Tag Archives: Government debt

UPDATE: Europe is paying for its past excesses: European interest payments as % of GDP.

With news out today of a weak German bond auction and troubles with the Dexia bailout, I thought it time to update my table of European interest payments as % of GDP. But first, the news:

  • Germany auctioned 6 billion euros of 10-year government bonds, but attracted just 3.889 billion euros of bids, a bid-to-cover ratio of just 0.65. Six of the last eight bond auctions have seen bids below supply. In these cases, the Bundesbank has bought the remaining debt. German yields are rising as a result. Germany’s 2-year yield is up 0.06% to 0.44% and 10-year yield is up 0.13% to 2.12%.
  • Belgian yields are soaring to new highs on reports that the bailout of Dexia was failing. Belgium’s two-year yield rose 0.69% to 4.98% and 10-year yield increased 0.40% to 5.47%. In France, also a partner to the Dexia bailout, the 2-year yield rose 0.14% to 1.86% and the 10-year yield jumped 0.15% to 3.68%.
  • No news other than the above is pushing up rates across most of Europe. Greece’s 1-year yield skyrocketed 38.6% to 306.7%. The 2-year rate jumped 4.6% to 117.9% and the 10-year year yield rose 0.18% to 29.04%. All are record highs. Over in Italy, 2-year yields rose 0.17% to 7.15% and 10-year yields increased 0.15% to 6.97%.

So now, let’s see an updated table of where Europe stands in its ability to pay the interest on its debts.

 

2-year interest rate

Debt-to-GDP

Interest payment %age of GDP

Change in Interest payment

Greece

117.88%

144.9%

170.8%

+14.4%

Portugal

14.62%

83.2%

12.2%

-3.1%

Italy

7.11%

118.1%

8.4%

-0.1%

Ireland

9.96%

64.8%

6.5%

+0.5%

Belgium

4.94%

96.6%

4.8%

+1.9%

Spain

5.82%

63.4%

3.7%

+0.8%

France

1.88%

83.5%

1.6%

+0.5%

Germany

0.45%

78.8%

0.4%

+0.1%

Great Britain

0.47%

62.6%

0.3%

———

United States

0.26%

99.7%

0.3%

———

As you can see on the above table, only Portugal had a significant decrease in interest payments going forward. In contrast, Greece, Ireland, Belgium, Spain, and France all say significant increases. Whereas previously, only four countries had interest going forward exceeding 3 percent of GDP, six nations now face that situation.

Clearly, as anybody watching the stock market decline here knows, the European debt crisis is getting worse and the European leaders have yet to find a solution. Unfortunately, with the budget mess in Washington and debt-to-GDP ratio of about 100%, higher than most of those “risky” European nations, the United States will soon be facing the same problem.

Europe is paying for its past excesses: European interest payments as % of GDP.

With interest rates rising in Europe and heavy debt-to-GDP ratios, I decided to look at how much interest each European country must pay going forward as a percentage of its economic output. I threw in the United States for fun. (Table sorted by interest payment %age of GDP.)

 

2-year interest rate

Debt-to-GDP

Interest payment %age of GDP

Greece

107.97%

144.9%

156.4%

Portugal

18.40%

83.2%

15.3%

Italy

7.20%

118.1%

8.5%

Ireland

9.16%

64.8%

5.9%

Belgium

3.00%

96.6%

2.9%

Spain

4.56%

63.4%

2.9%

France

1.33%

83.5%

1.1%

Great Britain

0.52%

62.6%

0.3%

Germany

0.35%

78.8%

0.3%

United States

0.23%

99.7%

0.2%

Now, these debt figures account only for federal government spending. Many countries, most notably the United States, also has state, provincial, and local governments with their own debts. Additionally, many of the debt-to-GDP estimates are from 2010. Thus, most of the above countries have debt-to-GDP ratios and interest expenses even worse than calculated above.

Clearly, we can see why Greece is in trouble. If it were to refinance its debt at market rates (it has been refinancing through Euro-zone subsidized loans), its interest payments would exceed its GDP by a half.

Italy is also paying for its problems. So far, Italy has received no help from any bailout fund and, as of now, will have to refinance its debt at market rates. As such, it will cost Italy 8.5% of its GDP to do so. If it had a more reasonable debt level and interest rates, say those of France, Italy would have an additional 7.4% of GDP to spend or save.

Most surprising is how everybody is ignoring Portugal. Portugal has already received bailout funds, but that won’t last forever. If Portugal were to return to normal by accessing the market, interest payments would eat up 15.3% of its GDP. That’s a lot to pay for past mistakes.

