Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. 2019 From A Fourth Turning Perspective - James_Quinn
2.Beware the Young Stocks Bear Market! - Zeal_LLC
3.Safe Havens are Surging. What this Means for Stocks 2019 - Troy_Bombardia
4.Most Popular Financial Markets Analysis of 2018 - Trump and BrExit Chaos Dominate - Nadeem_Walayat
5.January 2019 Financial Markets Analysis and Forecasts - Nadeem_Walayat
6.Silver Price Trend Analysis 2019 - Nadeem_Walayat
7.Why 90% of Traders Lose - Nadeem_Walayat
8.What to do With Your Money in a Stocks Bear Market - Stephen_McBride
9.Stock Market What to Expect in the First 3~5 Months of 2019 - Chris_Vermeulen
10.China, Global Economy has Tipped over: The Surging Dollar and the Rallying Yen - FXCOT
Last 7 days
Stock Market VIX Volaility Analysis - 19th Mar 19
FREE Access to Stock and Finanacial Markets Trading Analysis Worth $1229! - 19th Mar 19
US Stock Markets Price Anomaly Setup Continues - 19th Mar 19
Gold Price Confirmation of the Warning - 18th Mar 19
Split Stock Market Warning - 18th Mar 19
Stock Market Trend Analysis 2019 - Video - 18th Mar 19
Best Precious Metals Investment and Trades for 2019 - 18th Mar 19
Hurdles for Gold Stocks - 18th Mar 19
Pento: Coming QE & Low Rates Will Be ‘Rocket Fuel for Gold’ - 18th Mar 19
"This is for Tommy Robinson" Shouts Knife Wielding White Supremacist Terrorist in London - 18th Mar 19
This Is How You Create the Biggest Credit Bubble in History - 17th Mar 19
Crude Oil Bulls - For Whom the Bell Tolls - 17th Mar 19
Gold Mining Stocks Fundamentals - 17th Mar 19
Why Buy a Land Rover - Range Rover vs Huge Tree Branch Falling on its Roof - 17th Mar 19
UKIP Urged to Change Name to BNP 2.0 So BrExit Party Can Fight a 2nd EU Referendum - 17th Mar 19
Tommy Robinson Looks Set to Become New UKIP Leader - 16th Mar 19
Gold Final Warning: Here Are the Stunning Implications of Plunging Gold Price - 16th Mar 19
Towards the End of a Stocks Bull Market, Short term Timing Becomes Difficult - 16th Mar 19
UKIP Brexit Facebook Groups Reveling in the New Zealand Terror Attacks Blaming Muslim Victims - 16th Mar 19
Gold – US Dollar vs US Dollar Index - 16th Mar 19
Islamophobic Hate Preachers Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins have Killed UKIP and Brexit - 16th Mar 19
Countdown to The Precious Metals Gold and Silver Breakout Rally - 15th Mar 19
Shale Oil Splutters: Brent on Track for $70 Target $100 in 2020 - 15th Mar 19
Setting up a Business Just Got Easier - 15th Mar 19
Stock Market Elliott Wave Analysis Trend Forercast - Video - 15th Mar 19
Gold Warning - Here Are the Stunning Implications of Plunging Gold Price - Part 1 - 15th Mar 19
UK Weather SHOCK - Trees Dropping Branches onto Cars in Stormy Winds - Sheffield - 15th Mar 19
Best Time to Trade Forex - 15th Mar 19
Why the Green New Deal Will Send Uranium Price Through the Roof - 14th Mar 19
S&P 500's New Medium-Term High, but Will Stock Market Uptrend Continue? - 14th Mar 19
US Conservatism - 14th Mar 19
Gold in the Age of High-speed Electronic Trading - 14th Mar 19
Britain's Demographic Time Bomb Has Gone Off! - 14th Mar 19
Why Walmart Will Crush Amazon - 14th Mar 19
2019 Economic Predictions - 14th Mar 19
Tax Avoidance Bills Sent to Thousands of Workers - 14th Mar 19
The Exponential Stocks Bull Market Explained - Video - 13th Mar 19
TSP Recession Indicator - Criss-Cross, Flip-Flop and Remembering 1966 - 13th Mar 19
Stock Investors Beware The Signs Of Recession / Deflation - 13th Mar 19
Is the Stock Market Still in a Bear Market? - 13th Mar 19
Stock Market Trend Analysis 2019 - 13th Mar 19
Gold Up-to-Date' COT Report: A Maddening Déjà Vu - 12th Mar 19
Save Fintech? Ban Short Selling. It's Not That Simple - 12th Mar 19
Palladium Blowup Could Expose Scam of Gold & Silver Futures - 12th Mar 19
Next Recession: Concentrating Future Losses & Bringing Them Forward In Time As Profits - 12th Mar 19
The Shift of the Philippine Peso Regime - 12th Mar 19
Theresa May BrExit Back Stab Deal Counting Down to Resignation, Tory Leadership Election - 12th Mar 19
Phase 1 of Stock Market Correction - 11th Mar 19
Long Awaited Stock Market Pullback has Finally Arrived - 11th Mar 19
US Presidential Cycle and the Stock Market - Video - 11th Mar 19
Stock Market Elliott Wave Analysis Trend Forercast - 11th Mar 19
Chinese Economic Data Shakes the Global Stock Markets - 11th Mar 19
The Fed Is Playing a Dangerous Game - 11th Mar 19
The Stock Market Has Called the Fed’s Bluff, What’s Next? - 11th Mar 19
Turkey Holiday Bazaar Extreme Jewelry Price Haggling - Fethiye Market - 11th Mar 19

