In the week ahead, bond investors will continue picking up the tab for the billions of dollars of taxpayer money spent to blunt the economic consequences of COVID-19.
The federal government will issue $96 billion of IOUs over the course of three days. Consider it a down payment of the $3 trillion Uncle Sam plans to borrow before the end of June. This level of borrowing is five times the quarterly borrowing by the government during the worst of the Great Recession. And it comes after $1.5 trillion of IOUs have been issued since the end of March.
Before this week, the government had concentrated its COVID-related borrowing to short-term IOUs — less than 10 years. But this borrowing will be long-term.
For the first time since the mid-1980s, the Treasury Department will issue new 20-year bonds later in May. The government is borrowing big for its COVID-19 rescue efforts and giving itself a lot of time to pay back lenders or, more likely, refinance.
The market appetite for government debt has been enormous. It doesn’t hurt that the Federal Reserve has been a big buyer as part of the central bank’s efforts to backstop the economy. The Fed will be among those buying these new bonds. The limitless bond buying budget of the Fed will act as a cap on borrowing costs for the time being.
If other bond buyers are reluctant to rush in, interest rates would have to move higher in order to reward those investors to take risk.
How the bond market absorbs this flood of new borrowing will be important for investors, consumers and companies for months to come.
Financial journalist Tom Hudson hosts “The Sunshine Economy” on WLRN-FM in Miami, where he is the vice president of news. Follow him on Twitter @HudsonsView.