Belgium is another sleeper. It’s problems are just as bad as Spain’s, yet nobody is talking about them. Furthermore, Belgium has not been able to form a ruling coalition since elections were last held on June 13, 2010, breaking all records. Furthermore, the New Flemish Alliance party is Belgium’s largest political party with 17% of the vote. This party favors the “peaceful and gradual secession of Flanders from Belgium.” Lots of problems there, but nobody seems to be talking about it.

So far, Europe has paid for the mistakes of Greece, Portugal, and Ireland. However, Italy’s debt is 2.7 times the combined debt of those three nations that are already receiving bailout funds. That makes Italy both too big to fail and too big to bail out.

Europe is facing problems on multiple fronts: Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium, and Spain, to name a few. So far, Europe has successfully staved off depression by bailing out the smaller, weaker countries. But as the problem spreads to more countries, and bigger ones at that, Europe is running out of room and options.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July.

Usurping the Constitution to avoid default?

A number of political pundits, legal experts, and even government officials argue that President Barack Obama should use the 14th Amendment to circumvent the debt ceiling and avoid default. The New York Times reports:

A few days ago, former President Bill Clinton identified a constitutional escape hatch should President Obama and Congress fail to come to terms on a deficit reduction plan before the government hits its borrowing ceiling.

He pointed to an obscure provision in the 14th Amendment, saying he would unilaterally invoke it “without hesitation” to raise the debt ceiling, “and force the courts to stop me.”

On Friday, Mr. Obama rejected the idea, though not in categorical terms.

“I have talked to my lawyers,” Mr. Obama said. “They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

Despite President Obama’s resistance to this idea, some House Democrats are pushing it. Politico reports:

Rep. James Clyburn and a group of House Democrats are urging President Barack Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling if Congress can’t come up with a satisfactory plan before the Tuesday deadline.

Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said Wednesday that if the president is delivered a bill to raise the debt ceiling for only a short period of time, he should instead veto it and turn to the phrase in the Constitution that says the validity of the U.S. government’s debt “shall not be questioned.”

According to the New York Times article, “Jack M. Balkin, a law professor at Yale” argues:

“This is largely a political question,” he said. “It is unlikely courts would decide these questions.”

“At the point at which the economy is melting down, who cares what the Supreme Court is going to say?” Professor Balkin said. “It’s the president’s duty to save the Republic.”

Similarly, Eugene Robinson writes at the Washington Post:

It seems to me that definitive action — unilateral, if necessary — to prevent the nation from suffering obvious, imminent, grievous harm is one of the duties any president must perform. Perhaps the most important duty.

This seems all too familiar because it comes straight out of history. In ancient Rome, Sulla was given dictatorial power to restore the republic. By violating Rome’s constitution, Sulla and the Senators that gave him power established a precedent that enabled Julius Caesar to become dictator for life and destroy the republic. Similarly, men like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler also rose to power and expanded their control under the guise of saving the nation.

The Founding Fathers, being students of history, knew that extra-constitutional actions would only undermine the republic in the name of restoring it. As George Washington explained in his farewell address:

If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

— Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July and is now available in stores.

The Founding Fathers Solve Our Debt Crisis

The United States accrued a huge debt to fight the American Revolution. The debt equaled 35 to 40 percent of GDP at a time when government spending and taxes were just 2 percent of GDP. Interest consumed about half of the government’s revenues. Numerous states and the government under the Articles of Confederation were negligent in paying interest and principle.  The nation faced a real debt crisis.

The Founding Fathers recognized the burden of such a large debt and wanted to pay it off.

Read the rest at What Would the Founders Think…

Bull-market highs but still much to fear!

The Dow Industrial and S&P 500 hit new bull-market high yesterday. Clearly, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe is over and there is nothing worry about. Or is there?

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services on Wednesday cut its long-term rating on Ireland to A-minus from A and lowered its short-term rating to A-2 from A-1. The agency said the ratings remain on CreditWatch with negative implications, where they were placed on Nov. 23. The move comes in the wake of S&P’s revised assessment of risks tied to the Irish banking industry. “Were the labor market to deteriorate further, a rise in the level of delinquencies in the domestic banks’ mortgage books could result in higher new capital requirements than we presently assume,” said S&P analyst Frank Gill. The emergence of a European framework for restructuring sovereign debt could trigger a reconsideration of Ireland’s creditworthiness, he said. The resolution of Ireland’s CreditWatch listing will likely leave the government’s ratings in an investment-grade category, Gill said. The CreditWatch placement is expected to be resolved by April, the agency said.

