Issue Longer Treasury DebtGuest Post
When I visited the US Treasury during the first Treasury/Blogger summit I encouraged the US Treasury to issue debts longer than 30 years, and also floating rate debt. I said the insurance companies, pension funds and endowments would be willing buyers, and that it would be cheaper than issuing 30-year bonds. I thought that the yields on (say) 50-year bonds would be lower than 30-year bonds, because the yield curve for most of my life (at that point) had the yield curve peaking out at around 22 years or so. 30-year bonds usually yielded less than 20-year bonds.
The case for issuing longer debt was easy when 30-year bonds yielded less than 20-year bonds. That is no longer true, and has not been true since the financial crisis. In a low interest rate environment, 30-year bonds yield more than 20–year bonds. In a higher interest rate environment, the relationship flips.
So, should the US treasury issue 50-year, 100-year, or perpetual bonds? I still think the answer is yes, and for three reasons.
1) It’s an experiment. The market doesn’t always know what it wants until you offer an option to it. No degree of discussion with the advisory committee can beat an actual offering to the market. There used to be callable T-notes, and even a Treasury note denominated in Swiss Francs. Experiments are worth trying on a small level just to see what happens. Knowledge is a valuable thing — theory is worth less than tangible data.
2) Rates are low. Why not lock in the low rates? Even if 50-year bonds have a premium yield to 30-year bonds, those yields are likely lower than what you might get when interest rates are high.
3) It would be genuinely useful for life insurance companies and pension funds to have a benchmark for 50-year bonds, which would encourage the corporate market to issue debt as well. Those who make long promises need others who will make similarly long fixed commitments.
Then there are the speculators, who I don’t care much about. They would appreciate longer debt as well, as it would give them a greater place to speculate.
My advice to the US Treasury is this: issue longer debt as an experiment. If there is additional cost in the short-run, see if it is cheaper in the long run. There is a market for longer debt, even if your advisory committee thinks differently.
Article by David Merkel, The Aleph Blog