Four Numbers Add Up to an American Debt Disaster
This is an informative column by Caroline Baum for Bloomberg. Here is the opening:
Consider the following numbers: 2.2, 62.8, 454, 5.9. Drawing a blank? Not to worry. They don't mean much on their own.
Now consider them in context
1) 2.2 percent is the average interest rate on the U.S. Treasury's marketable and non-marketable debt (February data).
2) 62.8 months is the average maturity of the Treasury's marketable debt (fourth quarter 2011).
3) $454 billion is the interest expense on publicly held debt in fiscal 2011, which ended Sept. 30.
4) $5.9 trillion is the amount of debt coming due in the next five years.
For the moment, Nos. 1 and 2 are helping No. 3 and creating a big problem for No. 4. Unless Treasury does something about No. 2, Nos. 1 and 3 will become liabilities while No. 4 has the potential to provoke a crisis.
In plain English, the Treasury's reliance on short-term financing serves a dual purpose, neither of which is beneficial in the long run. First, it helps conceal the depth of the nation's structural imbalances: the difference between what it spends and what it collects in taxes. Second, it puts the U.S. in the precarious position of having to roll over 71 percent of its privately held marketable debt in the next five years -- probably at higher interest rates.
First Among Equals
And that's a problem. The U.S. is more dependent on short- term funding than many of Europe's highly indebted countries, including Greece, Spain and Portugal, according to Lawrence Goodman, president of the Center for Financial Stability, a non- partisan New York think tank focusing on financial markets.
The U.S. may have had a lot more debt in relation to the size of its economy following World War II, but the structure was much more favorable, with 41 percent maturing in less than five years, 31 percent in five-to-10 years and 21 percent in 10 years or more, according to CFS data. Today, only 10 percent of the public debt matures outside of a decade.
David Fuller's view Contemplating how this situation plays out over the next five years is not a reassuring exercise. However, Fullermoney's Secular Investment Themes should provide protection.
Always subject to timing gleamed from price charts, these are:
Autonomies (multinational companies which lead their sectors)
Asian-led growth markets
Central and South American-led resources markets
Supply inelasticity themes such as energy and water
Global infrastructure development
Gold and other monetary metals
Industrial resources (mainly via shares which mine or produce them)
Agricultural commodities (trading opportunities only)