When times are tough, governments have to borrow money. Luckily for us Americans, we can borrow it for free (for now at least – I know this isn’t going to be true forever): 3-month Treasuries have a yield of 0.01%, and even 3-years are at 1.25%, both below the rate of inflation. (By the way, even if you don’t have Bloomberg, you can get Treasury yields at Yahoo! Finance among other places.)
By contrast, the UK and Italy recently had unexpected trouble selling 3- and 4-year bonds, respectively, having to offer 10 basis points over similar existing debt. Mind you, this isn’t Iceland and Hungary we’re talking about here, but two members of the G7. Basically, investors are getting worried that deep recession (which crimps tax revenues) and large bailout packages, piled on top of existing debt, are creating the risk that at some point governments will either default on their debt or, in the case of the UK (which still controls its currency), inflate it away. The same concern can be seen in credit default swap spreads (remember Friday’s post?). Italy’s have climbed from single digits for most of 2007 and 40 bp in the summer to 141 bp.