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December 12, 2010

Europe to US: haven't you guys learned from our errors? [Fritzworth]

One of the truisms of the past two years is that the best mainstream media coverage of the Obama Administration, its policies, and the US in general has come from overseas, particularly from Britain. And while domestic news outlets noted the recent sell-off in US Treasury bonds, most downplayed or ignored the implications. Not so the British media. Note in particular that second sentence (emphasis mine):


US Treasuries last week suffered their biggest two-day sell-off since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The borrowing costs of the government of the world’s largest economy have now risen by a quarter over the past four weeks.

Debt service costs have reached such astronomical levels even though, over the past year and more, yields have been kept historically and artificially low by “quantitative easing (QE)” – in other words, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s virtual printing press. Now borrowing costs are 28pc higher than a month ago, with the 10-year Treasury yield reaching 3.33pc last week, an already eye-watering debt service burden can only go up.

Few on this side of the Atlantic should feel smug. The eurozone’s ongoing sovereign debt debacle has pushed up Germany’s borrowing costs by 27pc over the last month – to 3.03pc. The market has judged that if Europe’s Teutonic powerhouse wants the single currency to survive, it will ultimately need to raise wads of cash to absorb the mess caused by other member states’ fiscal incontinence. . . .

Some say that growing signs of a US economic recovery are positive for stocks, which means money is being diverted out of Treasuries, so lowering their price, which pushes up yields. That’s wishful thinking. Sovereign borrowing costs have just surged in the US – and therefore elsewhere – because a politically-wounded President Obama caved-in and extended the Bush-era tax cuts, combining them with a $120bn payroll tax holiday.

Lower taxes, and the certainty of lower taxes, may bolster business investment and growth. That’s the logic employed by those painting last week’s global yield spike in a positive light. Government borrowing costs rose in America and elsewhere, they say, as a re-bounding US economy is now drawing investors’ cash away from sovereign bonds and towards more productive uses.

The reality is, though, that the market is increasingly alarmed at the rate of increase of the US government’s already massive liabilities. America’s government debt is set to expand by a jaw-dropping 42pc over the next few years, reaching $19.6 trillion by 2015 according to Treasury Department estimates presented (amid very little fanfare) to Congress back in June. Since then, government spending has risen even more. So US debt service costs, like those of many other Western nations, are expanding rapidly in terms of both the volumes of sovereign instruments outstanding, and the yields on each bond.

Don't you just love the phrase "fiscal incontinence"? Go read the whole thing. Hey, it's Sunday morning -- you've got time, and this has real implications for your personal financial future. ..fritz..


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posted by Open Blogger at 08:08 AM

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