Benn Steil


A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

U.S. Interest vs. Defense Spending

by Monday, October 26, 2009


Near zero T-bill yields throughout 2009 is keeping U.S. debt service low even though the amount of outstanding debt continues to rise. A forecast increase in U.S. interest rates, along with growth in the amount of debt, will lift interest expenses sharply over the next ten years. In fact, as this chart shows, interest payments are projected to surpass defense spending by 2017. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which collects data back to 1929, interest payments have never surpassed defense spending. Read more »

China’s Dollar Addiction

by Monday, October 19, 2009


China has accumulated a massive stock of U.S. dollar reserves in recent years. Statements of concern from China regarding the risk that U.S. economic policy might undermine the future purchasing power of these assets has fuelled the market’s concern that China may shift away from dollar purchases. Yet the chart shows that over the 12 months ending in July 2009 China accumulated more dollar-denominated assets, mainly U.S. Treasuries, than foreign assets in total. Despite its rhetoric, China has thus far taken no actions to wean itself off of the dollar. Read more »

Government Debt: Financed by Official Sector

by Wednesday, October 7, 2009


This chart shows who financed the massive amounts of debt that the U.S. government issued in the first half of 2009. The total net issuance of treasuries and agencies is shown on the left, and economic sectors are ordered from left to right by the size of their total purchases. Given the federal backing of the GSEs – government sponsored entities such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – it is best to look at the sum of treasuries and agencies rather than treasury issuance alone. Through the first two quarters of 2009, issuance has been financed primarily by official buyers. Official buyers often have motivations other than profit. The Federal Reserve is buying debt as a part of its quantitative easing program, while some foreign central banks are accumulating debt as a function of their currency policy. The Federal Reserve plans to slow and then stop its purchases by the end of the first quarter of 2010. This raises the question of who will replace this source of demand, and at what price. Read more »