“Over the years we’ve had some fun together – killin some ‘bars,’ drinkin moonshine – some even in these chambers. (Whiskey that is – the ‘bars’ I’ve seen once or twice, but only when I was plum drunk). But the time for funnin is over. They’ll be no jokes from David Crockett today.”Read the rest here.
Davy Crockett Speech to Congress, 1830
Figurative coonskin cap on head, I echo the sentiments of Davy Crockett – Indian fighter, Alamo defender and Tennessee Congressman – not necessarily in that chronological order. The debt ceiling may have been raised and the palpable sighs of relief heard across global financial markets, but the fun times are over. They’ll be no jokes from Bill Gross today, nor across this land for years to come I suspect. Even though the U.S. has managed to avert a debt crisis and perhaps a ratings downgrade, there remains a stain on our reputation, a scarlet “A” for budgetary “Abuse,” that will not disappear. The whole world was watching, and what they saw was a dysfunctional government taking its country to the financial precipice and backing off at the very last moment. “Shades of a Banana Republic,” as former Reagan budget director David Stockman opined somewhat harshly last week. We may not be Greece just yet, but Mr. Stockman is looking in the right direction.
Nothing in the Congressional compromise reached over the weekend makes a significant dent in our $1.5 trillion deficit. “Out year” fantasies, as opposed to “current year” realities, is an apt description of the spending cuts that characterize this compromise. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates that future deficits will be reduced at most by .5%, and if so, it would be welcomed, but that .5% comes with no new taxes and a continuation of the belief that we don’t have to pay for our trespasses. Like many a Banana Republic, we may one day be invoking the Lord’s Prayer, pleading – “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” yet at the same time looking towards the heavens á la Saint Augustine with a fervent “let me be chaste, but let it be tomorrow.”
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner noted last week that it would be unthinkable that the U.S. would not meet its obligations on time. Now that the timeliness has temporarily been put aside, an investor must logically ask how we will meet our obligations, and how much they really are. In addition to an existing nearly $10 trillion of outstanding Treasury debt, the U.S. has a near-unfathomable $66 trillion of future liabilities at “net present cost.” As shown in the following table from a Mary Meeker “USA Inc.” study, and validated by the Department of Treasury and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculations, the combined present cost “payment due” from Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is over six times our current obligations of Treasury debt. The press and most professional investors are accustomed to measuring “paper” debt as opposed to walking/living liabilities in the form of people. I call these liabilities “debt men walking” because as long as 330 million living Americans require promised entitlements – the $66 trillion that wear shoes are as much of a liability as the $10 trillion on paper.