You may be thinking I’m going to weigh in on the debt ceiling debate. This reminds me of the old saying, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” I’m not going there. Not a chance. I’ve heard everything from the world is going to end to nothing is going to happen and everything in between. And likely you have too.
What I am going to discuss is a bizarre side effect of this fiasco: contrary to everything I’ve ever read on this subject interest rates on U.S. treasuries are plummeting. What’s going on here???
Regardless of what happens on the debt ceiling debate the U.S. is likely to lose its triple A bond rating. The rating agencies have been threatening a down grade of our nation’s credit rating not unless $4 trillion is reduced from our spiraling out of control federal deficit. None of the proposals currently being considered are close to this amount of deficit reduction. So the likely effect will be a downgrading of our bond rating. If this happens then logic dictates that interest rates on everything will go up, from credit cards, to auto and home loans to loans on commercial real estate. But no one really knows for sure the consequences of a down grading of our bonds. No one.
So how is it that on Friday last week the 10 year treasury rate plummeted 17 basis points and is now at 2.78% as of this writing? This is the biggest one-day drop since December 2010. A drop in interest rates seems so counterintuitive to me. This is just the opposite of what I would think would happen. The “experts” believe that investors view the stock market as being more adversely impacted by the debt ceiling debate than the bond market. As a result investors are selling stocks (notice the Dow Industrials declined 537 points last week, the worst week this year) and are buying bonds. Go figure! There is a “flight to quality” – the selling of riskier assets, in this case equities, and the buying of the most secure investment available today – treasuries.
Other so-called safe havens will also benefit from this uncertainty caused by the debt ceiling crisis. But gold, top-rated corporate debt or the bonds of other countries with triple A ratings are miniscual markets in comparison to the almost $10 trillion U.S. treasury market. Investors are also confident that the U.S. Treasury will continue to pay the principal and interest owed on existing bonds, even in the case of a prolonged deadlock.
In addition it is in China’s best interest, as the largest holder of U.S. debt, to come to our rescue if things got out of hand with a gridlocked Congress in order to prevent serious harm to their huge existing holdings of U.S. treasuries.
So for these reasons we are seeing treasury rates declining. At least for now. This is a great time to be locking in long term fixed rate financing. If you are on the sidelines wondering when I should refinance, what are you waiting for?
Sources: Debt Ceiling Deadlock Could Lower Interest Rates, CNNMoney.com, July 28, 2011; and Treasury Yields Fall By the Most This Year, Market Watch, July 29, 2011.