Governments Will Need to Issue $15-33 Trillion in Bonds

Jensen’s article concludes with the following:

I need to put the $33 trillion into perspective, because it is so big that it is almost incomprehensible. According to Wikipedia…, total private wealth across the world today is about $37 trillion less the losses incurred in 2007-09, so the real number is probably closer to $30 trillion now. Total global savings (loosely adjusted for the big losses in 2008) are probably somewhere in the region of $100 trillion. In other words, financing this crisis could absorb one-third of total global savings…

Obviously, governments may buy a portion of these bonds themselves, but they cannot afford more than a fraction of the total unless they want to challenge Mugabe as the ultimate master of illusion. Neither should investors hold out for sovereign wealth funds to do the dirty work…. The total amount of wealth accumulated in these funds is pocket money when compared to the projected bond issuance over the next few years.

Hence it comes down to the price at which governments can attract sufficient demand from people like you and me. One of two things may happen. Either this crisis will ignite such a bout of deflation that investors will happily own government bonds yielding 2-3% or the deflation scare goes away ultimately, the global economy recovers and bond investors demand much higher yields for taking sovereign risk. I am not yet sure which scenario will prevail, but I do know that both are quite bad for equities longer term.

And Satyajit Das provides his thoughts on the potential effect of massive bond issuances:

In 2009, governments around the world will have to issue US$3 trillion in debt. The US alone will need to issue around US$ 2 trillion in bonds (a staggering US$40 billion a week!). This compares to around US$400-500 billion of annual debt that the US has issued in recent years. This debt must be issued at record low interest rates….

At best, the tsunami of government debt may crowd out other borrowers exacerbating existing financing problems. At worst, there is a risk of a collapse of the growing “bubble” in government debt markets as investors refuse to purchase debt at current rates triggering additional losses.

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