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Stock and Finanacial Markets Trading Analysis Worth

Hidden U.S. Treasury Bond Market Risks?

Interest-Rates / US Bonds Dec 18, 2012 - 06:31 AM GMT

By: Axel_Merk

Interest-Rates

While Treasuries are said to have no default risk as the Federal Reserve (Fed) can always print money to pay off the debt, hidden risks might be lurking. As oxymoronic as it may sound, the biggest risk to the economy and the U.S. dollar might be, well, economic growth! Let us explain.


The U.S. government paid an average interest rate of 2.046% on the $11.0 trillion of Treasuries outstanding as of the end of November. Treasuries include Bills, Notes, Bonds and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS). At 2.046%, the cost of carrying the Treasury portfolio currently costs the government $225 billion per annum; about 6% of the federal budget was spent on servicing the national debt. 1

While total government debt has ballooned in recent years, the interest rate paid by the government on its debt has continued on its downward trend:

We only need to go back to the average interest rate paid in 2001, 6.19%, and the annual cost of servicing Treasuries would triple, paying more than Greece as a percentage of the budget. Not only would other government programs be crowded out, the debt service payments might likely be considered unsustainable. Except for the fact that, unlike Greece, the Fed can print its own money, diluting the value of the debt. In doing so, the debt could be nominally paid, although we would expect inflation to be substantially higher in such a scenario.

These numbers are no secret. Yet, absent of a gradual, yet orderly decline of the U.S. dollar over the years – with the occasional rally to make some investors believe the long-term decline of the U.S. dollar may be over - the markets do not appear overly concerned. Reasons the market aren’t particularly concerned include:

  • The average interest rate continues to trend downward. That’s because maturing high-coupon Treasury securities are refinanced with new, lower yielding securities.
  • Treasury Secretary Geithner has diligently lengthened the average duration of U.S. debt from about 4 years when he took office to currently over 5 years.

For the U.S. government, a longer duration suggests less vulnerability to a rise in interest rates, as it will take longer for a rise in borrowing costs to filter through to the average debt outstanding. The opposite is true for investors: the longer the average duration of a bond or a bond portfolio one holds, the greater the interest risk, i.e. the risk that the bonds fall in value as interest rates rise.

Operation Twist to hide interest risk

Debt management by the Treasury only tells part of the story on interest risk. When the Treasury publishes “debt held by the public,” it includes Treasuries purchased in the open market by the Fed. By engaging in “Operation Twist”, the Federal Reserve stepped onto Timothy Geithner’s turf, manipulating the average duration of debt held by the private sector. Notably, the private sector holds fewer longer-dated bonds, as the Fed has gobbled many of them up.

However, investors may still be exposed to substantial interest risk in their overall fixed income holdings as, in the search of yield, many have doubled down by seeking out longer dated and riskier securities.

The Fed, many are not aware of, employs amortized cost accounting, rather than marking its holdings to market, thus hiding potential losses should interest rates go up and its portfolio of Treasuries and Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) fall in value.

