Tag Archives: interest rates

No Fooling, by Robert Gore

DOUBLING TIME = 72/rate of interest

Math can be a real bitch.

The numbers behind this story come from the Wall Street Journal, “National Debt Is Projected To Nearly Double in 30 Years,” (paywall) 3/30/17. For a Zero Hedge summary, see “CBO Warns Of Fiscal Catastrophe As A Result Of Exponential Debt Growth In The U.S.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released figures this week on the government’s deficits and the national debt that are downright scary. Unfortunately, they’re not nearly scary enough. The assumptions the CBO incorporates are optimistic and will almost certainly be undercut by reality.

The headline projection was the national debt will almost double in 30 years. Using the rule of 72, T=72/r, where T is the time in years required for principle to double and r is the annual interest rate compounded, a 30-year doubling time implies the debt is growing at 2.4 percent annually (30=72/2.4). However, the national debt almost doubled during George W. Bush’s two terms, and almost doubled again during Barack Obama’s two terms. That implies a T of a little more than 8 years. To be conservative (because debt almost doubled but not quite), round the T up to 9 years. Plug that into the rule of 72, and you have the debt growing at 8 percent per year (9=72/8), or over 3.3 times the rate the CBO is assuming. Scary as that 30-year doubling sounds, simply extrapolating the reality of the last 16 years projects another doubling in not 30, but 9 years, or a year longer than Donald Trump’s potential two terms.

But wait, there’s more. The CBO assumes the 10-year Treasury rate will be 1.5 percent after inflation over the long term, but last year that rate was 1.9 percent and the year before, 2.2 percent. Ask yourself, with exploding debt and an increasing supply of Treasury bills, notes and bonds, are real rates (the interest rate after inflation) likely to go higher or lower? The CBO says lower; SLL says higher. The CBO also assumes that potential GDP will grow at 1.9 percent per year over the long term, although it grew an estimated 1.6 percent last year. Ask yourself, with debt service consuming an ever larger share of the GDP (see next paragraph), will that help or hamper economic growth? The CBO says it will help; SLL says it will hamper. Finally, the CBO assumes that net interest costs will average 2.1 percent of the GDP over the next decade, although last year they were 2.5 percent. Again, ask yourself, will a rising national debt lead to more or less debt service cost relative to the GDP? The CBO says less; SLL says more.

Even the too rosy CBO numbers paint a grim picture. It projects that debt service’s share of total federal spending will triple, from the present 7 percent to 21 percent, over the next 30 years. In the same time frame, the national debt as a percent of the GDP will increase from 77 to 150 percent.

President Trump wants to spend “yugely” on infrastructure, increase the military’s budget, cut taxes, and not touch entitlement spending. This is all pure fantasy; it’s simply not going to happen. Something’s got to give, and it will probably start in the bond market. Indeed, it probably already has; the 10-year Treasury rate reached generational lows last July  and interest rates have been in an irregular uptrend since. So if you read the Zero Hedge CBO post and are feeling glum, cheer down; you’re not feeling glum enough. Unfortunately, this is not an April Fools gag.

NO FOOLING, GREAT NOVELS!

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CBO Warns Of Fiscal Catastrophe As A Result Of Exponential Debt Growth In The U.S., by Tyler Durden

The CBO’s numbers are grim, but as SLL argues in the next post, “No Fooling,” they’re not grim enough. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:

In a just released report from the CBO looking at the long-term US budget outlook, the budget office forecasts that both government debt and deficits are expected to soar in the coming 30 years, with debt/GDP expected to hit 150% by 2047 if the current government spending picture remains unchanged.

The CBO’s revision from the last, 2016 projection, shows a marked deterioration in both total debt and budget deficits, with the former increasing by 5% to 146%, while the latter rising by almost 1% from 8.8% of GDP to 9.6% by 2017.

In addition to the booming debts, the office expects the deficit to more than triple from the projected 2.9% of GDP in 2017 to 9.8% in 2047. The deficit at the end of fiscal year 2016 stood at $587 billion.

A comaprison of government spending and revenues in 2017 vs 2047 shows the following picture:

The CBO also mentions rising rates as another key reason for the increasing debt burden. The Federal Reserve has kept rates low since the financial crisis but is on track to gradually hike rates in the coming year.

On the growth side, the CBO expects 2% or less GDP growth over the next three decades, far below the number proposed by the Trump administration.

The budget office breaks down the primary causes of projected growth in US spending as follows: not surprisingly, it is all about unsustainable social security and health care program outlays.

