Friday, January 23, 2009

Could US interest rates rise?

Brad Setser notes that far from declining in this recession, China's trade surplus is increasing, because although exporting less, it is also importing less. He estimates that China owns $900 billion of US Treasury bonds (and rising), some purchased indirectly via the UK.

However, enormous spending by the US means that it will have to issue a further $900 billion in bonds, and Setser opines, "China isn’t going to double its Treasury holdings in 2009."

If America needs to borrow more than China is willing to lend, the money must come from somewhere else, at a time when it's getting short generally. I have also recently read reports of concerns about the credit rating for US government bonds, which also supports the idea that rates will have to rise to pay for the increased risk of default.

How far will the dollar will be supported by this tendency? At least, in relation to sterling?

The UK is supposed to be an even worse basket case in terms of overall indebtedness, and that may make it politically very difficult to match rates with the US, because it could accelerate the rate of British house repossessions and business bankruptcies, even faster than in the US. So the pound could possibly fall even further against the dollar.

Perhaps Mr Cameron is right to warn that for the UK, the money may run out soon. Then we will have to pay high interest rates after all. And at last, we may be forced to borrow from the IMF and retrench savagely. Back to 1976. And will 1979 return? Cometh the hour, cometh the strong woman?

So, what's the implication of all this for the investor? Sell bonds and buy gold (despite its already high price) now, then reverse the process when high interest rates hit us?

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