Who Will Buy All the USA’s Debt? That is a question worth thinking about. The USA is a huge net borrower. The government can’t borrow from consumers because they are hugely in debt themselves. Over the last few decades huge investments from Japan, China and the Middle East in USA government debt have allowed the huge amount of federal debt to continue to grow rapidly. But who is going to buy the increasing amounts of debt; in the next few years, and the next few decades?
The other area of concern for China is the value of its Treasuries. Given the US borrowing requirement and its lax monetary policy, Treasury bond yields could well rise sharply, causing a corresponding price decline. If China’s holdings match Treasuries’ average 48-month duration, then a 5pc rise in yields, from 1.72pc on the 5-year note to 6.72pc, would lose China 17.5pc of its holdings’ value, or $119bn.
Foreign buyers have absorbed a little over $200bn of Treasuries annually, a useful contribution to financing the $459bn 2008 deficit, but only a modest help towards the $1.35 trillion minimum average deficit forecast for 2009 and 2010.
Unless that changes substantially, there will be $1 trillion annually to be raised by the Treasury from domestic sources, more than double the previous record from domestic and foreign sources together, plus whatever is needed to bail out the banks.
Even if the US savings rate were to rise from zero to its long-term average of 8% of disposable personal income, that would create only an additional $830bn of savings — not enough to fund the domestic share of the deficit. Interest rates would probably have to rise substantially to pull in more foreign investors.
Very true. Anyone buying government debt at these rates has reason to question the wisdom of doing so. Exporters to the USA have macro-economic reasons for buying debt (to keep the value of the dollar from collapsing) but the investing reasons for buying USA debt I find very questionable (I wouldn’t be buying it as an investment, if I were them).