This morning, the nice folks on CNBC’s Squawk Box were discussing the possibility of bringing back the 30-Year Treasury Bond. A Treasury Bond is, in short, your very own piece of the National Debt. Instead of sending the President down to the local Citibank chapter to put a mortgage on Yellowstone, the United States Treasury — the same folks to whom you write that check enclosed with the 1040 — issues bonds. They pay you interest for the term of the bond (2, 5, 10 years) in return for using your money to run the government. But wait, there’s more! These bonds are a liquid investment, meaning you can buy and sell them fairly easily. You don’t have to hold a bond to the bitter end to get your money back. Even if you don’t have one of these in your brokerage account or safe deposit box, you still probably own some of these bonds, because they are often used by banks, brokerages, and mutual funds as an interest-bearing place-holder. Treasury Bonds are considered a very safe investment because they are backed by the United States Government, an entity unlikely to default (or, declare the bonds worthless).
A few years ago, the government stopped issuing the 30-year Treasury Bond. At the time, there was a budget surplus and the national debt was shrinking. It made sense to reduce the number and kinds of bonds out there. It made sense to get rid of what national debt was left in a shorter time frame than 30 years. It made sense not to pay 30 years worth of interest. It was the government equivalent of paying down a credit line and cutting up the credit card. Besides which, the stock market had long since peaked, and I believe there was the unspoken hope that with one less type of bond available, money would make its way to corporate bonds and common stocks. Stock market recovery was vital to the idea of “privatizing Social Security.”
But things have changed since then. The budget surplus is gone. The national debt is rising, buoyed on a rising tide of Homeland Security and War On Terror and tax cuts upon tax cuts. Interest rates are at historic lows, even on a 30-year basis, as proved by America’s collective mailbox full of mortgage and refinance offers. Peter Fisher, the man credited with killing the 30-Year Treasury, is moving on. Bloomberg sees an open door.
The Squawk Box online poll results were 74% in favor of bringing back the 30-Year. Keep in mind, this is not a population of day-trading soccer moms, but predominantly licensed financial industry professionals who happen to have time to respond to an unscientific online poll during the hours when the markets are opening. If this is consistent with the opinions of people with actual authority, consider the return of the 30-year a done deal.
Should it be announced that that new 30-Year Treasury Bonds will be issued, I believe the major stock market indices will go down. This will happen for two main reasons. First, it will mean the Feds are admitting that budget deficits and the national debt will be with us for the foreseeable future. So much for shrinking the government; farewell fiscal responsibility. It will be evident that the government needs 30 years to pay its debts. That bodes ill for the economy, and therefore the stock market. The other reason this will cause market declines is that some investors will take money out of stocks in favor of the new bond. Why? Because it is perceived as safe. After all, if you can’t trust the Federal Government, who can you trust?