U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is increasing the amount of debt he plans to issue in quarterly refunding auctions to a record high of $96 billion to provide government funding as the economy heads into a recession caused by the coronavirus.
The department announced plans Wednesday to auction the first re-booted 20-year bond on May 20, with an expected initial offering size of $20 billion -- larger than most analysts expected -- and unveiled plans to boost overall issuance with a focus on increases to longer-term debt.
Mnuchin’s unprecedented debt issuance comes as the Trump administration braces for what they see as a 40% contraction in economic growth in the second quarter. The U.S. federal deficit is set to surpass estimates of $4 trillion for this year as lawmakers discuss additional economic stimulus.
“It’s pretty amazing that they are doing this much in the long end,” said Tom di Galoma, managing director of government trading and strategy at Seaport Global. “Treasury is trying to take advantage of the very low long-term rates.”
Investors responded by selling Treasuries, pushing longer-maturity yields higher in particular. The 10-year rate, a benchmark for global borrowing, climbed to 0.72%. While it’s the highest since mid-April, it’s still only about 40 basis points above the record low set in the market turmoil of March. German government yields rose as well.
The Treasury department said its “borrowing needs have increased substantially as a result of the federal government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak.” It said it has raised an “unprecedented” $1.46 trillion on net since the end of March.
“Over the next quarter, Treasury’s cash balance will likely remain elevated as Treasury seeks to maintain prudent liquidity in light of the size and relative uncertainty of Covid-19 related outflows,” the department said.
The total combined sales of $96 billion for next week’s refunding -- the 3-, 10-, and 30-year auctions -- compares with $84 billion last quarter, a level that had held for the past five quarters.
The Treasury also laid out increases to all of its nominal maturities over the quarter, leaning more heavily on longer-dated securites. It also plans to boost sales of floating-rate notes, but will leave inflation-linked debt sales unchanged.
The size of the deficit is seen quadrupling as lawmakers seek to prevent a deeper downturn because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Mnuchin has led unprecedented fiscal spending -- from deferred tax receipts to cash for families -- to combat a virus-induced economic shutdown that has put more than 30 million Americans out of work.
Congress is gearing up to work on another spending measure that could be as large as $1 trillion.
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