U.S. Holds Debt Auction Sizes Steady

By Jason LangeGovernment And InstitutionsReuters

The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday put on hold reductions in the size of some of its debt auctions, saying it was too early to tell how much an impasse over fiscal policy hurt the economy.

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A strengthening recovery and budget austerity helped America slash its fiscal deficit in the year through September, but a partial government shutdown last month and concerns over the possibility of a default likely hit economic growth.

Weaker growth could translate into slower progress narrowing the deficit, putting upward pressure on the government's borrowing needs.

"Treasury intends to maintain coupon issuance sizes at current levels over the coming quarter," Treasury Assistant Secretary Matt Rutherford said in a statement.

The Treasury had gradually reduced 2-year and 3-year auction sizes since August as the deficit narrowed.

A separate Treasury official told reporters the Obama administration was putting a hold on the reductions because it wasn't clear how much the partial government shutdown in October will affect the economy and the deficit.

In his statement, Rutherford urged Congress to increase a legal limit on government borrowing "well before" Feb. 7, when the current debt cap is due to expire.

A new debt ceiling will come into affect on Feb. 8, and Rutherford said the government would be able to juggle its accounts to keep from defaulting on its obligations for "a period of time" afterward.

He did not specify how long these so-called extraordinary measures would keep Washington from running out of money. Many analysts expect the measures could get the government through mid-March, and possibly longer.

The Treasury also said it would auction its first-ever two-year floating rate notes on Jan. 29, aiming to sell $10 billion to $15 billion. It would be the first of 12 monthly auctions for the FRNs next year, the second Treasury official told reporters. (Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Krista Hughes)