The recent modest improvement in the world economy has bought these “at-risk” countries some time to fix their books, but little progress has been made. Furthermore, those countries that have been applying austerity measures have not seen the economic gains others have. For example:

The UK economy shrank by a shock 0.5% in the last quarter of 2010 as Britain’s recovery from recession faltered.

Most of the unexpected contraction was caused by the wintry weather that gripped Britain last month, the Office for National Statistics said. Without it, GDP would probably have been flat – suggesting that the UK economy had already run out of steam before the snow hit.

Economists said the first estimate of GDP for the last quarter was much worse than expected, and meant that Britain could now suffer a double-dip recession. With inflation hitting 3.7% last month, there are also growing fears the UK is heading for an unpleasant dose of “stagflation”.

The eagerly awaited GDP figures put the government’s austerity programme under fresh scrutiny, with Labour again arguing that cuts are being made too deeply, and too rapidly.

Now, economists and politicians are arguing the merits and demerits of austerity. They still have not realized they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they continue to run big deficits, interest rates will rise and the country will be forced to default, send the country into economic and political chaos. If they impose austerity measure, it will certainly hurt the economy, but the country will survive.

Austerity is a painful, but necessary medicine. Politicians would rather take the placebo.

Europe burns! CDS imply 7 to 11 notch credit downgrades. Belgium and France to join the sovereign debt crisis?

First Greece. Then Ireland. Next may be Portugal and Spain. Some are talking about Italy as well. As the sovereign debt crisis spreads through Europe, it is working its way up the food chain. Now, some are talking about Belgium and France too:

France risks losing its top AAA grade as Europe’s debt crisis prompts a wave of downgrades that threatens to engulf the region’s highest-rated borrowers, with Belgium also facing a possible cut.

Moody’s Investors Service said Dec. 15 it may lower Spain’s rating, citing “substantial funding requirements,” and slashed Ireland’s rating by five levels on Dec. 17. Standard & Poor’s is reviewing its assessments of Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Costs to insure French government debt rose to a record today with the country’s credit default swaps more expensive than lower-rated securities from the Czech Republic and Chile.

Costs to insure French government debt trebled this year, reaching an all-time high of 105.5 today, according to data provider CMA. Credit default swaps tied to Czech securities were little changed at 90 basis points and Chilean swaps ended last week at 89.

The credit default swaps tied to the French bonds imply a rating of Baa1, seven steps below its actual top ranking of Aaa at Moody’s, according to the New York-based firm’s capital markets research group.

Contracts on Portugal imply a B2 rating, 10 levels below its A1 grade, while swaps tied to Spanish bonds trade at Ba3, 11 steps below its Aa1 ranking, data from the Moody’s research group show. Derivatives protecting Belgian debt imply a rating of Ba1, nine steps below its current rating of Aa1.

This is eerily familiar. The credit rating agencies gave overly optimistic ratings to collateralized mortgage obligations (portfolios of mortgages) and were then slow to downgrade them. Now, they are making the same mistake on an international level.

What do you think would happen if the credit rating agencies recognized reality and downgraded these countries to where the market believes they should be? The markets would crash. That’s why they are avoiding the painful truth.

However, the credit rating agencies and governments can only deny reality for so long. Eventually, they will have to recognize the truth. The market will force the credit rating agencies to downgrade sovereign debt whether they want to or not. The market will force countries to restructure their welfare state systems or force them into bankruptcy.

I pray that this is done sooner rather than later. It will be painful. Extremely painful. There will be riots in the street as we are already seeing. But it is better to bear the cost now when the situation is still manageable, just barely so, than when all chances of saving western civilization are gone and nations descend into anarchy and tyranny.

Irish Credit Rating Crashes

Just yesterday, somebody told me the Irish credit problem has been solved. With the market indexes trading at or near two-year highs, that would seem to be the case.

But then we get news that Moody’s cuts Irish credit rating by five notches:

Moody’s Investors Service said Friday it has cut its rating on Irish government bonds by five notches to Baa1 from Aa2. The credit rating agency said the outlook for the rating is negative. The downgrade comes after the agency said in November that the most likely outcome for Ireland’s credit rating was a multi-notch downgrade that would leave it within the investment-grade category. “Ireland’s sovereign creditworthiness has suffered from the repeated crystallization of bank related contingent liabilities on the government’s balance sheet,” said Dietmar Hornung, lead analyst for Ireland. As well as the cost of supporting the banking sector, Moody’s said the increased uncertainty over the country’s economic outlook and the decline in the Irish government’s financial strength contributed to the downgrade.

OUCH! Ireland’s credit rating drops 5 notches and the outlook is still negative, which means Moody’s could downgrade it even further.

The sovereign debt crisis is far from over.