The Treasury Auction Shell Game

by Peter Schiff
Euro Pacific Capital

(Editor’s Note: For those of you who yawn at my predictions about the potential collapse of the bond market, read how DC games their own system to hide what they’re doing. Washington NEVER tells the truth. The Federal Reserve and the Treasury are committing a circle jerk on each other while they rape the rest of the world.)

Very few people have either the time or patience to sift through the data released by the Treasury Department in the wake of its bond auctions. But the numbers do provide direct evidence of the country’s current financial condition that in many ways mirror a financial shell game that typifies our entire economy.

Despite continued deterioration of America’s fiscal health, the Treasury is still attracting adequate numbers of buyers of its debt, even with the ultra low coupon rates. Market watchers take these successful auctions as proof that our current monetary and fiscal stimulus efforts are prudent. But who’s doing the buying, and what do they do with the bonds after they have been purchased?

Most people are aware that foreign central banks figure very prominently into the mix. They buy for political reasons and to suppress the value of their currencies relative to the dollar. And while we think their rationale is silly, we do not dispute that they will continue to buy as long as they believe the policy serves their own national interests. When that will change is harder to determine. But another very large chunk of Treasuries go to “primary dealers,” the very large financial institutions that are designated middle men for Treasury bonds. In a late February auction, these dealers took down 46% of the entire $29 billion issue of seven year bonds. While this is hardly remarkable, it is shocking what happened next.

According to analysis that appeared in Zero Hedge, nearly 53% of those bonds were then sold to the Federal Reserve on March 8, under the rubric of the Fed’s quantitative easing plan. While it’s certainly hard to determine the profits that were made on this two week trade, it’s virtually impossible to imagine that the private banks lost money. What’s more, knowing that the Fed was sure to make a bid, the profits were made essentially risk free. It’s good to be on the government’s short list.

Given that the Treasury is essentially selling its debt to the Fed, in a process that we would call debt monetization, some may wonder why it doesn’t just cut out the middle man and sell directly. But the Treasury is prevented by law from doing this, so the private banks provide a vital fig leaf that disguises the underlying activity and makes it appear as if there is legitimate private demand for Treasury debt. But this is just an illusion, and a clumsy one to boot.

Peter Schiff is an expert on money, economic theory, and international investing, Peter is a highly recommended broker by many leading financial newsletters and investment advisory services. He is also a contributing commentator for Newsweek International and served as an economic advisor to the 2008 Ron Paul presidential campaign.

© 2010 Euro Pacific Capital, Inc. All rights reserved.

One Response to The Treasury Auction Shell Game

  1. Aaron says:

    A friend who is much more of an economist than I says that he sees the Treasury/Fed going through short-term (meaning 1 year or less) inflation-deflation cycles. This will give the illusion of market gains and setbacks and will keep bonds afloat. The trouble is, these cycles have to be shortened each time in order to continue to work. Eventually, they shorten to 0 and the scheme unravels.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: