UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

May 30, 2009

BOND VIGILANTES ARE BACK

Liz Capo McCormick & Daniel Kruger, Bloomberg - They're back. For the first time since another Democrat occupied the White House, investors from Beijing to Zurich are challenging a president's attempts to revive the economy with record deficit spending. Fifteen years after forcing Bill Clinton to abandon his own stimulus plans, the so-called bond vigilantes are punishing Barack Obama for quadrupling the budget shortfall to $1.85 trillion. By driving up yields on U.S. debt, they are also threatening to derail Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's efforts to cut borrowing costs for businesses and consumers.

The 1.4-percentage-point rise in 10-year Treasury yields this year pushed interest rates on 30-year fixed mortgages to above 5 percent for the first time since before Bernanke announced on March 18 that the central bank would start printing money to buy financial assets. Treasuries have lost 5.1 percent in their worst annual start since Merrill Lynch & Co. began its Treasury Master Index in 1977. . .

What bond investors dread is accelerating inflation after the government and Fed agreed to lend, spend or commit $12.8 trillion to thaw frozen credit markets and snap the longest U.S. economic slump since the 1930s. The central bank also pledged to buy as much as $300 billion of Treasuries and $1.25 trillion of bonds backed by home loans.

For the moment, at least, inflation isn't a cause for concern. During the past 12 months, consumer prices fell 0.7 percent, the biggest decline since 1955. Excluding food and energy, prices climbed 1.9 percent from April 2008, according to the Labor Department.

Bill Gross, the co-chief investment officer of Newport Beach, California-based Pacific Investment Management Co. and manager of the world's largest bond fund, said all the cash flooding into the economy means inflation may accelerate to 3 percent to 4 percent in three years. The Fed's preferred range is 1.7 percent to 2 percent. . .

Ten-year yields climbed from 5.2 percent in October 1993, about a year after Clinton was elected, to just over 8 percent in November 1994. Clinton then adopted policies to reduce the deficit, resulting in sustained economic growth that generated surpluses from his last four budgets and helped push the 10-year yield down to about 4 percent by November 1998.

Clinton political adviser James Carville said at the time that "I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody."

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