Quantitative easing to increase interest risk

Whenever there’s a warning that all the money created by the Federal Reserve is akin to printing money, some dismiss these concerns as the money created out of thin air to buy securities has not caused banks to lend, but park excess reserves back at the Federal Reserve. As of December 14, 2012, $1.4 trillion in excess reserves is parked at the Fed. Substantial interest risk might be baked into reserves:

Consider that the Fed has been paying about $80 billion in profits to the Treasury in recent years. Think of it this way: the more money the Fed “prints”, the more (Treasury & MBS) securities it buys, the more interest it earns. That’s why Fed Chair Bernanke brags that his policies have not cost taxpayers a cent, even if the activities may put the purchasing power of the currency at risk. Now, Bernanke has also claimed he could raise rates in 15 minutes. In our assessment, it’s most unlikely he would do so by selling long-dated securities; instead, in an effort to keep long-term rates low, the most likely scenario is that the Fed will pay a higher interest rate on reserves. Up until the financial crisis broke out, the Federal Reserve would have intervened in the Treasury market by buying and selling securities to move short-term interest rates. In the fall of 2008, the Fed was granted the authority by Congress to pay interest on reserves.

As interest rates rise, not only will Treasury pay more for debt it issues, it may also receive less from the Fed. Interest rates would have to rise to about 6% for the entire $80 billion in “profits” to be wiped out assuming a constant $1.5 trillion in reserve balances ($1.4 trillion in excess reserves and $0.1 trillion in required reserves that also receive interest); that assumes, the Fed does not grow its balance sheet in the interim (in an effort to generate more “profits” for the Fed) and would not reduce its payouts in the interim as a precaution because bonds held on the Fed’s books may be trading in the market at substantially lower levels.

Should interest rates move up, the Treasury may no longer be able to rely on the Fed to finance the deficit (while the Fed denies the purposes of its policies is to finance the deficit, the Fed is buying a trillion dollars in debt as the government is running a trillion dollar deficit).

Biggest risk: economic growth?

In our surveys, inflation tends to be on top of investors’ minds, no matter how often government surveys show us that inflation is not the problem. Should inflation expectations continue to rise – and a reasonable person may be excused for coming to that conclusion given that the Fed appears to be increasingly focusing on employment rather than inflation – bonds might be selling off, putting upward pressure on the cost of borrowing for the government.

But if we assume inflation is indeed not an imminent concern (keep in mind that the Fed is also buying TIPS and, thus, distorting important inflation gauges in the market), we only need to look back at the spring of this year when a couple of good economic indicators got some investors to conclude that a recovery is finally under way. What happened? The bond market sold off rather sharply! A key reason why the Fed is increasingly moving towards employment targeting is to prevent a recurrence, namely a market-driven tightening, pushing up mortgage costs.

The government should be grateful that we have this “muddle-through” economy. Let some of that money that’s been printed “stick;” let the economy kick into high gear. In that scenario, the “good news” may well be reflected in a bond market that turns into a bear market.

Historically, when interest rates move higher in an economic recovery, the U.S. dollar is no beneficiary because foreigners tend to hold lots of Treasuries: should the bond market turn into a bear market, foreigners historically tend to wait for the end of the tightening cycle before recommitting to U.S. Treasuries.

The point we are making is that for bonds to sell off and the dollar to be under pressure, we don’t need inflation to show its ugly head; we don’t need China or Japan to engage in financial warfare by dumping their Treasury holdings. All we may need is economic growth! And while Timothy Geithner has studiously been trying to extend the average duration of U.S. debt, Ben Bernanke at the Fed has thrown him a curveball.

Perception is reality

One only needs to look at Spain to see that a long average duration of government debt is no guarantor against a debt crisis. Spain has an average maturity of government debt of 6 years, yet it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that borrowing at 6% in the market is not sustainable given the total debt burden. As such, markets tend to shiver when confidence is lost, even if, technically, governments could cling on for a while when the cost of borrowing surges.

History may repeat itself

It was only 11 years ago that the US government paid and average of 6% on its debt. Sure the average cost of borrowing has been coming down. But no matter what scenarios we paint, if the average cost of borrowing can come down to almost 2% from 6%, we believe it is entirely possible to have the reverse take place over the next 11 years. Given the additional risks the Fed’s actions have introduced, the timing could well be condensed. But even if not, we believe it is irresponsible for policy makers to pretend interest rates may stay low forever (except, maybe, Tim Geithner’s steps to increase the average maturity of government debt; but as pointed out, his efforts may be overwhelmed by those of the Fed).

Fiscal Cliff

What’s so sad about the discussion about the so-called fiscal cliff is that even the initial Republican proposal results in approximately $800 billion deficits each year. Financed at an average 2%, this would add over $900 billion in interest expenses over ten years; financed at an average 4%, it would add almost $2 trillion in interest expense over ten years. Mind you, this is a politically unrealistic, conservative proposal. Democrats pretend we don’t even have a long-term sustainability problem, only that the wealthy don’t pay their fair share.