The CBO’s troubling conclusion:

Greater Chance of a Fiscal Crisis. A large and continuously growing federal debt would increase the chance of a fiscal crisis in the United States. Specifically, investors might become less willing to finance federal borrowing unless they were compensated with high returns. If so, interest rates on federal debt would rise abruptly, dramatically increasing the cost of government borrowing. That increase would reduce the market value of outstanding government securities, and investors could lose money. The resulting losses for mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, banks, and other holders of government debt might be large enough to cause some financial institutions to fail, creating a fiscal crisis. An additional result would be a higher cost for private-sector borrowing because uncertainty about the government’s responses could reduce confidence in the viability of private-sector enterprises.

It is impossible for anyone to accurately predict whether or when such a fiscal crisis might occur in the United States. In particular, the debt-to-GDP ratio has no identifiable tipping point to indicate that a crisis is likely or imminent. All else being equal, however, the larger a government’s debt, the greater the risk of a fiscal crisis.

The likelihood of such a crisis also depends on conditions in the economy. If investors expect continued growth, they are generally less concerned about the government’s debt burden. Conversely, substantial debt can reinforce more generalized concern about an economy. Thus, fiscal crises around the world often have begun during recessions and, in turn, have exacerbated them.

If a fiscal crisis occurred in the United States, policymakers would have only limited—and unattractive—options for responding. The government would need to undertake some combination of three approaches: restructure the debt (that is, seek to modify the contractual terms of existing obligations), use monetary policy to raise inflation above expectations, or adopt large and abrupt spending cuts or tax increases.

Then again, as the past 8 years have shown, only debt cures more debt, so expect nothing to change.

Also, we find it just a little confusing why the CBO never warned of an imminent “fiscal crisis” over the past 8 years when total US debt doubled, increasing by $10 trillion under the previous administration.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-03-30/cbo-warns-coming-fiscal-crisis-result-exponential-us-debt-growth

Bond “Carnage” hits Mortgage Rates, Aims at Housing Bubble 2, by Wolf Richter

The relationship between the housing market and higher interest rates isn’t as straightforward as many people think. Sometimes rates rise and the housing market does well for the same reason: the economy is strong. Interest rates probably hit bottom in July, 2016, and have embarked on a long-term rising trend. It remains to be seen how that will affect the housing market. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

“Many fear the Fed is behind the curve. The market is even further behind: This is clearly a dangerous situation.”

US government debt took another beating today. As prices fell, yields rose to new multi-year highs. The 10-year Treasury yield rose 5 points to 2.625%, the highest since September 2014, when it just briefly kissed that level. At this pace, the yield will soon double from the record low of 1.36% in July last year.

This chart shows the progression of the 10-year Treasury yield since late August (chart via StockCharts.com):

When yields were surging maniacally in November and December – broadly called the “bond massacre” or the “bond meltdown” or similar – I pontificated that eventually yields would fall back some, “on the theory that nothing goes to heck in a straight line.” And they did start falling back in mid-December. But that three-month breather has now been totally undone.

Two-year Treasuries took it on the chin too today, and the yield jumped to 1.40%, the highest since June 2009.

To continue reading: Bond “Carnage” hits Mortgage Rates, Aims at Housing Bubble 2

The Lowest Common Denominator, by Michael Lebowitz

Probably because most people don’t like to think or write about it, debt is one of SLL’s favorite subjects. Michael Lebowitz analyzes bond math and what it means for the debt-saturated US and global economies. From Lebowitz at 720global.com:

At a recent investment conference, hedge fund billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller predicted that interest rates would continue rising. Specifically, he suggested that, consistent with the prospects for economic growth, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield could reach 6.00% over the next couple of years. Druckenmiller’s track record lends credence to his economic perspectives. While we would very much like to share his optimism, we find it difficult given the record levels of public and private debt.

Druckenmiller’s comments appear to be based largely on enthusiasm for the new administration’s proposals for increased infrastructure and military spending along with tax cuts and deregulation. This is consistent with the outlook of most investors today. Although proposals of this nature have stimulated economic growth in the past, today’s economic environment is dramatically different from prior periods. Investors and the market as a whole are failing to consider the importance of the confluence of the highest debt levels (outright and as a % of GDP) and the lowest interest rates (real and nominal) in the nation’s history. Because of the magnitude and extreme nature of these two factors, the economic sensitivity to interest rates is greater and more asymmetric now than it has ever been. Additionally, due the manner in which debt and interest rates have evolved over time, the amount of interest rate risk held by fixed income and equity investors poses unparalleled risks and remains, for the moment, grossly under-appreciated.

