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Posts Tagged ‘u.k. national debt’

UK Public Debt Soars To Historic Levels

September 19th, 2009 Comments off

To paraphrase  Winston Churchill, never in the field of sovereign finance have so many British taxpayers  been compelled by their government to assume so massive a debt to pay for the sins of so few. The UK has probably incurred the greatest collateral damage to its financial and banking system due to the subprime mortgage meltdown in the U.S. compared with any other country except for America itself.

According to the latest Treasury figures emanating from London, the United Kingdom’s national debt now stands at  £804.8 billion, compared with £632.8 billion just one year ago. According to official statistics, the proportion of UK public debt to GDP now stands at more than 57%, compared with 44% in Augusts 2008. The primary driver of this massive inflation of public debt has been the costly bailout of the UK’s banking sector.

As bad as these number are, they are bound to deteriorate further. For one thing, the toxic assets still sitting on the balance sheets of British banks guarantee the need for more costly bailouts down the road. In addition, UK tax revenues are plummeting while economic stimulus packages and unemployment relief are further expanding government expenditures.

Where doe this end? A growing possibility is national insolvency.

Dire Warning On U.K. Deficits; What Are The Implications For The U.S. Debt Crisis?

March 27th, 2009 Comments off
As U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown goes globetrotting on his mission to spread the gospel of massive borrowing by governments to fund stimulus spending in response to the Global Economic Crisis, setting the stage for the G20 Summit in London, the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, was preaching a different message to members of Parliament at a Treasury Committee meeting. The Bank of England is the central bank of the U.K., in effect the British equivalent of the Federal Reserve in the United States. While accepting the traditional Keynesian view that in times of economic downturn spending must be increased by governments despite reduced tax revenues, creating inevitable budgetary deficits, King went on to tell the parliamentarians that, “Given how big those deficits are, I think it would be sensible to be cautious about going further in using discretionary measures to expand the size of those deficits…I think the fiscal position in the U.K. is not one where we could say, ‘well, why don’t we just engage in another significant round of fiscal expansion’.”

In contrast with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Bank of England governor is watching the accumulating public debt with deep concern, instead of advocating massive quantitative easing, as it is being executed in the U.S. by the Federal Reserve. Mervyn King is clearly worried about the long-term implications of the growing national debt driven by fiscal imbalances, recognizing the future and destabilizing dangers of hyperinflation and national insolvency. Carefully worded and diplomatic as his message was, King’s warning is a clear message to the British political establishment: the current budgetary trajectory is unsustainable.

How bad is the U.K.’s fiscal posture? The true answer is obscured by the accounting rules being applied by the British government, which has assumed the costs and risks of bailing out the U.K.’s largely insolvent banking sector. By some calculations, the loans and guarantees have created a potential public liability of approximately $700 billion that is not reflected in official public debt figures, which stand at about one trillion dollars, or 47% of the nation’s GDP.

In comparison, there are no warnings about massive U.S. budgetary deficits that are being planned by politicians for the next decade, far beyond the three-year time limit King recommended to the MPs on the Treasury Committee. Yet, the United States has an even more daunting debt problem than the United Kingdom. At present, the national debt of the United States exceeds $11 trillion, equivalent to 78% of GDP, a much higher figure than during the New Deal period of the Great Depression of the 1930s. With U.S. GDP projected to shrink in the current fiscal year while deficits add at least $2 trillion to the national debt (my estimate), the ratio of public debt will rise to a point approaching the entire GDP, perhaps within the next five years.

There is another aspect to the U.S. public debt crisis. In 2008, the Federal government spent $412 billion on interest payments for servicing of the national debt. Currently, interest rates are at record lows; the U.S. Treasury has even been able to auction off short-term Treasuries at zero interest rates. However, the inevitable erosion of the dollar’s intrinsic value and changing market conditions will drive up interest rates. That, in combination with the rapid growth in the public debt, could mean interest payments soon becoming the largest proportion of Federal spending, even surpassing military outlays. In a few years, debt-servicing costs may exceed one trillion dollars annually.

As if things were not bad enough, the U.S. government has made massive commitments in terms of direct borrowing and backstop guarantees in the trillions of dollars for bailing out the financial, banking, mortgage and even industrial sectors. Except for the TARP program, these massive fiscal obligations are off the books, but may very well come due, at the expense of the already over-leveraged U.S. taxpayers.

Mervyn King has displayed a rare example of candor and intellectual courage among the central bankers and politicians deciding our fate as the Global Economic Crisis intensifies. If only that same level of civic honesty could be replicated across the Atlantic.