An 'Art of the Deal' Opportunity for Trump to Restructure $22T Debt
The Corona Virus spawns in Wuhan. The China supply chain shuts down. An emergency Fed rate cut is shrugged off. Then, the Saudi-Russia oil shock. Worldwide equity markets plummet. With headlines like these, it’s no surprise money has flooded into the comparative haven of U.S. treasuries. But a historic opportunity knocks in this chaos. With the yield curve flattened and floating down to record lows hovering a few basis points above or below 1%, now is the time for President Trump to go big on a crucial refinancing of our national debt through long and ultra-long bonds.
In the real estate business, when interest rates are low, we refinance long to lock-in lower costs of carry. Later, when inflation returns and rates rise, we enjoy better cashflow and service the debts more easily. Nobody knows this better than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Donald Trump made his name as a wheeling-and-dealing property mogul who could buy, re-position as well as build from the ground up. He wrote an iconic book about how he did it: The Art of the Deal.
When things in the real estate industry went sour in the 1990’s, he nearly lost everything. So, he remade himself into a master of workouts, taking the broken, over-leveraged deals and re-capitalizing them on a rational basis that gave them the best chance of long-term success. He wrote a book about that, too: The Art of the Comeback.
Over the previous decades, America’s Baby Boomers accumulated a monstrous debt. Our financial recklessness has resulted in a $22-trillion menace that jeopardizes prosperity for my 22-year-old daughter’s generation. This is a moral crime for which we have yet to atone and contributes to debt-ridden Generation Z's capitalism anxiety.
So far in his first term, Trump has prioritized cashflow: better trade deals, tax cuts, and deregulation to spur job growth, higher wages, and higher take-home pay. But balance sheets matter too. Ours is improperly structured, with too much short-term debt that must be constantly rolled over. This leaves us exposed to huge deficits when rates ultimately rise.
During a recently televised forum, a moderator asked the President if he still cared about the national debt. Trump responded that it was “very important” to him and made clear that he wanted to refinance.
As this Corona pandemic wreaks havoc globally, unanticipated and chaotic news events may cause the fragile equity markets to sell off and buy bonds. here will be a huge volume of bonds of all durations maturing each week. The Treasury should rebalance our liabilities by being an opportunistic seller of longer-term paper at these low rates. Last September, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made it known that he was “seriously considering” a 50-year-bond. We should do that if it’s not used as an excuse to justify irresponsibly borrowing more money.
Politicians for too long have refused to tackle the debt threat. They all talk about the problem of spending but do nothing to correct it. Congresses of both parties have strong-armed multiple presidents, including Trump, into signing expansive annual deficits that make the immoral liability even worse. We recently learned that in the first five months of this fiscal year, the government collected a historic $1.36 trillion in taxes – while simultaneously spending a record $1.99 trillion. Reducing interest expense will help close that horrifying gap.
Refinancing at these historically low rates doesn’t remedy the underlying spending problem, but this restructure deal would save trillions of dollars over the next few decades. It would reduce the immediate cost of carry while freeing up cash for the targeted stimulus. It would buy leaders of both parties more time to figure out serious structural reforms while tackling deficits.
We could allocate a portion of the savings to an amortization feature that would deleverage us. The combination of lower interest and prescribed amortization would send the right signal about responsible fiscal conduct, and help all generations sleep easier knowing the debt burden accumulated by Boomers will be reduced for Millennials as well as Generations X and Z.
The President is facing the most difficult period of his Presidency. But he should heed the advice once espoused by former White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel, a masterful political tactician, that one should “never let a serious crisis go to waste.”
International adversity has triggered a golden opportunity for a big-league win on our national debt. A consequential victory that would boost the Make America Great Again agenda. In times of trouble, it’s crucial to stick to the fundamentals. For Mr. Trump, this means a return to his signature “Art of the Deal” mentality. As a commercial property developer, real estate magnate Donald Trump would have loved to recapitalize his property portfolio using cheaper long-term debt at this moment. With the largest debt in the world as his opportunity to restructure, President Trump shouldn’t let this crisis go to waste.