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Where Are Rates Headed And Why? – John Mauldin’s Outside the Box – InvestorsInsight.com | Financial Intelligence, Advice & Research / Investment Strategies & Planning for Individual Investors.

“This week we look at two brief essays for your Outside the Box. The first is my friend Barry Habib talking to us about where mortgage rates are headed. Barry gives us a very simple, but logical analysis on why rates are headed up. Then we jump to Spencer Jakab writing in the Financial Times about the problems in the municipal markets. Seems we may be under funded on our public pensions by about $3.5 trillion. As a tease to his column:

“Taking a page out of Greece’s playbook, the peeved treasurer of America’s largest state fired off letters this week to the chiefs of Goldman Sachs and other banks questioning their marketing of credit default swaps on California’s debt . The instruments, he complained, “wrongly brand our bonds as a greater risk than those issued by such nations as Kazakhstan.”

“Insulting indeed, but who exactly should be insulted?”

It helps if you have seen Borat, or at least a trailer, but the message is the same.”

Read more here.

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Here is an article from Bloomberg.

“The U.S. and the U.K. have moved “substantially” closer to losing their AAA credit ratings as the cost of servicing their debt rose, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

The governments of the two economies must balance bringing down their debt burdens without damaging growth by removing fiscal stimulus too quickly, Pierre Cailleteau, managing director of sovereign risk at Moody’s in London, said in a telephone interview.

Under the ratings company’s so-called baseline scenario, the U.S. will spend more on debt service as a percentage of revenue this year than any other top-rated country except the U.K., and will be the biggest spender from 2011 to 2013, Moody’s said today in a report.

“We expect the situation to further deteriorate in terms of the key ratings metrics before they start stabilizing,” Cailleteau said. “This story is not going to stop at the end of the year. There is inertia in the deterioration of credit metrics.”

The pound fell against the dollar and the euro for the first time in three days, depreciating 0.8 percent to $1.5090, while the dollar index snapped a four-day drop, adding 0.3 percent to 90.075.

The U.S. government will spend about 7 percent of its revenue servicing debt in 2010 and almost 11 percent in 2013, according to the baseline scenario of moderate economic recovery, fiscal adjustments in line with government plans and a gradual increase in interest rates, Moody’s said.

Under its adverse scenario, which assumes 0.5 percent lower growth each year, less fiscal adjustment and a stronger interest-rate shock, the U.S. will be paying about 15 percent of revenue in interest payments, more than the 14 percent limit that would lead to a downgrade to AA, Moody’s said.

U.K. Debt Service

The U.K. is likely to spend 7 percent of revenue servicing debt this year and 9 percent in 2013, rising to almost 12 percent under the adverse scenario, Moody’s said.

Financing costs above 10 percent put countries outside of the AAA category into a so-called debt reversibility band, the size of which depends on the ability and willingness of nations to reduce their debt burden by raising taxes or reducing spending. The U.S. has a 4 percentage-point band, while the U.K. has a 3 percentage-point band.

“Those economies have been caught in a crisis while they are highly leveraged,” Cailleteau said, referring to the level of private and public debt as a percentage of gross domestic product. “They have to make the required adjustment to stabilize markets without choking off growth.”

The U.S. would be the “most affected” under the adverse scenario, as the only country that would face a downgrade, Cailleteau said. The company’s baseline scenario assumes that all current AAA sovereigns will keep their ratings over the next three years, he said.

‘Warning Shot’

“On balance, we believe that the ratings of all large Aaa governments remain well positioned, although their ‘distance-to- downgrade’ has in all cases substantially diminished,” Moody’s said in the report.

None of the current Aaa rated countries are likely to lose their ratings, said Peter Chatwell, a fixed-income strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in London.

“This report is a warning shot to governments, setting out the line that they can’t cross with their budgets,” he said.

While the U.S. is likely to benefit from economic growth more than other AAA nations, weak public consumption is likely to weigh on GDP this year, the ratings company said.

