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March 14, 2012

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Niklas Smith

One point you don't mention is that long-dated gilt rates should also include a liquidity premium for investors for two reasons: 1) they don't get their principal back for 100 years, compared with 5 or 10 years for popular gilts and 2) the secondary market for long-dated gilts is less liquid than that for short-dated gilts, meaning that trading costs are higher.

There is of course one good reason for a sovereign to issue long-dated bonds despite having to pay more interest than on short-term bonds rolled over: that having a lot of debt to roll over increases the risk of a failed auction or the market suddenly turning against the DMO in a crisis.

Indeed, you could argue that the portion of government debt issuance that goes into investment in infrastructure and buildings should have the same duration as the economic life of these investments - why should sovereigns take on maturity mismatch risks?

P.S. I would love to know why perpetual bonds were the main form of UK government borrowing from the mid-18th to early 20th century. What were the advantages of consols and why are they not issued any more?

Keith

I assume, but do not know, that Gilts used to be owned directly before the twentieth Century by private citizens who welcomed a certain income year by year from consoles or railway debentures etc. Now gilts are mainly held and traded by massive financial firms who thus do not care about income certainty as they hold massive stocks of Debt and buy and sell all the time. If there is a huge secondary market and it is easy to buy and sell cheaply as you are a massive firm then liquidity should be irrelevant to you as the market always provides liquidity. The repayment date on the face of the paper may be ten decades away but you can sell now today for a small discount to who ever will buy it. So the state has no reason to offer one kind of gilt rather than another; so long as the timing of repayments is spread over time to minimise the danger of a refusal to buy new debt in a hypothetical crisis of confidence in the state. But in fact the Treasury would usually just offer higher rates on new debt to tempt the buyers to part with their money. It has always worked before. The credit of the British state has out lasted Napoleon, the kaiser and Adolf Hitler.

Luke

Adding on to Niklas Smith's question, is there some positive benefit in having a liquid market in very long dated or perpetual gilts (I am assuming that War Loan is difficult for large investors to buy in quantities they might want). I have no idea, I just wonder if there's something. Indication of long term market expectations?

If not, the risk that such discussions might lead to higher rates seems an obvious one, particularly when there are already 2060 gilts in the market. Those pretty much do the job of locking in low rate for a long time.

Gareth

Gilt yields reflect market interest rate expectations PLUS OR MINUS A RISK PREMIUM.

The bond markets repriced UK gilts in the second half of 2011. The movement in ultra-long/perp yields is particularly significant since that part of the curve had previously remained with "normal" nominal GDP growth, yields at around 4.5%-5%.

The government may think this repricing of the risk premium is a temporary revaluation triggered by the Eurozone sh*tstorm; which made gilts relatively more attractive. They may also believe that repricing will reverse in time.

Those are perfectly reasonable positions, and nothing to do with whether Osborne thinks the markets are "wrong" about interest rates.

Did Osborne also "cause" Germany and US bonds to fall in price today? He is more influential than I thought.

Jon

I think there's probably another motivation you don't cover - a political one, not economic. Even if the scheme is badly justified and far-fetched, talking about 'locking in' record low interest rates is a great political tool for news management. You get to send a bunch of Treasury ministers out to talk about how you've got record low interest rates. And low borrowing costs are really the only good news there is to talk about. I think the fact this initiative was publicised on the same day as the unemployment numbers came out is certainly no coincidence.

Coalition media strategy at the moment seems to be to bury bad economic news to whatever extent it is possible and for as long as possible - and they've been quite effective at it. I wonder which world leader Cameron will visit for next month's unemployment figures.

Keith

" I wonder which world leader Cameron will visit for next month's unemployment figures."

So looks like Cameron is the new Blair with his news management then!

guthrie

He's a tory, he wants the price of government borrowing to increase so as to dissaude the government from borrowing and spending on the poor, who don't deserve any help, or public servants, who are being sold off as quickly as possible. But on the other hand he wants some cheap money now to tide his government over.

BG

As has been pointed out, one of the main reasons is likely to be that while in expectation (under some particular risk adjusted distribution) it should be neutral to borrow at any point on the yield curve, it only really makes sense to think about your liabilities like this if you run no risk at all, or have the same risk profile as the average investor say.
It's not clear that it is the case for the government. It's conceivable that its utility function is differnet from that of investors. Maybe the fact that you don't have to roll over your debt is a very positive feature of a country's funding profile, in which case it makes sense to issue long dated liabilities and pay a premium to do so.

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