The U.S. Treasury auction of long-term bonds on Thursday was “terrible”, in the words of one Wall Street economist, with the rate on the 30 year bond jumping from 4.1 to 4.3 percent. This is just the first sign that the debt-based Obama economic stimulus plan is about to become a major drag on the recovery, just as expected.
The economic news is not all bad. We are seeing signs the rate of contraction is abating quickly, promising a bottom to the recession sometime this summer as many forecasters have expected. But therein lies another piece of the interest rate puzzle, and the trouble ahead.
There are two critical consequences to the economy stabilizing. The first is that the massive liquidity injected into credit markets by the Federal Reserve and central banks around the world transforms from economic medicine to inflationary heroin. Central banks are going to face a difficult task of extracting the excess liquidity before inflation soars and without causing another recession. Doubt about the fight against soaring inflation means higher inflation premiums in interest rates.
The second dangerous consequence is that President Obama is on course to double the national debt in just four years. After years of complaining about annual deficits of $300 billion or $400 billion and their effects on interest rates, liberal commentators are suddenly silent now that the deficit is heading toward $2 trillion under a liberal administration. But now the vaunted “crowding out” effect from government borrowing is almost a certainty, as are the resulting higher interest rates.
Healing financial markets and a stabilizing economy generally translate into higher interest rates for long-term, high-quality bonds like 30-year Treasuries. The effect of the projected massive government borrowing, however, is to drive interest rates as much as a full percentage point higher yet. This will mean higher interest rates for consumer loans, mortgage loans, business loans, etc. Instead of a 6.5 percent mortgage rate, home buyers will face a 7.5 percent rate. The debt-based Obama economic stimulus plan is about to become a major drag on the recovery, just as expected.
The release of the bank stress tests the same day and the expectation that credit markets would be quickly tapped by the banks to make up any capital deficiencies are certainly extenuating circumstances as we interpret the spike in Treasury rates. Even so, the Treasury auction signals real trouble ahead.