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  • Writer's pictureRichard Murff

Bond Jollies Will Carry On

Anyone how has ever witnessed bond-daddies on a rampage knows that the bond market is never quite as sleepy as advertised. Expect the late zaniness to continue through 2023, in some form or another, as the market asks itself two crucial questions:

1) Can governments afford all the debt they’re piling up?

2) Can the market absorb it?

The rich world has piled up mountains of debt over the last 15 years on bail-outs for financial meltdowns, pandemic lock-downs and lately, pet industrial policies. If economies had been on a tear at the same time, and interest rates had remained low, this might not be getting much thought. Growth in Western economies has been about as snoozey and people want the bond market to be.

In the US alone, where we do everything a little bigger whether it’s actually any better or not, the government (or more to the point you and I) has unleashed some $65bn in cash and subsidies on green energy, electric cars, and chip manufacturing. That means that the government, (here I don’t mean you or me) has some sway over sectors that make up some 60% of the stock market. Politicians are notorious for picking darlings, then rigging the market accordingly. That’s mildly annoying, but really gets you is that they still keep picking losers.

Ultra-low interest rates that have money almost free has allowed governments of rich countries to do splash out on public funds without suffering the indignities that creditors save for pay-day loan applicants and, say, Argentina.

For years this “safe” debt was bought by both investors as well as central banks for “quantitative easing”, but no one is easing anything these days. With the costs of debt rising, and central banks retreating from the buyer’s pool, the bond investors will have to absorb the excess, although it isn’t clear than it can, or even want to. Anyone who witnessed the crash of British gilts in September knows that investor appetite for bonds is mighty, but not limitless.

In Britain’s defense, unlike Argentina, they managed to put down their G&T’s long enough to sack Liz Truss and handed government over to a former Goldman banker and hedge fund guy to run the country. It was the smart move, but Citigroup still reckons that the British government will need to borrow about twice as much money on the market next year as past eight years combined. This year, its debt service is likely to be about 80% of the budget that England spends on the behemoth National Health Service.

The US isn’t Britain, or Argentina for that matter. We are Americans, a country that managed to destroy the only other superpower on Earth without firing a shot. We just spent the Soviets into the grave. Damn right we did.

Still, in 2023, the US government will likely need to borrow up to $2trn on the market to make its numbers work as well as they ever do. That’s about twice what was borrowed pre-pandemic, and about four times the average five years before that. And all of that debt is about to get a lot more expensive. Moody’s Analytics reckons that less that ten years, the government will be spending more on interest rates than it does on defense. Bear in mind that we spend a lot on defense: in 2021 the US topped $800 billion, with China coming in at a distant second with a measly $293 billion.

Hell, those are the guy’s we’ve borrowed all that money from.


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