For the past several years, the government has always been able to rely on the usual suspects to loan them money and buy up all the debt, namely– the Federal Reserve, the Chinese, and the Japanese.
Those three alone have loaned trillions of dollars to the US government since the end of the financial crisis.
The Federal Reserve in particular, through its “Quantitative Easing” programs, was on an all-out binge, buying up every long-dated Treasury Bond it could find, like some sort of junkie debt addict.
And both Chinese and Japanese holdings of US government debt now exceed $1 trillion each, more than double what they were before the 2008 crisis.
But now each of those three lenders is out of the game.
The Federal Reserve has formally ended its Quantitative Easing program. In other words, the Fed has said it will no longer conjure money out of thin air to buy US government debt.
The Chinese government said point blank last month that they were ‘rethinking’ their position on US government debt.
And the Japanese have their own problems at home to deal with; they need to scrap together every penny they can find to dump into their own economy.
Official data from the US Treasury Department illustrates this point– both China and Japan have slightly reduced their holdings of US government debt since last summer.
Bottom line, all three of the US government’s biggest lenders are no longer buyers of US debt.
There’s a pretty obvious conclusion here: interest rates have to rise.
It’s a simple issue of supply and demand. The supply of debt is rising. Demand is falling.
This means that the ‘price’ of debt will decrease, ergo interest rates will rise.
(Think about it like this– with so much supply and lower demand for its debt, the US government will have to pay higher interest rates in order to attract new lenders.)
Make no mistake: higher interest rates will have an enormous impact on just about EVERYTHING.
Many major asset prices tend to fall when interest rates rise.
Rising rates mean that it costs more money for companies to borrow, reducing their leverage and overall profitability. So stock prices typically fall.
It’s also important to note that, over the last several years when interest rates were basically ZERO, companies borrowed vast sums of money at almost no cost to buy back their own stock.
They were essentially using record low interest rates to artificially inflate their share prices.
Those days are rapidly coming to an end.
Property prices also tend to do poorly when interest rates rise.
Here’s a simplistic example: if you can afford the monthly mortgage payment to buy a $500,000 house when interest rates are 3%, that same monthly payment will only buy a $250,000 house when rates rise to 6%.
Rising rates mean that people won’t be able to borrow as much money to buy a home, and this typically causes property prices to fall.
Of course, higher interest rates also mean that the US government will take a major hit.
Remember that the federal government already has to borrow money just to pay interest on the money they’ve already borrowed.
So as interest rates go up, they’ll be paying even more each year in interest payments… which means they’ll have to borrow even more money to make those payments, which means they’ll be paying even more in interest payments, which means they’ll have to borrow even more, etc. etc.
It’s a pretty nasty cycle.
Finally, the broader US economy will likely take a hit with rising interest rates.
As we’ve discussed many times before, the US economy is based on consumption, not production, and it depends heavily on cheap money (i.e. lower interest rates), and cheap oil, in order to keep growing.
We’re already seeing the end of both of those, at least for now.
Both oil prices and interest rates have more than doubled from their lows, and it stands to reason that, at a minimum, interest rates will keep climbing.
So this may very well be the start of the great financial reckoning.