Special Report: Fiscal Cliff? U.S. Debt Ceiling is the REAL Issue

Debt Ceiling to allow U.S. Debt to hit historic level in early 2013

While there have been and continue to be a significant number of hands wringing over the fiscal cliff , which takes effect on December 31, perhaps the REAL issue is coming very early in 2013: the U.S. Debt Ceiling.

The fiscal cliff is being discussed on every business report on television, radio, Internet blogs and print media. As you most likely know, fiscal cliff is the name given to the event associated with the simultaneous expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, the increase in the payroll tax and the immediate reduction of federal government spending. For reference, here are links to APMEX’s special reports n the fiscal cliff.

Fiscal Cliff is but the Beginning

While the sudden and significant impact of multiple changes in the economy is surely creating anxiety and uncertainty in both the personal lives and business of Americans, this is likely only the beginning of issues as the United States begins to respond to the “new normal” following the Great Recession.

However, the next increase in the federal debt ceiling – the maximum amount the U.S. may borrow as set by Congress – will establish the maximum U.S. Federal Debt at about $18 trillion. While this is, of course, a huge level of debt and the largest debt of any country, the U.S. also has the world’s largest economy.

The question that each country must address is “How much debt can this country afford?” The answer depends on a number of factors and is often measured in the ratio of debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the borrowing country. Historically, for the U.S., this ratio has generally been between 30 percent and 65 percent, from 1950 until the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.

U.S. Debt is at Historically High and Dangerous Levels

When the next debt ceiling is set by Congress, most likely in early 2013, presuming borrowing to the ceiling and low GDP growth, the U.S. Debt to U.S. GDP ratio will most likely be about 120 percent, a level more than double the historical levels since 1950.

How does this compare to other countries? Below is a table of several key countries around the world. Also, here is a complete list of countries with Debt to GDP levels provided by the International Monetary Fund.

countrydata

The History and the Current Status of the U.S. Debt Ceiling

During World War I in 1917, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring Congressional approval on the aggregate debt outstanding of the United States. Prior to this, Congress was required to approve each and every debt offering. Since 1950, there have been 95 changes to the debt ceiling; since 2000 there have been 13 changes, or about one per year. You can read about the History of the U.S. Debt Ceiling or see a listing of all changes to the U.S. Debt Ceiling, use Table 7.3.histroyofdebt

Since 2000, the increases in the U.S. Debt Ceiling have been larger than in previous years as the United States borrowed more to finance the 2000 dot-com bust, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Federal support of the Great Recession of 2007–2008.

The current status of the U.S. Public Debt and the Debt Limit is shown in the charts below. The U.S. Debt has increased by more than 15 percent since January 2011. The current U.S. Debt is very close to the U.S. Debt Ceiling of about $16.5 trillion and, accordingly, Congress will be required to take action very soon.USpublicdebt

The U.S. Debt has increased $2.1 trillion, or about 15percent, in just two years since January 2011. Despite the large increase, the Federal Government has almost borrowed to the limit.

The U.S. Debt Ceiling must be raised in the very near future, most likely in a few months. As the chart below shows, at the end of October 2012, only about $172 billion remained available under the U.S. Debt Ceiling. In November 2011, federal borrowing increased by $119 billion, and if that were the borrowing rate for November 2012, almost all of the available U.S. Debt availability would be consumed.

Note: In an article in The Wall Street Journalon December 12, 2003, it was reported that the U.S. Treasury currently has only about $67 billion remaining in borrowing capacity.

usborrowingThe red line represents the total borrowing capacity of the United States that is above the current aggregate outstanding U.S. Debt. Since January 2012, U.S. borrowing has increased such that the remaining availability has declined each month , leaving the availability in November 2012 at just $172 billion. Here is the U.S. Treasury Monthly Statement of the Public Debt of the United States.

Gold and the U.S. Debt in 2012 and Beyond

With much debate on the fiscal cliff and future debate on the debt ceiling, the end result will be that the U.S. will most likely continue to be in a period of very high federal debt relative to the GDP. This relationship cannot be changed in a year and perhaps not even in five years.

The Europeans are ahead of the United States in addressing their debt to GDP issues with Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Italy. Spain will most likely become a problem as well. The solution in Europe has been the same as the solution in the U.S.: the Central Banks create more currency to keep the economy from falling even further.

A recent article in Barron’s, titled “Is Bad News Still Good News for Gold?” Randall Forsyth, the author, in the last paragraph says

As long as authorities try to do whatever it takes to hold the system of fiat currencies and indebted governments from flying apart, paper money will continue to lose value relative to the traditional store of value, gold.

Also read

Special Report: Fiscal Cliff is Only 1 of “4 Horsemen of the Economic Apocalypse” for 2013

Special Report: 5 Possible Outcomes of the U.S. “Fiscal Cliff”

Special Report: Read about the United States Fiscal Cliff

 

 

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Bernanke, LIBOR and lack of positive economic indicators

BEN BERNANAKE’S TESTIMONY BEFORE CONGRESS

Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke testified before congress this week.  Feedback from some in Congress to Bernanke’s testimony was that the Federal Reserve is the best hope for economic stimulus. “Given the political realities, particularly in this election year, I’m afraid the Fed’s the only game in town,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). “I would urge you to take whatever actions you think would be most helpful in supporting a stronger economic recovery.”  However, Bernanke himself urged Congress to handle the looming “fiscal cliff” and avoid the brinksmanship that brought the nation to a standstill during last year’s battle over the debt ceiling. Bernanke took Congress to task over their collective inaction, saying, “The most effective way that the Congress could help to support the economy right now would be to work to address the nation’s fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long run sustainability and the fragility of the recovery.”

NOT MANY POSITIVE ECONOMIC INDICATORS THIS WEEK

It’s tough to find good news about the economy these days. Many economists say the American economy is poised for an anemic second half of the year. “We’ll have very slow growth,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. “The excess supply of homes will weigh on housing for quite some time. Manufacturing is starting to suffer a bit. The labor market remains pretty soggy.” According to a Bloomberg survey, Americans are more pessimistic than any time in the past six months. “A soft labor market and political tensions surrounding potential changes in tax policy are weighing on consumer sentiment,” said Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg LP.  American retail sales fell for the third straight month in June, further eroding confidence in a fragile economic recovery. Analysts expected retail sales to rise by 0.2 percent, but data released Monday morning by the Commerce Department show spending slipped by 0.5 percent.  Along with the disappointing retail data, the National Association of Realtors reported today that sales of previously occupied homes fell to the lowest point since October.

LIBOR MANIPULATION SCANDAL RAISES MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT ETHICS AT BANKS

Big banks doing bad things are again in the news. The Justice Department is investigating potential criminal charges against big banks and individuals for manipulating key global interest rates. LIBOR is the London interbank rate that is set by a small and select group of major banks. Barclays Bank already has been fined $450 million for fixing LIBOR. Other banks being investigated include Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Deutsche Bank AG. Another question is whether regulators knew about the situation but turned a blind eye.

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