Major League Reckoning

Now there’s a real decoupling. Friday’s unemployment figures came out in America. They showed that 8.2 million Americans have lost their job since the GFC began in 2007. The official unemployment rate (the one that under-measures actual unemployment) is at 10.2% and growing.

Stocks rallied on this news.

Employment is said to be a lagging indicator. Economists tell you it’s the last thing to recover from a recession. Businesses don’t begin hiring until after they are sure the worm has turned in the economy. But right now, there is a pretty big decoupling between the stock market’s verdict on the economy (it’s all good, man) and the employment market’s verdict (it sucks, man).

Of course, a flaccid job market is not all that hinders the world’s largest economy. Far from it…

The supply of new US debt is growing even faster than the Congress makes plans to spend the money. The US Treasury is auctioning off $81 billion in new debt this week. It will sell $40 billion in three-year notes on Monday, $25 billion 10-year notes on Tuesday, and $16 billion in 30-year bonds on Thursday (which is pretty ambitious).

You have to wonder who is willing to loan money to the United States government – given the state of its fiscal and monetary policies – for thirty years at below 5%. But the Treasury is anxious to auction as much long-term debt now as it can, locking in what it believes are low rates. This is another way of saying the Treasury thinks rates will rise (creditors will ask for higher rates when lending to Uncle Sam).

In the report from the Treasury’s borrowing committee to the Secretary, the committee said it was getting a wee bit worried that the maturity schedule of the Treasury debt portfolio could be in trouble if rates go up. Specifically, it wrote that, “The potential for inflation, higher interest rates, and roll over risk should be of material concern.”

Perhaps this is why the Treasury and the Fed are considering whether to “move out on the interest rate” curve and try and set rates for longer-term debt. If the market is going to push them up, the Fed will have to push them down (as it has been doing anyway with its purchase plans). Rules are made to broken!

Take the statutory US debt ceiling for example. The Treasury’s borrowing committee writes that, “Based on current projections, Treasury expects to reach the debt ceiling in mid- to late- December. However, the government’s cash flows are volatile, and forecasting a precise date is difficult. Treasury is working closely with Congress to pass legislation to increase the debt ceiling. We will keep financial market participants apprised of developments as the debt outstanding approaches the statutory limit.”

In other words, the jackasses in the US Congress will have to pass a new law allowing the Treasury to borrow more. This would be comical if it weren’t so disgraceful. US monetary authorities continue to tell the world’s savers that the US standard of living is not negotiable, even if it means increasing public sector debt to over 100% of GDP.

But the world’s creditors may not be in the mood to negotiate anyway. We think the rise in gold is one example of creditors deciding there are better things to do with their money. And in the meantime, take a look at the graph below from the Quarterly Refunding Statement of the Treasury’s Office of Debt Management. It’s a doozy!

Coupons Maturing - 2

Source: US Treasury Office of Debt Management, Quarterly Refunding Statement Charts, Nov 2, 2009

Sorry about the size. We had to reduce the chart to get the whole thing in. In case you can’t read the fine print, it says that in the next five years, there will 73 days on which more than $20 billion in Treasuries mature and 46 days on which more than $30 billion in Treasuries mature. That’s 119 days of major league reckoning.

Normally, that debt is simply rolled over as a new (or often the same) buyer refinances it. But what do you think will happen in the next five years? The US will be borrowing more and more and probably at higher rates. Our guess? It won’t be good for the dollar.


Dan Denning
for The Daily Reckoning