Treasury auction signals possible leeway on June 1 debt ceiling deadline
The Treasury's move indicates June 1 may not be the 'X-date' for a potential default, though the risk of running out of funds remains
The Treasury Department announced Thursday that auctions for certain short-term Treasury bills will go ahead next week. And some observers have interpreted that as a sign lawmakers may have some additional time beyond the June 1 deadline to finalize a deal to raise the debt limit and avert a catastrophic default.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and lawmakers in Congress have been pressing to get a deal to raise the debt limit by June 1, which has been cited as the earliest possible date at which the Treasury may exhaust the "extraordinary measures" it has been using to pay the government’s bills since the $31.4 trillion debt limit was reached in January.
The Treasury’s Bureau of Fiscal Management on Thursday announced auctions for 3-month and 6-month Treasury bills that will be held Tuesday, which will formally settle June 1, and a $50 billion cash management bill that matures in November.
Typically, the Treasury wouldn’t move ahead with the auctions unless it’s certain it has the necessary headroom under the debt ceiling.
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Gennadiy Goldberg, a senior rates strategist at TD Securities, told Reuters the announcements "suggest that the Treasury probably has cash to settle the security. They have suggested in the past that they would not announce auctions that they did not believe they had the means to settle."
Secretary Yellen doubled down this week on the need to resolve the debt ceiling impasse as early as possible before the Treasury exhausts its extraordinary measures and emphasized that June 1 is the date at which funds may be running out.
"It’s highly likely that we would run out of resources to meet all the government’s obligations in early June and possibly as early as June 1," Yellen said Wednesday at a conference sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. "We no longer see very much likelihood that our resources will enable us to get to the middle or end of June."
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Yellen added that the Treasury is trying to update Congress with more precision about the so-called X-date when the government can no longer pay its bills but noted, "It’s hard to be precise about exactly which day we will run out of resources."
Uncertainty around the Treasury’s daily cash balances stems from day-to-day fluctuations in tax revenue collections and payments coming due. The Treasury has been in communication with various federal agencies about larger payments that may come due in late May or June to help improve its forecast, but X-date forecasts from outside the government have also warned about a heightened risk of breaching the debt limit in early June.
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The Bipartisan Policy Center released its latest X-date forecast Tuesday, which projected that the X-date could fall in a range from early June to early August with a heightened risk of reaching the X-date between June 2 and June 13.
"Come early June, Treasury will be skating on very thin ice that will only get thinner with each passing day," Shai Akabas, executive director of BPC’s Economic Policy Program, explained. "Of course, the problem with skating on thin ice is that sometimes you fall through.
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"The longer policymakers wait to address the debt limit, the more likely our economic fate will be determined by external actors," Akabas added. "Credit rating agencies, Treasury investors and global financial markets aren’t going to wait around forever. Once things turn, the situation could deteriorate quickly and be hard to reverse, which would immediately and negatively impact American consumers and businesses."
Similarly, an analysis sent by Goldman Sachs economists to clients mentioned June 8 or June 9 as the likeliest X-date but noted there is "substantial uncertainty" and emphasized there is "certainly a chance that receipts could slow more than expected and leave the Treasury short of cash by June 1 or 2."
FOX Business’ Megan Henney and Reuters contributed to this report.