In our humble opinion, both Republicans and Democrats are distracted. In many ways, the simultaneous increase in taxes and cut in expenditures of the fiscal cliff is akin to European style austerity: if the cliff were to take place in its entirety, we would a) suffer a significant economic slow down; b) continue to run deficits exceeding 3% of GDP before factoring in any slowdown; and c) still not have fixed entitlements.

Entitlements

While our discussion focused on $11 trillion in Treasury securities, the so-called “unfunded liabilities” go much further than the $5 trillion in accounting liabilities set aside. Depending on the actuarial assumptions, unfunded liabilities may be as high as $50 trillion to $200 trillion or higher.

In our assessment, the only way to tame the explosion of government liabilities over the medium term is to tame entitlements. But it is very difficult to cut back on promises made. As Europe has shown us, the only language that policy makers understand may be that of the bond market. As such, unless and until the bond market imposes entitlement reform, we are rather pessimistic that our budget will be put on a sustainable footing. Put another way, things are not bad enough for policy makers to make the tough decisions.

Different from Europe, however, the U.S. has a current account deficit. As a result, a misbehaving bond market may have far greater negative ramifications for the dollar than the strains in the Eurozone bond markets had for the Euro. In the Eurozone, the current account is roughly in balance; while there was a flight out of weaker Eurozone countries, that flight was mostly intra-Eurozone towards Germany and Northern European countries.

So while the default risk of U.S. Treasuries may be less than that of Eurozone members, the risks to the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar might be substantially higher. On that note, while the Fed has indicated to buy another approximately $1 trillion in assets over the next year, we would not be surprised to see the balance sheet of the more demand-driven European Central Bank shrink as some banks pay back loans from the Long-Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO) early.

In early January, we will be publishing our outlook for 2013; Please also sign up for our newsletter to be informed as we discuss global dynamics and their impact on gold and currencies. Additionally, please join us for our upcoming Webinar on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013.

Axel Merk

Manager of the Merk Hard, Asian and Absolute Return Currency Funds, www.merkfunds.com

Rick Reece is a Financial Analyst at Merk Investments and a member of the portfolio management

Axel Merk, President & CIO of Merk Investments, LLC, is an expert on hard money, macro trends and international investing. He is considered an authority on currencies. Axel Merk wrote the book on Sustainable Wealth; order your copy today.

The Merk Absolute Return Currency Fund seeks to generate positive absolute returns by investing in currencies. The Fund is a pure-play on currencies, aiming to profit regardless of the direction of the U.S. dollar or traditional asset classes.

The Merk Asian Currency Fund seeks to profit from a rise in Asian currencies versus the U.S. dollar. The Fund typically invests in a basket of Asian currencies that may include, but are not limited to, the currencies of China, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

The Merk Hard Currency Fund seeks to profit from a rise in hard currencies versus the U.S. dollar. Hard currencies are currencies backed by sound monetary policy; sound monetary policy focuses on price stability.

The Funds may be appropriate for you if you are pursuing a long-term goal with a currency component to your portfolio; are willing to tolerate the risks associated with investments in foreign currencies; or are looking for a way to potentially mitigate downside risk in or profit from a secular bear market. For more information on the Funds and to download a prospectus, please visit www.merkfunds.com.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks and charges and expenses of the Merk Funds carefully before investing. This and other information is in the prospectus, a copy of which may be obtained by visiting the Funds' website at www.merkfunds.com or calling 866-MERK FUND. Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest.

The Funds primarily invest in foreign currencies and as such, changes in currency exchange rates will affect the value of what the Funds own and the price of the Funds' shares. Investing in foreign instruments bears a greater risk than investing in domestic instruments for reasons such as volatility of currency exchange rates and, in some cases, limited geographic focus, political and economic instability, and relatively illiquid markets. The Funds are subject to interest rate risk which is the risk that debt securities in the Funds' portfolio will decline in value because of increases in market interest rates. The Funds may also invest in derivative securities which can be volatile and involve various types and degrees of risk. As a non-diversified fund, the Merk Hard Currency Fund will be subject to more investment risk and potential for volatility than a diversified fund because its portfolio may, at times, focus on a limited number of issuers. For a more complete discussion of these and other Fund risks please refer to the Funds' prospectuses.

This report was prepared by Merk Investments LLC, and reflects the current opinion of the authors. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute investment advice. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, distributor.

Axel Merk Archive

© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules