Pension funds in the US could be close to a collapse. There is an estimated $1.9 trillion shortfall in U.S. state and local pension funds because of low-interest rates and a sideways US stock market. Even stocks falling overseas is a problem for pension funds.
Credit Suisse published the chilling chart below on the funding gap at the largest 100 US pension funds.
Pensions count on annual investment gains of more than 7 percent to cover much of the benefits that come due as workers retire. But public plans had a median increase of 1 percent for the year ended June 30, the smallest advance since 2009, when they lost 16.2 percent, according to the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service.
Now it seems like there is a run on the Dallas Police and Fire Pension as employees try to claim benefits before the system becomes insolvent.
Rhode Island plans to scale back its investments in hedge funds by more than $500 million over the next two years, and reallocate those funds to more traditional investments with lower fees.
Pension funds like Rhode Island are starting to be more defensive and are hunkering down. The problem though is that defensive US Treasury bonds mean way below 7 percent returns which means more shortfalls in funding are coming.
There’s no way pension funds can stay above water in an environment with low-interest rates and with equity markets at valuations that are sky high.
But wait, Democrats say everything is good, just look at consumer confidence that came out this week at 104.1.
There is massive offshoring of good paying US jobs, stagnant wages, soaring costs of health care and education, contraction in manufacturing, falling retail sales, and consumers pensions are dangerously close to collapse. Meanwhile, consumer confidence is hitting multi-year highs? Consumer confidence is starting to look like just another tool of public manipulation that’s out of touch with reality on the street.
The US national debt just broke above $19.5 trillion. Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame, but it is important to note that President Obama and Democrats increased the national debt more than all President’s before combined.
George Bush exploded the national debt by $3 trillion in response to an imploding economy and 911. Obama exploded the national debt by $10 trillion in response to an imploding economy.
Debt increases are a function of the government not being able to pay its bills because it has too little revenue (taxes) compared to costs (spending). When spending exceeds revenue you have a deficit. Since 2002, this is what quarterly deficits (or surpluses) have looked like.
The last time we have a surplus was back in 2001, some 16 years ago. That’s sad.
The interest on the $19.5 trillion dollar debt is about $482 billion a year or more than $60,000 per US citizen.
How does the US government finance the deficit?
The Crowding Out Effect
The U.S. Treasury sells IOUs in the form of bonds or treasury bills directly to the private capital markets and uses the proceeds of the sales to finance the deficit.
The US Treasury is competing directly in the capital markets with private corporations, which may also be seeking to sell bonds and stocks to raise money to invest in new plant equipment. To compete for these scarce investment dollars, the Treasury typically must increase the interest rate it is offering to attract enough funds. Running a huge deficit is largely a zero sum game because funds to finance the deficit would otherwise be spent on private sector investment (the I variable in the GDP formula).
Money used to finance the deficit is money that would otherwise have been borrowed and spent by corporations and businesses on private investment. Deficit spending by the government is said to crowd out private investment. Crowding out is the offsetting effect on private expenditures caused by the government’s sale of bonds to finance the deficit. The larger the deficit and the more government needs to spend on financing that deficit, the more crowding out occurs.
The crowding out effect, which is one of the most important concepts in macroeconomics, is illustrated below.
The initial equilibrium is at Y, where the aggregate expenditure curve AE, crosses the aggregate production curve AP. However, expansionary fiscal policy shifts the aggregated expenditure curve up to AE1. This leads to a new equilibrium of Y1. However, because the government has had to borrow money from the private capital markets to finance these expenditures, interest rates rise. This reduces investment and a resulting contractionary effect shifts the aggregate expenditure curve back down from AE1 to AE2.
The final equilibrium is now at Y2 as the net economic expansion equals Y2 minus Y. At the same time, the partial crowding out of private investment may be measured by Y1 minus Y2. The level of partial crowding out rises the more government borrows from the private sector.
It is my opinion that government deficits are a weak fiscal policy tool at best, and I think the last eight years of President Obama increasing the national debt and running the largest deficits in US history has proven that point.
A few readers have asked me if crowding out can be reduced by printing money. The idea is to avoid crowding out by printing money and here is how that scheme works. The Federal Reserve accommodates the Treasury’s expansionary fiscal policy by buying Treasury’s securities itself rather than letting the securities be sold in the open capital markets. In essence, the Federal Reserve simply prints new money.
The problem with this option is that the increase in the money supply can cause inflation. Moreover, if such inflation drives interest rates up and private investment down, as it is likely to do, the result of the print money option will be a crowding out effect as well. In other words, there is no escaping the crowding out effect when it comes to financing the deficit. Again, look at the last eight years of President Obama and look out how much he has put this country in debt and ask yourself has it really benefited the U.S. economy that much? Perhaps some, but ultimately crowding out took away much of the initial gains from Democrat’s expansionary fiscal policy.
Deficits Impact On International Trade
Deficits and a rising government debt is a serious threat to the US. Chronic budget deficits have not only been responsible for crowding out private investment, but also for America’s huge trade deficits over the last several decades. The macroeconomic relationship between deficits and international trade is illustrated below.
As government deficits drive interest rates up in boxes 1 and 2, we observe crowding out in box 3. Now look at box 4. Higher US interest rates attract foreign investors but, for these investors to invest, they must exchange their foreign currencies for dollars. This not only leads to an increase of US external debt in box 5, but it also drives up the value of the dollar in box 6. A stronger U.S. dollar makes U.S. exports less competitive, and exports decrease in box 7 even as imports increase in box 8. The result is a larger trade deficit in box 9, and that’s why economists refer to budget and trade deficits as the “twin deficits.”
A trade deficit means a country is not exporting enough to pay for its imports. The difference can be paid by either borrowing from abroad or by selling US assets.
To finance its trade deficit, the US has had to sell off assets such as factories, shopping centers, hotels, golf courses, and farms to foreign investors. This mortgaging of America has reduced both the rate of economic growth and the level of real income of Americans.
Deficit Doves Say Don’t Worry
Deficit dove economists that work for Democrats and the Obama Administration say don’t worry about the national debt because most of that debt is internal debt owned by the country to its citizens. Obviously, that argument by Democrat economists is not so good as evidenced by the broken US economy some eight years after Democrats and Obama took office. I list four reasons below why this “don’t worry be happy” argument is wrong and how it has hurt the US economy.
#1: Internal Debt Leads to Higher Taxes
Internal debt requires payments of interest to bondholders. This, in turn, means higher taxes which distort the allocation of national resources and lead to an efficiency loss.
#2: Internal Debt Redistributes Income From Poor To Rich
Paying interest on the internal debt unfairly redistributes income from the poor and middle class to the rich. This happens because government bondholders as a group tend to be wealthier than taxpayers as a group.
#3: Servicing The Debt Cuts Government Services
Paying interest on the debt uses $482 billion each year, and this money could otherwise be spent on providing taxpayers with more education, health care, and other government services. The size of the interest payments to service the debt, relative to total tax revenues, has been rising every year. If nothing is done, we will eventually wind up using all available tax revenues simply to service the debt.
#4: A Burden On Future Generations
The accumulation of such a large debt places an unreasonable burden on future generations, which must pay this debt off. I don’t know what to even tell my daughters about the $19.5 trillion national debt, so I choose to say nothing. I could say I voted for Obama because I wanted to vote for the first African-American President and I thought he would save our household money on medical care. Then say, oops, my bad, now here’s the $9 trillion he added to the national debt during his Presidency that you have to pay off when you’re old enough to work. Thank you and have a nice day.
Niall Ferguson thinks that the “age of debt” is coming to an end. Apologies for the sub-titles but this Hard Talk interview has an important message.
With a growing crowding out effect, it may be impossible to increase GDP in a meaningful way until the national debt and deficit spending is reduced.
In 2016, foreign countries have dumped a shocking $192 billion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds. This dumping of bonds is the biggest selloff of U.S. debt since 1978.
China, Japan, France, Brazil and Colombia are the leading countries that are dumping U.S. debt.
U.S. Treasury bonds are the safest investments in the world. Countries often hold large portions of their cash reserves in U.S. Treasury bonds. Countries are dumping U.S. debt because they need the money.
Most countries are selling everything including the kitchen sink to come with the money required to pay the bills and to try and stimulate their economies.
Foreign sales of U.S. debt appear to be primarily driven by economic necessity.
Debt Sales Also Driven By Record National Debt
The U.S. debt held by China is $1.243 trillion, as of April 2016. That’s 30% of the $4.046 trillion in Treasury bills, notes, and bonds held by foreign countries. The rest of the $19 trillion debt is owned by either the American people or by the U.S. government itself.
Between 1789 and 1992, the entire national debt was about $4 trillion. Today, $4 trillion is just what we owe other countries. The total $19.3 trillion national debt could be spooking U.S. debt buyers. At what point do debt buyers begin to question the ability of the U.S. government to service the $19.3 trillion national debt? The U.S. government can’t even hike rates more than a quarter-point some seven years after the last recession because the economy is so weak. If the U.S. economy goes into another downturn, that will mean more stimulus and spending that will drive the national debt beyond $23 trillion in the blink of an eye.
U.S. government debt as a percent of GDP has recently broken above 100%.
[graphiq id=”4iWDyD7B3YF” title=”Gross Government Debt of United States in Percent of GDP” width=”440″ height=”582″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/4iWDyD7B3YF” link=”http://country-facts.findthedata.com/l/1/United-States” link_text=”Gross Government Debt of United States in Percent of GDP | FindTheData” ]
With the U.S. consumer’s buying power destroyed by years of offshoring at the hands of corrupt political parties taking money from foreigners, what value does the U.S. have beyond its natural resources? At some point holding U.S. debt becomes too risky and not worth the low yields paid as shown in the chart below.