The bankruptcy of the United States is now certain
From Porter Stansberry in the S&A Digest
Originally posted November 24, 2009
IT’S ONE OF THOSE NUMBERS THAT’S SO UNBELIEVABLE you have to actually think about it for a while… Within the next 12 months, the U.S. Treasury will have to refinance $2 trillion in short-term debt. And that’s not counting any additional deficit spending, which is estimated to be around $1.5 trillion. Put the two numbers together. Then ask yourself, how in the world can the Treasury borrow $3.5 trillion in only one year? That’s an amount equal to nearly 30% of our entire GDP. And we’re the world’s biggest economy. Where will the money come from?
How did we end up with so much short-term debt? Like most entities that have far too much debt – whether subprime borrowers, GM, Fannie, or GE – the U.S. Treasury has tried to minimize its interest burden by borrowing for short durations and then “rolling over” the loans when they come due. As they say on Wall Street, “a rolling debt collects no moss.” What they mean is, as long as you can extend the debt, you have no problem. Unfortunately, that leads folks to take on ever greater amounts of debt… at ever shorter durations… at ever lower interest rates. Sooner or later, the creditors wake up and ask themselves: What are the chances I will ever actually be repaid? And that’s when the trouble starts. Interest rates go up dramatically. Funding costs soar. The party is over. Bankruptcy is next.
When governments go bankrupt it’s called “a default.” Currency speculators figured out how to accurately predict when a country would default. Two well-known economists – Alan Greenspan and Pablo Guidotti – published the secret formula in a 1999 academic paper. That’s why the formula is called the Greenspan-Guidotti rule. The rule states: To avoid a default, countries should maintain hard currency reserves equal to at least 100% of their short-term foreign debt maturities. The world’s largest money management firm, PIMCO, explains the rule this way: “The minimum benchmark of reserves equal to at least 100% of short-term external debt is known as the Greenspan-Guidotti rule. Greenspan-Guidotti is perhaps the single concept of reserve adequacy that has the most adherents and empirical support.”
The principle behind the rule is simple. If you can’t pay off all of your foreign debts in the next 12 months, you’re a terrible credit risk. Speculators are going to target your bonds and your currency, making it impossible to refinance your debts. A default is assured.
So how does America rank on the Greenspan-Guidotti scale? It’s a guaranteed default. The U.S. holds gold, oil, and foreign currency in reserve. The U.S. has 8,133.5 metric tonnes of gold (it is the world’s largest holder). That’s 16,267,000 pounds. At current dollar values, it’s worth around $300 billion. [Even if the gold price tripled, it would not help. And does the US actually have all the gold reserves they claim? Don’t forget, we only have their word for it! –Aurick] The U.S. strategic petroleum reserve shows a current total position of 725 million barrels. At current dollar prices, that’s roughly $58 billion worth of oil. And according to the IMF, the U.S. has $136 billion in foreign currency reserves. So altogether… that’s around $500 billion of reserves. Our short-term foreign debts are far bigger.
According to the U.S. Treasury, $2 trillion worth of debt will mature in the next 12 months. So looking only at short-term debt, we know the Treasury will have to finance at least $2 trillion worth of maturing debt in the next 12 months. That might not cause a crisis if we were still funding our national debt internally. But since 1985, we’ve been a net debtor to the world. Today, foreigners own 44% of all our debts, which means we owe foreign creditors at least $880 billion in the next 12 months – an amount far larger than our reserves.
Keep in mind, this only covers our existing debts. The Office of Management and Budget is predicting a $1.5 trillion budget deficit over the next year. That puts our total funding requirements on the order of $3.5 trillion over the next 12 months.
So… where will the money come from? Total domestic savings in the U.S. are only around $600 billion annually. Even if we all put every penny of our savings into U.S. Treasury debt, we’re still going to come up nearly $3 trillion short. That’s an annual funding requirement equal to roughly 40% of GDP. Where is the money going to come from? From our foreign creditors? Not according to Greenspan-Guidotti. And not according to the Indian or the Russian central bank, which have stopped buying Treasury bills and begun to buy enormous amounts of gold. The Indians bought 200 metric tonnes this month. Sources in Russia say the central bank there will double its gold reserves.
So where will the money come from? The printing press. The Federal Reserve has already monetized nearly $2 trillion worth of Treasury debt and mortgage debt. This weakens the value of the dollar and devalues our existing Treasury bonds. Sooner or later, our creditors will face a stark choice: Hold our bonds and continue to see the value diminish slowly, or try to escape to gold and see the value of their U.S. bonds plummet.
One thing they’re not going to do is buy more of our debt. Which central banks will abandon the dollar next? Brazil, Korea, and Chile. These are the three largest central banks that own the least amount of gold. None own even 1% of their total reserves in gold. Coincidentally, the New York Times repeated our warnings – nearly word for word – in its paper today. (They didn’t mention Greenspan-Guidotti, however… It’s a real secret of international speculators.)
Porter’s update on the bankruptcy of the United States: February 02, 2010
What you must know about the bankruptcy of the United States
Nobody likes bad news. A few years ago, I got in hot water by insisting General Motors was bankrupt. Supporters of the company (whether investors or unionized employees) got mad at me and said I was exaggerating. They rightly pointed out GM was still servicing its debts and was still owned by its equity holders. Thus, technically at least, GM wasn’t bankrupt.
