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Navigating the Rising Tide

Navigating the Rising Tide
September 29, 2023

Understanding the Implications of Increased Federal Interest Rates on U.S. Debt

The financial landscape is witnessing a significant shift as the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has escalated the federal funds target rate from nearly zero to around 5% within a single year. This rapid elevation in interest rates is not just a number game; it has profound implications for various sectors, including firms, households, and notably, the government. This blog post delves into the intricate dynamics of rising interest rates and their impact on the rollover of government debt, providing insights into the challenges and financial ramifications that lie ahead.

The surge in interest rates has stirred concerns regarding the cost of rolling over existing debt. Small business owners and other entities who had previously borrowed at lower rates are now confronted with the prospect of renewing their loans at rates that are potentially double or triple their existing ones. For instance, a business owner who borrowed at a 3% interest rate during the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 may now face a rate that is significantly higher when discussing the rollover of the loan.

The U.S. Government Debt Scenario:

As of the fourth quarter of 2022, the total public debt of the U.S. government, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, stood at over $31.4 trillion. A substantial portion of this debt, amounting to $21.4 trillion, is in fixed-rate marketable securities (FRMUSD), consisting of bills, notes, and bonds, and making up 68.1% of the U.S. debt. The composition of this debt is crucial as about 30% of the existing FRMUSD is scheduled to mature in 2023, with nearly 62% due in the nine years following 2023.

The Impact on Interest Payments:

The repercussions of the elevated interest rates are evident in the estimated increase in the U.S. government's interest payments. These payments are projected to rise from 1.86% to 2.23% of GDP, translating to an additional $98 billion in interest. While this increase might seem marginal, it is comparable to significant government financial flows, such as the Federal Reserve's remittances to the Treasury Department and the annual expenditure of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Comparison with CBO Projections:

The projections made by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) align closely with these estimates. The CBO anticipates an increase in interest payments over GDP to 2.4% in 2023 and foresees a further rise to 3.6% over the next decade. These projections underscore the escalating financial pressures and the potential strain on government resources in the coming years.

The rising interest rates and the subsequent increase in the cost of rolling over government debt are pivotal developments in the financial domain. While the absolute figures are substantial, the relative impact on the U.S. economy remains comparatively small. However, the persistence of high-interest rates implies that the rollover of FRMUSD at these elevated rates will continue to augment the government's interest payments, thereby occupying an increasingly larger share of the budget.

The unfolding scenario necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the economic environment and a strategic approach to navigate the challenges posed by the rising tide of interest rates. The evolving interplay between debt, interest rates, and economic policies will be a key determinant in shaping the financial trajectory of the U.S. government and the broader economy in the years to come.

*Source: Economic Research Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

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