Why is US debt situation worse than Greece's?

According to the IMF's latest Fiscal Monitor report, US debt has a much shorter average maturity than other nation's, opening it up to far greater long-term risks.

By , Guest blogger

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    A man checks global stock index in Tokyo Monday, May 17. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average dropped 260.36 points, or 2.5 percent, to 10,202.15 on Monday on investor concern the Europe debt crisis will worsen. The IMF released its latest Fiscal Monitor last week showing that Japan and other advanced economies face grueling fiscal adjustments in coming years
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The International Monetary Fund released its latest Fiscal Monitor last week. As expected, the headline message was quite grim for the advanced economies, many of which face grueling fiscal adjustments in coming years.

One of the IMF’s most important findings is that the government financing needs of many advanced economies “remain exceptionally high.” As illustrated in the following chart, Japan will have to sell debt equivalent to 64% of GDP this year in order to rollover maturing debt (54% of GDP) and finance new deficits (10% of GDP):

The United States comes in second, needing to sell debt equivalent to 32% of GDP in order to rollover maturing debt (21% of GDP) and cover new deficits (11% of GDP).

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Why does the USA come in ahead of more troubled economies such as the UK and the PIIGS? Because our debt has a much shorter average maturity. According to the IMF, the average maturity of US debt is only 4.4 years. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Spain have maturities that are about 50% greater (from 6.2 to 7.4 years), and the UK is almost three times as long at 12.8 years.

The short maturity of US debt is a blessing in the short run, since we can benefit from lower interest rates. But it is also poses two risks in the long-run: greater exposure to interest rate increases (if and when they materialize) and a relentless need to ask capital markets to rollover existing debts. Both good reasons why Treasury should continue to gradually extend the maturity of federal borrowing.

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