A sudden drop-off in investor demand for U.S. Treasury notes is raising questions about whether interest rates will finally begin a march higher—a climb that would jack up the government's borrowing costs and spell trouble for the fragile housing market.
For months, investors have focused their attention on the debt crisis in Europe, but there are signs the spotlight is turning to the ability of the U.S. to finance its own budget deficit.
This week, some investors turned up their noses at three big U.S. Treasury offerings. Demand was weak for a $44 billion 2-year note auction on Tuesday, a $42 billion sale of 5-year debt on Wednesday and a $32 billion 7-year note sale Thursday.
The poor demand, especially from foreign investors, sent the bonds' prices sharply lower and yields higher. It lifted the yield on the 10-year note to 3.9%—its highest since last June, and approaching the psychologically important 4% mark. That mark has been pierced only briefly since the financial crisis in 2008.
Investors' response marked a big shift from auctions in recent months in which major foreign buyers, such as central banks, had snapped up Treasurys. It could spell trouble for the U.S. housing market; the rates on many mortgages are linked to the yield on the 10-year note.
The move up in its yield coincides with the impending end of the Federal Reserve's program to support the mortgage market. The Fed has bought $1.25 trillion of mortgage-backed securities, bolstering their prices and thus holding down their yields.
Concerns about the U.S. budget deficit are beginning to hurt the Treasury market, says Steve Rodosky, head of Treasury and derivatives trading at bond giant Pacific Investment Management Co. He says he is increasingly worried about the U.S. fiscal outlook. "The government needs to take real action rather than pay lip service" to addressing the fiscal problems.
In all, the U.S. government is expected to sell $1.6 trillion in debt this year, including the $118 billion sold this week.
VH: Those little green pieces of paper that the government pumps out is looking a lot less attractive nowadays. Helicopter Ben must be thanking his lucky stars that Greece came in to save his arse. BTW, the latest news on Greece is that the responsible E.U. countries and the American taxpayer (surprise!) via the IMF are going to float the spendthrift Greeks some moolah if it fails to pay its debt. This is going to get interesting.