The US Debt default that is looming ever larger with each passing day that the US Congress, Senate and White House seem to treat as a brinkmanship fatigue challenge will have a specific default structure or process attached to it, that the rest of the world needs to get to grips with very quickly.
What are the consequences:
Because, if Americans are willing to engage in quasi-negotiations with each other on this acrimonious level; then world beware, they will treat you with even more disdain and petulance than they have been treating each other.
And yet, no Creditor Nation of the USA seem in the least bit prepared for the hard bargaining the USA Treasury officials will engage in when the technical default moves into a more serious phase.
This is commercial war on a scale we have not experienced for quite some time.
And the most disparaging part of this process or potential risk is that no commentator has yet stood up and called time on this challenge or at the very least attempted to pull the veil from the threat and fall-out the rest of the world will experience.
Of course 17 October 2013 is a technical default breach days only; because as most business people who experienced bankruptcy will attest to is the fact that you can continue to trade (on the goodwill of your creditors) beyond the point of being solvent, so long as those creditors continue to good-naturedly extend some further credit or payment terms to you.
Today’s brief analysis of US Treasury Yield curves and the Debt profiles of both the USA and Italy highlights the enduring question in the title of this post.
The first graphic highlights one important issue. We chose 2 August 2011 versus 17 February 2012 as key dates to compare the US Treasury Yield curve. If we cast our minds back to 2 August 2012 two key facts emerge:
This was the D-Day of the US Debt Ceiling vote
The US still had a Triple A credit rating
The key take-away from the Yield Curve comparison is that even with a ratings downgrade, the US is actually able to borrow new capital at a lower rate of interest 6 months on.
However, to pour a bit of realism into the analysis, we highlight two interesting Debt profile graphics below.
The first one is the USA Treasury Maturity curve (admittedly 6 months out of date), highlighting when the current debt will need to be redeemed or rolled over. The second is the Italian Bond Maturity curve. You will notice just how similar the USA and Italy Debt Maturity profiles are.
From this comparison, the critical question currently for us is:
Where will all the new money come from to roll over the debt maturing during the next 3 – 12 months? QE is one option, but investors still need to be convinced that their capital is safe and relatively risk-free. It is the Risk-free equation (or investor risk appetites) that needs to be explored in more detail.
And so too it is with economics. We don’t yet have a fully developed and ‘mature’ [in terms of life-cycle] grasp of the impact of timing with leads and lags in the economy in general.
Yes, we have very sophisticated and advance models, analytics, knowledge management, quantitative theories, etc.; but we still do not fully comprehend the impact of time and timing in general on the factors of production influencing our ‘modern’ global economy.
If only we could get the timing thing right and have a more insightful and meaningful (adult) debate not just in the US, but including global partners, both creditors and debtors alike.
But such is the nature of markets and spontaneous order, as espoused by our friends at the Austrian School, that we still believe and endorse the fact that ‘the market’ is still the best and most efficient mechanism for allocating resources (even financial and debt instruments) and informing the participants of potential risks and opportunities for clearing this market.
In the previous article we posted, mention was made of the (0.72)% [negative 0.72%] real return US Treasury investors can currently expect on 5 Year Treasury Bills. The Nominal (quoted) Yield Curves and Real (Inflation adjusted) Yield Curves for two specific points in time, namely Friday 29 July 2011 and 30 July 2006 are listed below.
Yield Curve 1
What is interesting to note is the very flat nature of the Yield Curve for all T-Bills at the end of July 2006, at around a 5% Nominal Return for investors. Yet the most significant fact is that the Real Yield was around 2.37% on 5 Year Treasuries, versus today’s (0.72)% on 5 Year or (0.18)% 7 Year T-Bill yields. In order to generate a very small Real Return, you have to be looking at purchasing a 10 Year T-Bill to obtain a modest 0.38% Real Return in today’s market.
A cynic might make this remark:
“Not only do you pay your taxes, but with the negative Real Yields on both 5 & 7 Year T-Bills, you are paying the government to hold on to your cash too”