Even with the taper, the Fed continues to expand its balance sheet. And it’s not tapering the purchase of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) nearly as fast as advertised.
The US Treasury realized a monthly surplus of $118.7 billion in January. It was the first budget surplus since September 2019 and the largest since it realized a $160 billion surplus in April of 2019.
The surplus was driven by high revenue from a continued surge in Individual Taxes. This was combined with shrinking expenditures due to the expiration of the child tax credits that ended on December 31. The surplus for the month also was helped by $70 billion in proceeds from a wireless spectrum auction.
The Treasury added almost $400 billion of debt in January, the third most since July 2020. As the month closed out, the national debt eclipsed $30 trillion.
The other two larger debt increases both came right after the debt ceiling was raised. Perhaps most important is the fact that almost $200B of the newly added debt was in short-term Bills (turquoise below).
The debt ceiling was raised in December and the Treasury responded immediately, adding $709 billion in debt over the month.
To be fair, $470 billion of this was non-marketable, as shown below.
Note: Non-Marketable consists almost entirely of debt the government owes to itself (e.g., debt owed to Social Security or public retirement)
After all the drama, Congress finally did what everyone knew it would do. It raised the debt ceiling by $480 billion in October. The Treasury wasted no time and quickly added $480 billion to the national debt in the second half of the month.
With this new debt tagged on, if the Fed has to raise rates to 6% to fight inflation, it would increase interest costs by $250 billion within 6 months and nearly $1 trillion within a few years. This is why the Fed must tell everyone that inflation is transitory.
The Federal Reserve has slightly slowed its asset purchases over the last few months. Was this a trial mini-taper?
If so, the results are not good news for the central bankers over at the Fed.
The Fed balance sheet stands at $8.56 trillion. That’s up by $108 billion from the prior month-end, but down over the past week by $8.7 billion. The chart below shows how the Fed Balance sheet has grown by instrument over the last 18 months.
The CPI data for September came in hotter than expected at 0.4%. That pushed the yearly gain to 5.4%. But an honest CPI calculation would come in even hotter.
I am doing something different this month. In past reviews of the CPI, I typically take the BLS data and recalculate the values to get a more detailed number that is rounded to two decimal points instead of one. This methodology also allows me to show the impact of each component on the top-line number.
The Treasury bumped up against the debt ceiling at the end of July. Since then, it has been using “extraordinary measures” to allow the Government to keep hemorrhaging cash without having to increase the debt ceiling.
The chart below shows the month-over-month change in debt for August equal to $0. Despite zero net change, there are two important facts to highlight.
- The Treasury continued converting short term debt to long term
- Nonmarketable debt holdings shrunk by $257B
“Just because something is inevitable, does not make it imminent, but eventually the future arrives”
The US Government is on an unsustainable debt trajectory. Even though the Federal Reserve has acknowledged this fact, most mainstream pundits consider it a distant problem or even not an issue at all. They argue that debt fears have raged since the debt crossed $1T decades ago and no negative consequences have materialized.
A couple of weeks ago, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell below the yield on the 2-year for the first time in 12 years. This inversion of the yield sparked recession fears in the mainstream. But in an interview with Tom Woods on Contra Krugman, former Reagan administration Office of Budget Management Director David Stockman said this is really a sign of a different problem. He said we’re actually in the mother of all bond bubbles.
Stockman said the mainstream is looking the yield curve inversion through the lens of conventional wisdom, but there is nothing conventional about the current financial situation.