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Timothy Geithner’s Famous Last Words?

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment
(thanks to Big Hollywood for this)

From Bloomberg:

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said the U.S. is in no danger of losing its Aaa debt rating even though the Obama administration has predicted a $1.6 trillion budget deficit in 2010.

“Absolutely not,” Geithner said, when asked in an ABC News interview broadcast today whether a downgrade is a concern. “That will never happen to this country.”

The U.S. plans to rein in the deficit once the labor market recovers, Geithner said. In the short run, that means focusing on ways to “make sure that this economy is growing again,” he said. The administration says the deficit will shrink over the next four years as more Americans find jobs and the economy accelerates.

“This is within our capacity to do,” Geithner said.

Where to begin?  First off, I have long believed that Tim Geithner is in fact the fall guy for the economy in the Obama administration.  He has been involved with the bailouts from day one including perhaps a criminal one with AIG, come off as smarmy and weaselly in testimony and been perceived as less competent and well-liked than Bernanke in the court of public opinion.  If I had to guess, when it becomes clear that we are stuck in the economic doldrums (probably closer to the 2010 elections), Barack Obama will fire Geithner and trudge out a man with more panache and credibility, likely Paul Volcker.

On the substance of Geithner’s comments, that anyone in this administration can actually believe that the economy is going to accelerate and the deficit will shrink over the next four years is laughable.  Even if you had breakneck economic growth, and there are absolutely no signs of that on the horizon, the deficit is still growing at an exponential rate, and Congress has shown no signs that it is going to take the steps to deal with the most bloated line items — namely entitlements.  The most expensive parts of our budget are considered sacred, and for a politician to touch them would be considered a sin.

How could Geithner be right that we will never lose our rating?  Well, the ratings agencies are US companies, granted an oligopoly by the state, so it is possible that government could threaten them were they to consider downgrading us.  In this scenario we could have a de facto downgrade however if yields spike up in the bond markets on US debt with Treasuries trading effectively as if we have been downgraded.  Another scenario is that the government builds false demand (or an artificial “bid” in trader lingo) to keep the yields on our debt low by either pressuring the primary dealers to continue to gobble up our bonds (and then at times selling them back to the Fed shortly thereafter), threatening foreign nations to prop us up or creating some kind of incentive to get Americans to invest in Treasuries.  Otherwise, I don’t see how America can be considered fiscally Aaa, but then again the ratings agencies rate a lot of junk Aaa.  They can in fact put lipstick on a pig.

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