Running for the Exits
Hedge funds are dumping Treasury bonds. Do they know something?


Jim Lacey

Moreover, there is a real risk that bondholders who see the value of their assets fall will stampede for the doors. There are already signs that the smart money is looking for just such an event. Short sellers — those betting on a bond sell-off — pumped over three-quarters of a billion dollars into short positions in just the last quarter. This compares with a negative flow of short funds in the same period last year. If the short sellers are right, and there is a stampede, all bets are off. The bond-market bubble that the Fed’s purchases created will explode, likely setting off a renewed financial crisis.

Come June, the Fed will be in a bind of its own making. If it stops pumping money into the system, interest rates will increase, and not just on Treasury bonds. Mortgage rates will rise and business credit will become more costly. The recovery could be strangled in its infancy. If it keeps on buying bonds, however, it risks never being able to wean the markets off the equivalent of monetary crack. Worse, the flood of dollars will continue to drive down the value of the dollar, raise commodity prices, and propel global inflation.

There are already signs that inflation, while still subdued in the United States, is looking to break out. It has begun wrecking havoc through many areas of the globe, for example providing the catalyst for much of the upheaval in the Middle East. And when it strikes here, the Fed will be out of options. It will have to turn off the money pumps, raise interest rates, and batten down the financial hatches. The resulting recession will be long and nasty.

It is time to face facts. Spending is so out of control that Treasuries are no longer a safe haven for investors. The markets are saturated with U.S. debt and increasingly unwilling to absorb more. There is only one way out of this mess — cut spending, fast and deep.

Given that the Congressional Budget Office last week stated that the administration’s budget would raise the debt by $2.3 trillion more than the White House Budget Office claims, these cuts are going to hurt. They will probably hurt a lot. That is the cost of fending off a true catastrophe.

— Jim Lacey is the professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College and the author of the forthcoming book The First Clash. The views in this article are the author’s own and do not in any way represent the views or positions of the Department of Defense or any of its members.