Thursday, April 23, 2009

Updated: Is it time to prepare Insolvency Accounts for the US Treasury?

Operating Cash Balance: The operating cash level of the US Treasury is mentioned in the daily Treasury statement to be $295,462 million as of 22-APR-2009. Out of this $199, 929 million is in the Treasury Supplementary Financing account.
Revenues and Outlays: The monthly Treasury statement contains the data on past revenues and outlays of the US Treasury. Last month, i.e. in March 2009, the US Treasury spent $192,273 million more than they earned. Since October 2009, their total excess of spending over revenue is $ 956,799 million - or nearly a trillion dollars.
Expected Deficits:
Here's a preliminary analysis of President Obama's budget proposals under the aegis of the Director of the Congressional Budget Office. Excerpt:
"CBO projects that if those proposals were enacted, the deficit would total $1.8 trillion (13 percent of GDP) in 2009 and $1.4 trillion (10 percent of GDP) in 2010. It would decline to about 4 percent of GDP by 2012 and remain between 4 percent and 6 percent of GDP through 2019.The cumulative deficit from 2010 to 2019 under the President’s proposals would total $9.3 trillion, compared with a cumulative deficit of $4.4 trillion projected under the current-law assumptions embodied in CBO’s baseline. Debt held by the public would rise, from 41 percent of GDP in 2008 to 57 percent in 2009 and then to 82 percent of GDP by 2019 (compared with 56 percent of GDP in that year under baseline assumptions). ”
The US Public Debt:
As of this writing, the US public debt totals $11.184 trillion.
Sources of financing:
One of the main sources of financing for the US Treasury is Chinese purchases of Treasury and other dollar denominated securities. Dr. Brad Setser at the Council on Foreign Relations is one of the world's foremost experts in the area of balance of payments and global capital flows; and he has taken a specialized interest in studying the size of holdings, currency composition and portfolio allocation of the world's central banks and sovereign wealth funds.
In this paper written along with Arpana Pandey for the CFR Center for Geoeconomic Studies, Dr. Setser has described estimation methodology and data to understand the activities of the People's Bank of China and its associated Sovereign entities.
Yesterday, China revealed its holdings of gold, and here's an article in the Financial Times on that topic.
Note on the United States Public Debt:
Here's a link to the Bureau of the Public Debt web site and on the site if you go to the link "see the U.S. Public Debt to the penny" - the total as of this writing is $11, 184, 922,662,862.85. Of this total, "Intragovernmental holdings" form $4.299 Trillion, and "Debt Held by the Public" forms $6.885 Trillion. In most media and official reports, only the $6.885 trillion is taken into account as US public debt. Typically, that calculation yields around 40+ % of GDP as the US Public Debt.
Understanding the correct nature of "intragovernmental holdings" provides you the accurate, and more practical picture. The contribution made by US citizens towards social security, and other sources of revenue of US government departments, was added to the Congressional Budget as an appropriation. The US Treasury then spent those amounts and issued debt securities to those other US Government entities. Mostly, the $ 4.3 trillion is US Treasury debt held by the Social Security Fund.
The common reasoning provided for not taking the Social Security appropriations into the Us public debt calculation is that that debt is simply not held by the public, and not settled in the market. The US Treasury has payables and liabilities towards Medicare and Social Security that are as yet unfunded.
My view is that what really matters is the cash flow situation. The $4.3 trillion owed to Social Security Fund can be seen as "flexible debt". As long as the Treasury is able to meet the outflows towards its unfunded liabilities, the intragovernmental debt holdings aren't that much of an issue.
Note: I've updated my comment on the US Public Debt after some further serious thinking.
To be continued ...


  1. Public debt is really already 11.2 tr $? 85 % of GDP? Can you advise as of what date and according to what source? Somehow, I thought it was significantly less than that.

  2. Thomas, I just made a small update on the US public debt with my source and reasoning. (bureau of the public debt, addition of liabilities to the Social Security Fund to the US public debt)

  3. Interesting. Thanks for the explanations, I wasn't aware that the treasury had such significant obligations vis-a-vis social security.