The whole world was watching, and what they saw was a dysfunctional government taking its country to the financial precipice and backing off at the very last moment. “Shades of a Banana Republic,” as former Reagan budget director David Stockman opined somewhat harshly last week. We may not be Greece just yet, but Mr. Stockman is looking in the right direction.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner noted last week that it would be unthinkable that the U.S. would not meet its obligations on time. Now that the timeliness has temporarily been put aside, an investor must logically ask how we will meet our obligations, and how much they really are. In addition to an existing nearly $10 trillion of outstanding Treasury debt, the U.S. has a near-unfathomable $66 trillion of future liabilities at “net present cost.” As shown in the following table from a Mary Meeker “USA Inc.” study, and validated by the Department of Treasury and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculations, the combined present cost “payment due” from Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is over six times our current obligations of Treasury debt. The press and most professional investors are accustomed to measuring “paper” debt as opposed to walking/living liabilities in the form of people. I call these liabilities “debt men walking” because as long as 330 million living Americans require promised entitlements – the $66 trillion that wear shoes are as much of a liability as the $10 trillion on paper.
Aside from the unthinkable outright default, there are numerous ways that a government – especially a AAA rated one – can employ to reduce its future liabilities. Highlighted below are the prominent tools that can significantly affect investor pocketbooks:
- Balance the budget and/or grow out of it
- Unexpected inflation
- Currency depreciation
- Financial repression via low/negative real interest rates
The full article is at Pimco.com