Proper assessment of future investment and economic conditions must carefully consider changes in the debt load and the interest rates at which new and existing debt will be serviced.

To continue reading: The Lowest Common Denominator

The Secular Trend In Rates Remains Lower: The Yield Bottom Is Still Ahead Of Us, by the Kessler Companies

Here’s a contrary opinion on interest rates: the bottom is not in and they’re going lower. From the Kessler Companies at kesslercompanies.com:

Donald Trump’s victory sparked a tremendous sell-off in the Treasury market from an expectation of fiscal stimulus, but more broadly, from an expectation that a unified-party government can enact business-friendly policies (protectionism, deregulation, tax cuts) which will be inflationary and economically positive. It doesn’t take too much digging to show that the reality is different. The deluge of commentaries suggesting ‘big-reflation’ are short-sighted. Just as before last Tuesday we thought the 10yr UST yield would get below 1%, we still think this now.

Business Cycle

No matter the President, this economic expansion is seven and a half years old (since 6/2009), and is pushing against a difficult history. It is already the 4th longest expansion in the US back to the 1700’s (link is external). As Larry Summers has pointed out (link is external), after 5 years of recovery, you add roughly 20% of a recession’s probability each year thereafter. Using this, there is around a 60% chance of recession now.

History also doesn’t bode well for new Republican administrations. Certainly, the circumstances were varied, but of the five new Republican administrations replacing Democrats in the 19th and 20th centuries, four of them (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush) faced new recessions in their first year. The fifth, Warren Harding, started his administration within a recession.

Fiscal Stimulus

Fiscal stimulus through infrastructure projects and tax cuts is now expected, but the Federal Reserve has been begging for more fiscal help since the financial crisis and it has been politically infeasible. The desire has not created the act. A unified-party government doesn’t make it any easier when that unified party is Republican; the party of fiscal conservatism. Many newer House of Representatives members have been elected almost wholly on platforms to reduce the Federal debt. Congress has gone to the wire several times with resistance to new budgets and debt ceilings. After all, the United States still carries a AA debt rating from S&P as a memento from this. Getting a bill through congress with a direct intention to increase debt will not be easy. As we often say, the political will to do fiscal stimulus only comes about after a big enough decrease in the stock market to get policy makers scared.

Also, fiscal stimulus doesn’t seem to generate inflation, probably because it is only used as a mitigation against recessions. After the U.S. 2009 Fiscal stimulus bill, the YoY CPI fell from 1.7% to 1% two years later. Japan has now injected 26 doses (link is external) of fiscal stimulus into its economy since 1990 and the country has a 0.0% YoY core CPI, and a 10yr Government bond at 0.0%.

Rate sensitive world economy

A hallmark of this economic recovery has been its reliance on debt to fuel it. The more debt outstanding, the more interest rates influence the economy’s performance. Not only does the Trump administration need low rates to try to sell fiscal stimulus to the nation, but the private sector needs it to survive. The household, business, and public sectors are all heavily reliant on the price of credit. So far, interest rates rising by 0.5% in the last two months is a drag on growth.

To continue reading: The Secular Trend In Rates Remains Lower: The Yield Bottom Is Still Ahead Of Us

Will the “Rout” in Government Bonds Turn into Carnage? by Wolf Richter

For all the conniptions in the stock market this week, the real story has been in the much bigger, much more important, and much less publicized, bond market. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

“Inflation Trade” Heats Up, “Greater-Fool” Trade Falls Apart

The Government “bond rout” didn’t start with Trump’s election victory. It started in July. And it didn’t just hit US Treasuries. It hit government bonds around the world. It’s predicated on the idea that inflation was raising its ugly head again. That idea has now become further entrenched.

The threat of inflation puts holders of low-yielding or zero-yielding long-term bonds in a very foul mood because the purchasing power of their capital gets destroyed without compensation.

It hit US Treasuries particularly hard. Central banks can push down long-term rates by buying bonds. The ECB and the Bank of Japan are doing that. But the Fed has been flip-flopping about raising rates. There is a good chance it will raise them another notch in December, from nearly nothing, by almost nothing, to next to nothing. So it isn’t going to revolutionize short-term rates. But it does point out that long-term rates in the US are on their own.

