The U.S. Public Debt Valuation Puzzle
73 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2019 Last revised: 15 Dec 2019
Date Written: October 10, 2019
The market value of outstanding federal government debt in the U.S. exceeds the expected present discounted value of current and future primary surpluses by a multiple of U.S. GDP. When the pricing kernel fits U.S. equity and Treasury prices and the government surpluses are consistent with U.S. post-war data, a government debt valuation puzzle emerges. Since tax revenues are pro-cyclical while government spending is counter-cyclical, the tax revenue claim has a higher short-run discount rate and a lower value than the spending claim. Since revenue and spending are co-integrated with GDP, the long-run risk discount rates of both claims are much higher than the long Treasury yield. These forces imply a negative present value of U.S. government surpluses. Convenience yields for Treasurys are much larger than previously thought and/or U.S. Treasury markets have failed to enforce the no-bubble condition.
Keywords: government debt maturity, fiscal policy, term structure, interest rate risk
JEL Classification: E44, E62, G12, H6
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation