Where U.S. borrowing could tailspin

The US Treasury building in Washington, D.C.

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: A bill that would appropriate $ 106 B billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is headed to President Barack Obama for his signature. It passed the Senate 91-to-5 yesterday.
To some senators' dismay, the package includes money for foreign aid, the flu pandemic and the "cash for clunkers" program that aims to get people into more fuel-efficient cars.

Of course, Uncle Sam has to find the money to pay for those programs, even if it means borrowing it. It's no secret the U.S. has done a lot of that. And that makes for a whole heck of a lot of red ink. Well, the federal government is willing to deal on more than $100 billion worth of it next week. The U.S. is madly selling Treasuries to bring in much-needed cash. But raising so much dough isn't without its consequences. Here's Marketplace's Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: All those IOUs are stacking up sky-high, as investment manager Axel Merk sees it:

Axel Merk: According to our calculations, Treasury has to issue about $15 billion every single business day until the end of the year.

Now imagine Uncle Sam rushing over to another window to buy those bonds back. Why? Because all that government borrowing is pushing interest rates higher.

Merk: The government wants to issue a lot of debt. On the other hand, the Federal Reserve wants to have low interest rates so the economy gets moving. Now in our view, just mathematically, it is extremely difficult to work, and the Federal Reserve should allow interest rates to go higher. Having said that, that may throw the economy into a tailspin.

Especially if mortgage rates creep higher. But Merk says there aren't many options left for controlling interest rates:

Merk: What they're trying to do is to keep them low mostly by talking.

He worries, though, how long this can go on before the market stops buying the reassurances. The Fed, he says, is not almighty.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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