As we move into June, a palpable tension looms over Capitol Hill. The national coffers are set to run dry on the first of the month, heralding a bitter wrangling over the debt ceiling. Yet, it is vital to understand that this clash is merely the opening act in a fiscal drama whose repercussions could ripple across the entire economy.
It is a safe bet that lawmakers will ultimately raise the debt ceiling. However, this presents a bigger dilemma. With an unprecedented first-half budget deficit of $1.2 trillion and an additional trillion forecasted for the second half, the Treasury Department finds itself in the uncomfortable position of needing to issue a glut of treasury bonds. There's a sense of urgency because, since January 19th when we hit the debt ceiling, the Treasury has been unable to fund the government's extraordinary deficit.
There's a backlog of debt to be paid. The Treasury Department has been scraping the bottom of its own barrel, burning through the Treasury General Account (TGA) and even dipping into federal government worker pension assets.
In order to entice investors to this mass of new treasury debt, interest rates will need to climb. This is especially true as foreign governments, once avid holders of US debt, have largely backed away. This shift in the landscape further emphasizes the importance of offering attractive yields.
The consequence of these rising interest rates is like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, treasury bonds offer a risk-free investment with good yields. On the other hand, these enticing yields may drain capital from riskier assets like stocks, causing a market decline. Should these elevated interest rates persist, the worsening constriction of credit availability would exacerbate the economic slowdown, potentially triggering a sharp decline in equity markets within the year.
The Federal Reserve, in response, will likely resist for as long as it can before resorting to the familiar, but controversial policy: yield curve control. This essentially involves the Fed printing money, which bears its own repercussions.
Should the prediction of a sharp market decline come to fruition, the ripple effects may be felt across the board. Financials could tumble further, and commodities such as oil and gold might not be immune. For a period, no asset class may be safe.
However, the Fed's reversion to yield curve control and the ensuing inflation would present yet another challenge. The inflation issue, already simmering, would likely boil over, persisting as a significant problem throughout the rest of the decade. Stagflation is back and each day it looks more like the early 1970s.
As the story unfolds, the dollar's value could take a substantial hit, an outcome that would create seismic shifts in asset values. With the fiscal drama building to a crescendo, we stand on the precipice of an economic chapter whose lasting effects could redefine our financial landscape for a generation.