Inflation and deficits do not diminish the attractiveness of US bonds

What would have to happen for these low borrowing costs to rise significantly? There could be a crisis of confidence in Fed policy, a geopolitical crisis, or big hikes in key Fed rates in an attempt to kill inflation. In a more easily imagined situation, some believe that if inflation remains close to current levels in the second half of the year, bond buyers could lose patience and scale back their purchases until yields are more in line with the rise. prices.

The resulting higher debt interest payments would force budget cuts, said Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Mr Goldwein’s organization, which lobbies for balanced budgets, estimated that even with last year’s low rates, the federal government would spend more than $300 billion on interest payments – more than its spending individual in food stamps, housing, disability insurance, science, education or technology.

Last month, Brian Riedl, senior fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute, published an article titled “How Higher Interest Rates Could Push Washington Into a Federal Debt Crisis.” It concludes that “debt is already expected to reach unsustainable levels even before new proposals are adopted”.

The offsetting global and demographic trends that have driven rates down, Reidl writes, are an “accidental, and perhaps temporary, subsidy to federal lawmakers who borrow heavily.” Assuming these trends continue, he said, it would be like becoming a self-satisfied football team that “managed to improve its overall win-loss record over several seasons – despite a rapidly deteriorating defense – ​because his offense continued to improve enough to barely outclass. his opponents. »

But at least one historical trend suggests that rates will remain moderate: an overall decline in real interest rates around the world for six centuries.

A 2020 paper published by the Bank of England and authored by Paul Schmelzing, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Management, found that as political and financial systems have globalized, innovated and matured, the flaws in payment among the safest borrowers – strong governments – have steadily declined. According to his article, one of the ramifications could be that “regardless of particular monetary and fiscal responses, real rates may soon enter permanent negative territory,” producing less than the rate of inflation.

An old rule, still valid in all markets, is that high-risk bets reward investors with higher returns, but incur high lending costs for borrowers. Low-risk investments, in turn, come with cheap borrowing costs. If the Fed and other central banks continually prove they can stabilize (or bail out) the most systemically important governments, then investment risks are flattened – and there could be plenty of room to borrow. for the coming years.

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