Let’s start with a proposition that one can prove with simple (if tedious) arithmetic: every deficit of government (spending in excess of revenue) is matched by a surplus across other sectors – households, corporations, and foreign countries – where their income will exceed their consumption and net investment. The chart below shows what this looks like. I’ve excluded some very small payment items for simplicity, but the basic upshot is simple: every time the government runs a deficit, you’ll see it directly reflected in the sum of three surpluses: personal savings, retained corporate profits, and trade deficits (a surplus from the perspective of foreigners).
Think of it this way. What a government deficit does is to direct goods and services produced by other sectors of the economy toward consumption and investment (including transfer payments to individuals, subsidies to companies, and public infrastructure) that has been approved by Congress. In return, the sectors that produced those goods and services receive income for output that they did not consume. This private surplus takes the form of securities, and in equilibrium, those securities are exactly the same ones (Treasury debt and base money) that the government issued in order to finance the deficit.
The red line in the chart below is essentially the federal deficit as a share of GDP (including amounts spent on transfers to other sectors). The blue line is the sum of personal, corporate, and foreign surpluses. The two lines are mirror images of each other because this sort of equilibrium is just arithmetic.
Already, investors may feel a bit sick here. See, the deficit that the U.S. government ran during the pandemic amounted to nearly 19% of GDP, and that – in equilibrium – is exactly why corporate earnings, personal savings, and trade deficits enjoyed a record surge in recent quarters. Meanwhile, the spending bills currently on the table ($1 trillion for infrastructure and $1.8 trillion for social and climate spending) are 8-10 year spending proposals, partially offset by revenue measures. There’s nothing in current legislation that’s going to replicate the breathtaking federal deficits we’ve seen in the past 18 months. That means – purely by the force of arithmetic – that the sum of those other three surpluses must shrink. The only question is which of the three will take that hit.
The hard fundamentals point to a sharply overvalued market, but bull markets don’t die of old age. They are most often assassinated by central banks. The next most significant cause of recessions is surging oil prices. The reality is bull markets thrive on liquidity and as long as the liquidity keeps flowing, valuations will continue to expand.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top