President Donald Trump’s massive fiscal stimulus plans, exacerbating an existing debt overload, is forcing the U.S. to drive up government bond issuance as the Federal Reserve allows its balance sheet to shrink.
The Treasury Department will boost the amount of long-term debt it sells to $73 billion this quarter, lifting the auction sizes of coupon-bearing and floating-rate debt again after doing so last quarter for the first time since 2009, the agency said Wednesday in its quarterly refunding announcement.
The country’s debt load is seen spiraling compared with the rest of the world, with forecasts showing that in five years it will have a bleaker outlook than even Italy, the perennial poor man of the Group of Seven industrial nations.
“You think about the second half of the year, Treasury has a ton of debt to get out there, and pretty quickly it needs to ramp up issuance sizes even more than today” in maturities of five-years and greater, Mike Schumacher, head of rates strategy at Wells Fargo Securities, said on Bloomberg TV.
In a surprise to some dealers, Treasury again left inflation-linked securities unchanged. But it’s investigating adding another five-year sale to its regular calendar. Treasury also said it’s planning to issue a new two-month bill later in 2018.
After keeping borrowing relatively stable in recent years, the Treasury highlighted the Trump administration’s need to sell debt to help pay the government’s bills as the deficit swells and the Fed allows maturing securities on its $4.4 trillion balance sheet to roll off gradually. The possible new bill maturity comes after a deluge of sales over the first quarter was partly to blame for money-market rates rising sharply.
The Treasury will sell $31 billion in three-year notes on May 8, versus $30 billion it sold last month and $26 billion in February, according to the statement released in Washington. The government increased to $25 billion the sale of 10-year notes, from $24 billion last quarter, and the 30-year bonds to $17 billion from $16 billion, also to be auctioned next week. The sales will raise new cash of $33.9 billion.
In the statement, the Treasury said it plans over the coming quarter to boost auction sizes of other maturities.
The department will notch higher sales of two- and three-year note auctions by $1 billion per month over the quarter, compared with monthly rises over the past quarter of $2 billion. It will also boost five-, seven-, 10-, and 30-year note sales by $1 billion starting in May and lift floating rate notes by $1 billion in May. The changes will result in an additional $27 billion of new issuance.
Treasury plans to conduct a small-value buyback this month, it said, adding details will come later. The department said the buyback shouldn’t be seen as a change in policy.
The U.S. budget deficit widened to $600 billion halfway through the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, as spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth in the October-to-March period, according to Treasury figures released last month.
Tax reductions and higher spending approved by Congress and Pres. Trump are expected to push the budget shortfall to $804 billion in the current fiscal year, from $665 billion in fiscal 2017, and then surpass $1 trillion by 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The U.S. set a first-quarter record, by borrowing a net $488 billion, or $47 billion more than previously estimated, the Treasury said Monday in a quarterly announcement on its borrowing needs. Still, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has indicated he’s unconcerned about the bond market’s ability to absorb rising government debt.
“It’s a very large, robust market — it’s the most liquid market in the world, and there is a lot of supply,” he said in the interview. “But I think the market can easily handle it.”
Earlier this week, bond dealers meeting with Treasury officials indicated that foreign demand for Treasuries “remained robust,” according to minutes from the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee released Wednesday. That assessment echoed comments Mnuchin made on Monday.
“Once you pass $1 trillion deficit, it paints a picture of a country that has lost control of its finances,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a former chief economist for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.