In order to avoid any unnecessary litigiousness, I began to write in parody, pretending to be the chairman of General Motors and warning of the company’s impending bankruptcy. One of the few ways you can still speak unpleasant truths in America is by using – or pretending to use – humor. That’s why, for example, Chris Rock and Bill Cosby are our most poignant commentators on race relations and why John Stewart is perhaps our most insightful news commentator.
Meanwhile, the bankruptcy of General Motors was far from a laughing matter. GM had no conceivable way to repay its debts. It was even borrowing money to pay for the interest expense on its existing debts. Monitoring the company closely between 2006 and 2009 taught me quite a bit about willful self-deception. Here are the three key traits I look for now in companies facing major financial stress…
No. 1. There’s never any real tally of the total amount owed. GM used byzantine accounting to hide the truth of its deteriorating fiscal condition for nearly 20 years. It was impossible for any outside analyst to get an accurate, consolidated account of GM’s total debt.
No. 2. None of the company’s “turnaround” plans include any efforts to actually repay principal amounts owed.
No. 3. The company’s spending is out of control. In GM’s case, it was also rife with fraud and absurdity – like, for example, its jobs bank where people were paid not to work.
If you don’t know how much you owe, if you make no attempt to ever repay your debts, and if your spending is out of control, there’s no way to avoid bankruptcy. In retrospect, these facts seem so plain and obvious. But who else was warning about GM? No one. I bring this up to you today because the exact same things are now true about the United States of America. We don’t know how much we owe. We don’t have any plan to repay our debt. And our spending is still completely out of control…
OBAMA! has sent a new budget to Congress. It contains several provisions that will make people unhappy. Taxes are going up on the rich. They’re going up on private-equity firms and hedge funds. They’re going up on oil and gas companies. And they’re going up on multinational companies. These new taxes are what you’ll see people arguing about. They are what the politicians will complain and campaign about. Nobody wants to pay the costs of government, so that’s the easy sell. But the taxes aren’t the real problem with OBAMA!’s budget…
The real problem is that government spending is literally out of control. The government is going to reduce its so-called “discretionary” spending by a grand total of $200 billion. Only about $1.4 trillion of the government’s $3.8 trillion budget is discretionary. The rest is legally required, thanks to unfunded entitlement programs, like Medicare. So right now, far less than half of the government’s annual budget can legally be restrained.
Meanwhile, there’s no accurate tally of the government’s debt. Supposedly, we owe around $12 trillion. This number is so large that it is meaningless. What does it really mean? According to the IRS, almost 143 million people filed tax returns in 2007 (the most recently reported year).
Of these people, roughly 96 million paid something in taxes – even one penny. Thus, technically, you could say there are basically 100 million taxpayers in the United States. Dividing the total debt ($12 trillion) by the number of taxpayers, you can see our total debt is actually $120,000 per taxpayer. How many people do you know can afford an additional $120,000 in debt?
And the truth is, the $12 trillion figure is only a down payment on our actual debts.
For example, nobody really knows how much more money Fannie and Freddie will require. (My bet is $500 billion each – or $1 trillion.) On Christmas Eve, when no one was looking, Congress approved unlimited funding for the two national mortgage banks.
And that’s far from the only “off-budget” item. We have committed to fighting two civil wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan. The costs are likely to be $50 billion or so next year alone. How much over the next 10 years? Maybe $1 trillion? Or maybe more. And there’s a new “jobs package” that’s estimated to cost $76 billion next year with another $25 billion to bail out cash-strapped state governments. Even if you only looked at the dollar amounts that have been budgeted today and you ignored all of the rest of the growth of future entitlement spending, you’ll discover that we actually owe something around $20 trillion right now.
And if $20 trillion is the real number, then the amount owed by taxpayers is actually $200,000 each. Of course, that’s if you’re counting all of the taxpayers. Most people, though, pay almost nothing in taxes. Unless you’re earning more than $50,000 per year, you’re not really contributing to the tax receipts. Roughly 50 million folks are in this category. These people pay less than 10% of all income tax receipts. So you shouldn’t count on them to repay much, if any, of these debts – they can’t.
What’s the real per-capita number? My best estimate – just on the money we actually owe today – is $400,000 per taxpayer. At a reasonable (6%) rate of interest that’s $24,000 each – just to pay the interest on these debts each year. How many people do you know that could afford $24,000 a year in higher taxes? How many people can afford additional debts of $400,000?
My point? Our government is bankrupt – right now, today. Sure, it might still have access to the credit markets. And yes, since it owes dollars, it can always simply print more. I realize the government can’t go bankrupt they way GM did. Our bondholders won’t end up getting title to our national parks and the strategic petroleum reserve. No, that’s not going to happen.
What will happen?
I can’t say for certain. But here’s what I know: It’s not a good idea for the world’s largest debtor and the world’s strongest military power to go broke. Bad things happen in democracies when the government goes broke. At the very least, our creditors will demand much higher interest rates and abandon the use of our currency. That’s going to devastate our standard of living.
These facts and figures should cause you to wake up and think about what you’re doing with your savings. Here’s a hint: Don’t save dollars. And don’t count on whatever the government has promised to you, whether it is a retirement or medical care. The government is bankrupt. It won’t be able to deliver.