Monday, July 29, 2013

Is the U.S. Treasury Hiding Debt (Again)?

"You can observe a lot by just watching." 
-- Yogi Berra
A number of web sites have been amazed that the U.S. public debt holds remarkably steady near the maximum legal limit of $16,699,396,000,000.00 ($16.699 TRILLION) for 70 days and counting.  Has the U.S. government stopped spending?  Okay, pick yourself off the floor from laughing.  No, the Treasury is simply hiding debt using "extraordinary measures", as they've done in the past.

The Treasury provides the daily debt status on their web site.  You can also search for historical data. Here's a chart the graphs this total pubic debt since January 1, 2008.  Click to enlarge.  The chart also shows the legal debt limit in effect over time.  Note that there have been prior periods where the debt remained remarkably flat for a long period of time--before August 2, 2011 as an example.

As soon as Congress approves a new, higher debt limit, the Treasury remarkably reports a surge in new debt.  It's an old game.  After Congress increased the debt ceiling on August 1, 2011, miraculously, the U.S. needed to borrow nearly a quarter trillion dollars in new debt!  Where did Treasury hide that $238 billion in debt?  Similarly, the Treasury borrowed $120 billion in new debt over a two day period starting January 30, 2012.  Enron and WorldCom accountants would be proud.

Applying a linear regression of the data (R-squared is 0.9874, indicating a good match), it appears that the U.S. government is borrowing roughly $3 billion a day!  Granted, the Federal Reserve is currently buying $85 billion in U.S. debt per month, so the two numbers jive nicely ($85 billion divided by 30.4 days per month equals about $2.8 billion per day).  As reported by the Treasury, the total public debt remained flat at about $16.699 TRILLION. However, at $3 billion per day, the projected debt very likely currently exceeds $17.10 TRILLION.  So where is Treasury hiding that extra third to half a trillion dollars?

Once Congress inevitably increases the debt limit, as they always do, stay tuned for a whopper of a borrowing day by the Treasury.  Of course, we could balance the federal budget, but ...

See also ...

United States Treasury Department: The Daily History of the Debt Results (1-JAN-2011 to 26-JUL-2013, “Total Public Debt Outstanding”)

The Concord Coalition: Understanding the Federal Debt Liming (Increases in the Debt Limit since 1997)

Congressional Research Service: The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases (May 22, 2013)

Soquel by the Creek: The Debt Ceiling and Where Do You Hide $238 BILLION?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the point of your post, but you could be a bit more accurate if you divided $65B instead of $85...which is the amount of TSYs bought per month