Why the government will keep on borrowing

Apr 12, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The feds got over the first hurdle. They cut a deal to keep the government in business a while longer.

But that's not the end of the story. It's just the beginning.

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The New York Times has the story:

Congressional Republicans are vowing that before they will agree to raise the current $14.25 trillion federal debt ceiling - a step that will become necessary in as little as five weeks - President Obama and Senate Democrats will have to agree to far deeper spending cuts for next year and beyond than those contained in the six-month budget deal agreed to late Friday night that cut $38 billion and averted a government shutdown.

Republicans have also signaled that they will again demand fundamental changes in policy on health care, the environment, abortion rights and more, as the price of their support for raising the debt ceiling.

In a letter last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told Congressional leaders the government would hit the limit no later than May 16. He outlined "extraordinary measures" - essentially moving money among federal accounts - that could buy time until July 8. Once the limit is reached, the Treasury Department would not be able to borrow as it does routinely to finance federal operations and roll over existing debt; ultimately it would be unable to pay off maturing debt, putting the United States government - the global standard-setter for creditworthiness - into default.

The repercussions in that event would be as much economic as political, rippling from the bond market into the lives of ordinary citizens through higher interest rates and financial uncertainty of the sort that the economy is only now overcoming, more than three years after the onset of the last recession.
Here's the story. The feds spend more than they 'earn' in taxes – almost 100% more. That gives them only two choices...balance the federal budget , by raising taxes and/or making spending cuts...

Or...borrowing money.

Borrowing is a lot easier than taxing or cutting. So, that's what they'll do. Forget the grandstanding...forget the agit-prop theatre...

...they either borrow...or they balance the budget.

And they're not going to balance the budget. Because too many voters expect to get more from government than they have paid for. That was the unstated promise of modern, social welfare governments:
Let us control your lives. We will give you more in benefits than you pay for.
How can you give people more than they pay for? Only by taking the money from someone else. But governments have learned that taxing the rich heavily actually reduces the GDP and the amount of money that can be given to voters. So, they turned to taxing the next generation.

After all, they don't vote.

*** Buenos Aires is beautiful. We have been blessed with good weather.

The city is booming, too. Strong agricultural prices have done what they always do in Argentina – they've set off a boom.

"Property prices are up about 30% over the last 3 years," says our BA-based colleague, Rob Marstrand. "But this is such a funny place. I love living here, because you see everything. If not in the present, certainly in the past...or the future. Booms, busts, corruption, inflation – everything.

"Only about 6% of properties are sold with mortgages. So this is a real boom – where people are paying cash. But, where does this cash come from? Much of it comes from the bull market in farm products. Argentina is one of the world's top producers of cereals, for example. But there is probably a lot of money coming from the government too. The inflation rate is about 25%.

"Now, you'd think that a country with a 25% inflation rate would have a currency that is falling through the floorboards. But no. The authorities have been supporting the peso; it actually went up 4% against the dollar. Put the dollar's drop and Argentine inflation together, and you get a loss of dollar purchasing power of 30%.

"People want to protect themselves. And here, they do it by buying real estate.

"Americans might want to think about it too."

Prices are down 30% nationwide in the US. In Florida, Nevada, and most of California, they're half off. Even if they might go down a bit more, there are some very good deals available now. A friend of ours is able to buy apartment buildings for little more than 5 times rent income. If upkeep and taxes take half of that, that still gives him a 10% return. But it could be much better. Suppose he takes out a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage. Now, suppose inflation goes up. Every percentage point that consumer prices rise is another percentage point of yield for a fully-mortgaged investor.

Rob also is in charge of our Family Office investments.

"I don't see anyway that they can unwind all this debt and spending without causing even more problems," he says. Investors might get some protection from real estate or stocks. But the best protection is gold.

"But we're still in a correction," Rob continued. "It wouldn't be surprising to see gold fall when this round of QE ends. Take away the money-printing and gold could sell off along with everything else. But people are now catching on. When the economy worsens, they expect the feds to add more stimulus...or lower rates...or more QE. So, they know that over the long run, the effect will probably be to undermine the dollar. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see gold down 15% in the next sell-off.

"But when the feds step in with more spending, gold will be the clear winner. We already own a lot of gold. I feel like I want to buy more of it..."

Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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1 Responses to "Why the government will keep on borrowing"

Maulik Suthar

Apr 12, 2011

The mother of all evil is speculation.

--- Gordon Gekko (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps)

But it is greed that makes my bartender buy three houses, he cannot afford with no money down. And it is greed that makes your parents refinance their 200,000 dollar mortgage for 250,000 dollars. Now they take that extra 50,000 dollars and go to the shopping mall so they can buy a new plasma TV, cell phones, computers and an SUV. And hey, why not a second home while we are at it. Gee Wiz, we all know the prices of houses in America always go up. Right?

--- Gordon Gekko (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps)

In my opinion, it is absolutely wrong to condemn Ben Bernake only. He is prescribing the chemotherapy that was invented by Alan Greenspan. Condemning doctors is the simplest job, anyone can do that. Doctor Ben Bernake’s medicine named ‘Easy monetary policy’ (= reckless money printing) do have some serious side effects (= Inflation) besides the desired action (= getting economy on track).

Patient could have been well informed before giving heavy dose of cancer chemotherapy. But isn’t it the job of patient to ask doctor that what are the possible side effects of chemotherapy? Because that could have helped to determine the risk/reward balancing for selection of therapy.

People (= majority of losers) rather focused only on speculation (with easy money, of course).

If Alan Greenspan was wrong than Speculators (=like Bartenders of Gordon Gekko) were damn wrong.

If Bernake is wrong than Speculators (= Parents with new plasma TV, cell phones, computers and an SUV) will be damn wrong too.

Now the important question, who will condemn the speculators including the GOLD speculators?

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