Sovereign Debt in Advanced Economies: Overview and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Sovereign debt, also called public debt or government debt, refers to debt incurred by governments. Since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, public debt in advanced economies has increased substantially. A number of factors related to the financial crisis have fueled the increase, including fiscal stimulus packages, the nationalization of private-sector debt, and lower tax revenue. Even if economic growth reverses some of these trends, such as by boosting tax receipts and reducing spending on government programs, aging populations in advanced economies are expected to strain government debt levels in coming years.
High levels of debt in advanced economies arose as an issue for concern for some analysts following the global financial crisis, after decades of attention on debt levels in developing and emerging markets. Four Eurozone countries, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus, have turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other European governments for financial assistance. Some analysts and policymakers are also concerned about are also concerned about debt levels in other advanced economies.
To date, many advanced-economy governments have embarked on fiscal austerity programs (such as cutting spending and/or increasing taxes) to address historically high levels of debt. This policy response has been criticized by some economists as possibly undermining a weak recovery from the global financial crisis. Others argue that the austerity plans do not go far enough, and that more reforms are necessary to bring debt levels down, especially considering the aging populations in many countries.
Treasury Securities and the U.S. Sovereign Credit Default Swap Market (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Paying the public debt is a central constitutional responsibility of Congress (Article I, Section 8). U.S. Treasury securities, which represent nearly all federal debt, have long been considered risk- free assets. The size of federal deficits and the projected imbalance between federal revenues and outlays, however, has raised concerns among some. Uncertainties surrounding the debt limit have raised issues related to a hypothetical federal default. Prices for Treasury securities suggest that financial markets consider a federal default unlikely, although credit rating agencies warned of possible downgrades, which could raise borrowing costs and negatively affect capital markets.
A typical credit default swap (CDS) contract specifies that a CDS holder, in exchange for an annual fee set by the market and paid quarterly, can trade an asset issued by a “reference entity” for its par value if a “credit event” occurs. Par, or face, value is the value of a bond at maturity. A corporation or a sovereign government could be a reference entity. A committee of the derivatives trade organization, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), determines if a credit event has occurred, according to their interpretation of applicable guidelines. In general, failure to make a timely payment usually constitutes a credit event.
The cost of buying CDS protection on federal debt for a one-year duration has roughly doubled since the start of 2011. U.S. CDS prices are currently about 54 basis points (one-hundredths of a percent)—slightly lower than for Germany—but much lower than the cost of CDS protection for Greece, Portugal, and Ireland. A CDS contract covering $1,000 of federal debt at a price of 54 basis points (bps) would require annual payment of $54.
Some financial market and federal budget analysts view price trends for CDSs for U.S. debt as an indicator of the market-perceived risks of a default by the federal government. Although CDS prices reflect market assessments of default probabilities, the market for U.S. CDSs is small and thinly traded, which may limit its reliability as a measure of the federal government’s fiscal condition. The notional value of U.S. CDSs is only about 0.5% of publicly held federal debt according to available data sources. In a small and thinly traded market, a few large trades could strongly affect prices.
CDSs may provide a more useful indicator of sovereign default risks for countries with more immediate fiscal challenges, such as Greece and Portugal, where sovereign default risks may be more salient due to higher levels of fiscal stress; or for larger European economies such as Italy and Spain, which have recently come under increased fiscal stress. A sovereign default occurs when a sovereign government is unable to meet its financial obligations. The fiscal situations of several European Union member states, including Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, have raised concerns of policymakers, financial institutions, and investors about wider economic, financial, and political consequences.
This report explains how the sovereign CDS market works and how such CDS price trends may illuminate fiscal stresses facing sovereign governments. Although CDS prices may be imperfect measures of the federal government’s fiscal condition, some investors may try to glean information from those price trends. CDS prices have been playing an important role in the European government debt markets and could potentially affect U.S debt markets in the future. European policymakers have debated certain restrictions on types of sovereign CDS trading, and such calls for reform may be of interest to U.S. lawmakers. This report will be updated as events warrant.
The Hidden Costs of U.S. Health Care for Consumers
From press release:
Rising health care costs, coupled with the current state of the economy, have prompted many consumers across the globe to delay care, alter household spending and worry about their ability to pay for future health care costs according to the 4th annual Deloitte Center for Health Solutions “2011 Survey of Health Care Consumers.”
Deloitte surveyed more than 15,000 health care consumers in 12 different countries including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States during April and May.
In the United States, three in four (75 percent) consumers say the recent economic slowdown has impacted their health care spending. Four in 10 (41 percent) are being more cautious about it, 20 percent cut back on spending, and 13 percent have reduced it considerably. In addition, 63 percent say their monthly health care spending limits their household’s ability to purchase other essentials such as housing, groceries, fuel and education. To save money, 36 percent of prescription medication users have asked their doctor to prescribe a generic drug instead of a brand name drug. These findings follow Deloitte’s, “The Hidden Costs of U.S. Health Care for Consumers: A Comprehensive Analysis,” published in March 2011, which revealed consumers spend $363 billion more on health care than traditionally reported, outpacing housing and utility costs as a discretionary household expense.
Additionally, one in four (25 percent) U.S. consumers skipped seeing a doctor when sick or injured. Of those consumers who decided not to see a doctor in the past year, those that did so due to costs ranged from a high of 49 percent in the United States, followed by Belgium (39 percent), China (35 percent) and Mexico (34 percent), to a low of 5 percent in Canada and 7 percent in the United Kingdom and Luxembourg.
More than half of all respondents from the 12 countries surveyed, with the exception of the United Kingdom (24 percent) and Canada (39 percent), also confirmed that household spending on health care limits their ability to spend on other household essentials. Additionally, between 4 in 10 and 5 in 10 respondents experienced an increase in household spending on health care in the past year with the exception of the United Kingdom (22 percent), Canada (29 percent) and China (37 percent).
Country Specific Information: Portugal
Source: U.S. Department of State
January 10, 2011
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Portugal is a developed and stable democracy with a developed economy. Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Portugal for additional information.
Poverty in households with children is rising in nearly all OECD countries. Governments should ensure that family support policies protect the most vulnerable, according to the OECD’s first-ever report on family well-being.
Doing Better for Families says that families with children are more likely to be poor today than in previous decades, when the poorest in society were more likely to be pensioners.
The share of children living in poor households has risen in many countries over the past decade, to reach 12.7% across the OECD. One in five children in Israel, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Poland live in poverty. (The OECD defines poor as someone living in a household with less than half the median income, adjusted for family size).
+ Chapter 1. Families are changing (PDF)
Individual country reports also freely available. Full report available for purchase.