Then Trump won. He’d campaigned on a big deficit-funded stimulus program that includes a military buildup and – by golly, much needed – infrastructure work, funded, so to speak, by corporate and individual tax cuts….

The US bond markets reacted with a vengeance. They figured that these plans, once they sail through the Republican Congress, would create much larger deficits which would have to be funded by an onslaught of new bonds that somebody would have to buy, and that somebody wouldn’t be the Fed.

Dreading this supply, bond traders went out and cut great-big holes into the most magnificent bond bubble in history, and what we’ve been hearing since this act of Fed-defying vandalism is the deafening sound of hot air hissing out of it.

Today, Veterans Day, the US bond markets are closed, which may be a good thing. It gives them an extra day to take a breath. Because over the last three trading days, the US 10-year yield has skyrocketed 35 basis points, from 1.8% to 2.15%. That’s a huge move (chart via StockCharts.com):

Since early July, the 10-year yield has jumped by 77 basis points. So what does this mean for bondholders, in dollars and cents? Bond prices fall when yields rise. This chart (via StockCharts.com) shows the CBOT Price Index for the 10-year note. It’s down 4.5% since July.

It gets outright ugly with 30-year Treasury bonds. Over the last three trading days, the 30-year yield has soared by 38 basis points and since early July by 83 basis points (via StockCharts.com):

To continue reading: Will the “Rout” in Government Bonds Turn into Carnage? 

Economic stress as world runs out of dollars, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

A number of market-based indicators are signaling  that dollar liquidity is tightening. Tread carefully. From Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at telegraph.co.uk:

Surging rates on dollar Libor contracts are rapidly tightening conditions across large parts of the global economy, incubating stress in the credit markets and ultimately threatening overvalued bourses.

Three-month Libor rates – the benchmark cost of short-term borrowing for the international system – have tripled this year to 0.88pc as inflation worries mount.

Fear that the US Federal Reserve may have to raise rates uncomfortably fast is leading to an acute dollar shortage, draining global liquidity.

“The Libor rate is one of few instruments left that still moves freely and is priced by market forces. It is effectively telling us that that the Fed is already two hikes behind the curve,” said Steen Jakobsen from Saxo Bank. “This is highly significant and is our number one concern. Our allocation model is now 100pc in cash. This is a warning signal for the market and it happens extremely rarely,” he said.

Goldman Sachs estimates that up to 30pc of all business loans in the US are priced off Libor contracts, as well as 20pc of mortgages and most student loans. It is the anchor for a host of exotic markets, used as a floor for 90pc of the $900bn pool of the leveraged loan market. It underpins the derivatives nexus. The chain reaction from the Libor spike is global. The Bank for International Settlements warns that the rising cost of borrowing in dollar markets is transmitted almost instantly through the global credit system.

“Changes in the short-term policy rate are promptly reflected in the cost of $5 trillion in US dollar bank loans,” it said. Roughly 60pc of the global economy is linked to the dollar through fixed currency pegs or “dirty floats”, but studies by the BIS suggest that borrowing costs in domestic currencies across Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, move in sympathy with dollar costs, regardless of whether the exchange rate is fixed. Short-term “Shibor” rates in China have been ratcheting up.

The cost of one-year swaps jumped to 2.71pc last week, and the spread over one-year sovereign debt is back to levels seen during the Shanghai stock market crash last year. This is not a pure import from the US. The Chinese authorities themselves are taking action to rein in a credit bubble.

It is happening in parallel with Fed tightening, each reinforcing the other, and that makes it more potent. Three-month interbank rates in Saudi Arabia have soared to 2.4pc. This is the highest since the global financial crisis in early 2009 and implies a credit crunch in the Saudi banking system. The M1 money supply has fallen 9pc over the last year. The Bank of Japan has doubled its window of dollar credit for Japanese banks to head off an incipient dollar squeeze, drawing on the country’s ample foreign reserves.

It may not be so easy for others. Credit analysts are becoming nervous about the spread between Libor and the overnight index swap, the so-called Libor-OIS spread that is used to gauge problems in the plumbing of the credit system. It has widened to 38 basis points, near levels seen in the eurozone debt crisis and past bouts of stress.

The message from the “TED spread” is similar, if less severe. This measures the spread between eurodollar rates in Lon­don and three-month futures contracts for US treasuries. The picture is complex. These signals have been distorted by new rules for US prime money market funds, which have shrunk by $560bn and led to a contraction of commercial paper. The deadline for this reform has come and gone, yet the spreads have not settled.

To continue reading: Economic stress as world runs out of dollars