T-Minus Two Months Until The $500 Billion Rolling Debt Ticking Timebomb Goes Off
Ever since the famous Stanley Druckenmiller Op Ed published in early May, which called for an outright default of the US, saying it would not be
the end of the world, and in fact the US would emerge stronger as a
result of finally taking the first steps to getting its fiscal house in
order, there has been a visible shift regarding the US debt ceiling discussion, with republicans (so far) digging in and refusing to budge on the issue. After all, on the surface Druckenmiller is absolutely correct: with interest rates near record lows for the past 3 years, interest payments would be manageable for a long time even if general rates were to surge due to the Treasury's fixing of low cash coupons over the past 3-4 years, amounting to about 20-30% of all annual tax receipts. There is however one very big problem with this argument, one which we pointed out back in April 2010 when we said that "What people don't realize is that...unless the UST can roll its debt not on a monthly
but now weekly basis in greater and greater amounts, the interest rate
doesn't matter. All it takes is one semi-failed auction and it's game over as hundreds of billions in bills become payable." Enter the always forgotten maturing debt argument. And as a just released presentation by the Bipartisan Policy Center titled "Debt Limit Analysis" reminds us, aside from the actual deficit funding math, which is that in August there is a $134.3 billion cash shortfall that has to be funded with debt, there is a far greater risk. Or, put numerically, 467.4 billion far greater risks. This is the amount of debt that matures through August 31, and has to be rolled over or the US is bankrupt... in every sense of the word. Once again, America's politicians and media get broadsided by the definition of gross versus net. Because, in reality, the inability to issue more debt post August 3 means a halt to all new debt issuance. Which, unfortunately because it means Geithner's scaremongering is actually correct, would imply the end for the debt ponzi.
Below is the maturity schedule in August from the BPC:
And their commentary, which recaps what we said 14 months ago:
- Treasury must “roll over” almost $500 b in debt that matures during August 2011
- New debt is issued and the proceeds are used to repay the maturing debt plus interest due
- Treasury will require market access throughout August to avoid defaulting on maturing debt
- About $380 b in short-term T-Bills maturing, plus $90 b in long-term securities
- Quarterly refunding auction on August 15
And that's not it. On a Net basis, there is in addition another $134.3 billion in deficit that must be satisfied somehow. Alas, after August 3rd it will become impossible to plunder savings accounts going forward which means a game over in the kick the can down the road game:
Breaking down the spending side:
The BPC's observations on what happens on August 4 absent a deal are rather spot on:
- If the debt ceiling is not raised by August 2, all three ratings agencies will put the United States on watch for a downgrade, at a minimum. Fitch (6/8/11):
- “If the debt ceiling is not raised by the [X Date] and timely and full payment of its obligations, including Treasuries, is not secure, the U.S. sovereign rating will be placed on Rating Watch Negative.”
- An actual downgrade would cause major losses among holders
- Even without downgrade, it is likely that rates would increase, perhaps significantly
- Less likely, but possible, that Treasury would lose market access during such an unprecedented event and default
As a reminder we are now 32 days away from D-Day, and about 60 days from the need to fund half a trillion, all of it with new gross debt issuance.
To date, there has been no progress in D.C. at all. Will there be progress in the next 4 weeks? They better, or as demonstrated, the extend and pretend game, contrary to the well-meaning intentions of the likes of Drucknemiller, is about to come to a very violent end.
Full presentation link.