“The pattern of growth and the high rate of unemployment raise the question of how strong the recovery will be going forward,” Moody’s said. “The ability of the U.S. economy to grow more rapidly and, therefore, for government revenues to contribute to fiscal consolidation, will have to depend on a revival in the growth of consumption.”

Read the full article here.

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Here is a market commentary from Financial Times.

“Since March there has been a massive rally in all sorts of risky assets – equities, oil, energy and commodity prices – a narrowing of high-yield and high-grade credit spreads, and an even bigger rally in emerging market asset classes (their stocks, bonds and currencies). At the same time, the dollar has weakened sharply , while government bond yields have gently increased but stayed low and stable.

This recovery in risky assets is in part driven by better economic fundamentals. We avoided a near depression and financial sector meltdown with a massive monetary, fiscal stimulus and bank bail-outs. Whether the recovery is V-shaped, as consensus believes, or U-shaped and anaemic as I have argued, asset prices should be moving gradually higher.

But while the US and global economy have begun a modest recovery, asset prices have gone through the roof since March in a major and synchronised rally. While asset prices were falling sharply in 2008, when the dollar was rallying, they have recovered sharply since March while the dollar is tanking. Risky asset prices have risen too much, too soon and too fast compared with macroeconomic fundamentals.

So what is behind this massive rally? Certainly it has been helped by a wave of liquidity from near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing. But a more important factor fuelling this asset bubble is the weakness of the US dollar, driven by the mother of all carry trades. The US dollar has become the major funding currency of carry trades as the Fed has kept interest rates on hold and is expected to do so for a long time. Investors who are shorting the US dollar to buy on a highly leveraged basis higher-yielding assets and other global assets are not just borrowing at zero interest rates in dollar terms; they are borrowing at very negative interest rates – as low as negative 10 or 20 per cent annualised – as the fall in the US dollar leads to massive capital gains on short dollar positions.”

Read the full story here.

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Here is an interesting post by Arhtur Laffer at Wall Street Journal.

“The unprecedented expansion of the money supply could make the ’70s look benign.

Rahm Emanuel was only giving voice to widespread political wisdom when he said that a crisis should never be “wasted.” Crises enable vastly accelerated political agendas and initiatives scarcely conceivable under calmer circumstances. So it goes now.

Here we stand more than a year into a grave economic crisis with a projected budget deficit of 13% of GDP. That’s more than twice the size of the next largest deficit since World War II. And this projected deficit is the culmination of a year when the federal government, at taxpayers’ expense, acquired enormous stakes in the banking, auto, mortgage, health-care and insurance industries.

With the crisis, the ill-conceived government reactions, and the ensuing economic downturn, the unfunded liabilities of federal programs — such as Social Security, civil-service and military pensions, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, Medicare and Medicaid — are over the $100 trillion mark. With U.S. GDP and federal tax receipts at about $14 trillion and $2.4 trillion respectively, such a debt all but guarantees higher interest rates, massive tax increases, and partial default on government promises.”

The story concludes…

“Alas, I doubt very much that the Fed will do what is necessary to guard against future inflation and higher interest rates. If the Fed were to reduce the monetary base by $1 trillion, it would need to sell a net $1 trillion in bonds. This would put the Fed in direct competition with Treasury’s planned issuance of about $2 trillion worth of bonds over the coming 12 months. Failed auctions would become the norm and bond prices would tumble, reflecting a massive oversupply of government bonds.

In addition, a rapid contraction of the monetary base as I propose would cause a contraction in bank lending, or at best limited expansion. This is exactly what happened in 2000 and 2001 when the Fed contracted the monetary base the last time. The economy quickly dipped into recession. While the short-term pain of a deepened recession is quite sharp, the long-term consequences of double-digit inflation are devastating. For Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke it’s a Hobson’s choice. For me the issue is how to protect assets for my grandchildren.”

Read the full article here.

Others covering this story include: NCPA, Market Guardian, Bully Pulpit.

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