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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Federal Reserve Gorges on U.S. Debt

So the left hand of government, the Federal Reserve, buys most of the debt issued by the right hand of government, the Treasury. Why bother with this charade? Why doesn't the government just monetize the debt outright? Or just have the Treasury mint some of those trillion dollar platinum coins and buy up the debt with them.

This article by Lawrence Goodman is wrong. The Federal Reserve can keep buying up US debt for a very long time and there will always be demand for it.

Lawrence Goodman / Wall Street Journal:
Demand for U.S. Debt Is Not Limitless -- In 2011, the Fed purchased a stunning 61% of Treasury issuance. That can't last.
The conventional wisdom that nearly infinite demand exists for U.S. Treasury debt is flawed and especially dangerous at a time of record U.S. sovereign debt issuance.

The recently released Federal Reserve Flow of Funds report for all of 2011 reveals that Federal Reserve purchases of Treasury debt mask reduced demand for U.S. sovereign obligations. Last year the Fed purchased a stunning 61% of the total net Treasury issuance, up from negligible amounts prior to the 2008 financial crisis. This not only creates the false appearance of limitless demand for U.S. debt but also blunts any sense of urgency to reduce supersized budget deficits.

Still, the outdated notion of never-ending buyers for U.S. debt is perpetuated by many. For instance, in recent testimony before the Senate Budget Committee, former Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Alan Blinder said, "If you look at the markets, they're practically falling over themselves to lend money to the federal government." Sadly, that's no longer accurate...

The Fed is in effect subsidizing U.S. government spending and borrowing via expansion of its balance sheet and massive purchases of Treasury bonds. This keeps Treasury interest rates abnormally low, camouflaging the true size of the budget deficit. Similarly, the Fed is providing preferential credit to the U.S. government and covering a rapidly widening gap between Treasury's need to borrow and a more limited willingness among market participants to supply Treasury with credit...

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