, our equity markets are lower overnight.

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

LD

Is The Government Bond Bubble Getting Ready To Burst? UPDATE #2 >>

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 21st, 2009 2:41 PM |

With equities down 2-2.5% on the day, one might think the safety of U.S. Treasury debt would be in vogue. Well, not so. In fact, the Treasury market is BREAKING down as I write this. The 10yr U.S. Treasury note has backed up to a 3.36% rate, which is a full 16 basis points higher on the day. This is a very significant move. What’s happening?

Well, let’s revisit my original commentary on April 30th and my subsequent update on May 7th.

What has changed today from then? Very little aside from S&P putting U.K government debt on watch for potential downgrade. Can the U.S. be far behind?

The demand for credit by global governments is swamping the market. If equities go up, down or sideways, I think U.S. Treasury 10 year notes are headed to at least a 4% rate and potentially much higher. (They started the year at approximately 2%, so they have already gotten pummeled).

Please recall that U.S. Treasury funding needs this year will very likely exceed the debt issued in 2006, 2007, and 2008 combined!! As I see it, the overall delevering process – in which individuals, corporations, and governments need to pay down debt via asset sales or refinance the debt – continues unabated. On May 7th, I wrote:

I have tried to highlight my concerns on interest rates for the entire year. Despite the Federal Reserve “cutting checks” to buy hundreds of billions in U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, the global demand for credit (meaning global governments, companies, and municipalities issuing MASSIVE supply of bonds) is driving rates higher.

As I wrote in my post from April 30th, the U.S. Treasury market has been faced with underwriting tens and now hundreds of billions in government debt on a regular basis. The 30yr government bond auction today was not well received and interest rates have moved higher by 10-20 basis points (.10 to .20%).

What are the implications of higher rates?
1. Increased cost of financing the deficit.
2. Upward pressure on other rates, primarily mortgage rates.
3. Longer time for economy to improve given higher interest costs.
4. Given the massive global government deficits, the access to credit for private enterprise is negatively impacted. This is known as crowding out.

As I referenced the other day, “We Still Have To Pay The Bill.”

Bloomberg reports, Treasuries Tumble as Bond Sale Draws Higher Than Forecast Yield.

From my piece at the end of April:

The equity markets have rebounded significantly over the last seven weeks. The Dow and S&P are now down approximately 4-6% on the year. The tech heavy Nasdaq has distinguished itself and is up approximately 10% on the year.

At this juncture, if the equity markets are implying that the economy will not slip into Depression, then the bill for the stability in equities is being transferred to participants in the bond market. Government bonds are facing an almost weekly avalanche of tremendous supply. This week the market is absorbing over $100 billion in 2yr, 5yr, and 7yr Treasury securites. Take a deep breath and next week the market is faced with over $75 billion in 3yr, 10yr, and 30yr government securities. The Treasury is likely going to sell 30yr government debt on a monthly basis!!

The Federal Reserve has been the biggest buyer of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities. The Fed’s balance sheet may be large but it is not endless. What have 10 yr. Treasury securities done on the year? Even in the face of massive buying of these securities by the Fed, the 10yr has backed up almost 1% to a current level of 3.1%. That rise in rates is very significant.

I have maintained and continue to maintain that interest rates will move higher given the overwhelming demand for funds by global governments to pay for deficit spending. Central banks around the world may try to hold the respective bond markets up and interest rates down but investors will continue to demand a higher rate of interest in the process.

As government rates move higher, mortgage rates, and other corporate rates will likely move higher as well. If we get a whiff of early signs of inflation which I believe is coming these rates could ratchet higher and the bubble in the government market would not merely burst but would actually explode.

Having fewer banks on Wall Street means larger slices of the profit pie for those still standing. However, having fewer banks also means lessened liquidity and risk-taking overall. Bigger deficits mean higher rates which lead to a slower economy and longer recovery period. Turbo-Tim, Big Ben, and Barack need to factor that dynamic into their economic equations. Principles of Economics 101.

LD






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