The US is starting to admit that it has a spending problem.
According to the latest Monthly Treasury Statement, in May, the US collected $217BN in receipts – consisting of $93BN in individual income tax, $103BN in social security and payroll tax, $3BN in corporate tax and $18BN in other taxes and duties- a drop of 9.7% from the $240.4BN collected last March and a clear reversal from the recent increasing trend…
… even as Federal spending surged, rising 10.7% from $328.8BN last March to $363.9BN last month.
… where the money was spent on social security ($83BN), defense ($56BN), Medicare ($53BN), Interest on Debt ($32BN), and Other ($141BN).
The surge in spending led to a May budget deficit of $146.8 billion, above the consensus estimate of $144BN, a swing from a surplus of $214.3 billion in April and far larger than the deficit of $88.4 billion recorded in May of 2017. This was the biggest March budget deficit since the financial crisis.
The May deficit brought the cumulative 2018F budget deficit to over $531bn during the first eight month of the fiscal year; as a reminder the deficit is expect to increase further amid the tax and spending measures, and rise above $1 trillion.
The red ink for May deficit brought the deficit for the year to-date to $532.2 billion. Most Wall Street firms forecast a deficit for fiscal 2018 of about $850 billion, at which point things get… worse. As we showed In a recent report, CBO has also significantly raised its deficit projection over the 2018-2028 period.
But while out of control government spending is clearly a concern, an even bigger problem is what happens to not only the US debt, which recently surpassed $21 trillion, but to the interest on that debt, in a time of rising interest rates.
As the following chart shows, US government Interest Payments are already rising rapidly, and just hit an all time high in Q1 2018.
Interest costs are increasing due to three factors: an increase in the amount of outstanding debt, higher interest rates and higher inflation. A rise in the inflation rate boosts the upward adjustment to the principal of TIPS, increasing the amount of debt on which the Treasury pays interest. For fiscal 2018 to-date, TIPS’ principal has been increased by boosted by $25.8 billion, an increase of 54.9% over the comparable period in 2017.
The bigger question is with short-term rates still in the mid-1% range, what happens when they reach 3% as the Fed’s dot plot suggests it will?
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In a note released by Goldman after the blowout in the deficit was revealed, the bank once again revised its 2018 deficit forecast higher, and now expect the federal deficit to reach $825bn (4.1% of GDP) in FY2018 and to continue to rise, reaching $1050bn (5.0%) in FY2019, $1125bn (5.4%) in FY2020, and $1250bn (5.5%) in FY2021.
Goldman also notes that it expects that on its current financing schedule the Treasury still faces a financing gap of around $300bn in FY2019, rising to around $750bn by FY2021, and will thus need to raise auction sizes substantially over the next couple of years to accommodate higher deficits.
What does this mean for interest rates? The bank’s economic team explains:
The increase in Treasury issuance and the ongoing unwind of QE should put upward pressure on long-term interest rates. On issuance, the economic research literature suggests as a rule-of-thumb that a 1pp increase in the deficit/GDP ratio raises 10-year Treasury yields by 10-25bp. Multiplying the midpoint of this range by the roughly 1.5pp increase in the deficit due to the recent tax and spending bills implies a 25bp increase in the 10-year yield. On the Fed’s balance sheet reduction, our estimates suggest that about 40-45bp of upward pressure on the 10-year term premium remains.
And here a problem emerges, because while Goldman claims that “the deficit path is known to markets, but academic research suggests these effects might not be fully priced immediately… the balance sheet normalization plan is known too, but portfolio balance effect models imply that its impact should be gradual” the bank also admits that “the precise timing of these effects is uncertain.”
What this means is that it is quite likely that Treasurys fail to slide until well after they should only to plunge orders of magnitude more than they are expected to, in the process launching the biggest VaR shock in world history, because as a reminder, as of mid-2016, a 1% increase in rates would result in a $2.1 trillion loss to government bond P&L.
Meanwhile, as rates blow out, US debt is expected to keep rising, and somehow hit $30 trillion by 2028…
… without launching a debt crisis in the process.