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Is the United States Relying on Foreign Investors to Finance Its Bigger Budget Deficit?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/07/2021 - 5:56am in

Thomas Klitgaard

Is the United States Relying on Foreign Investors to Finance Its Bigger Budget Deficit?

The fiscal packages passed in 2020 and 2021 to help the economy cope with the pandemic caused a dramatic increase in federal government borrowing. One might have expected that foreign investors were important buyers of this new debt, but that was not the case. They were instead net sellers of Treasury securities. Still, the amount of money flowing into the United States increased last year, which helped fund the government’s borrowing, if only indirectly. The upturn in inflows, though, was quite modest as a surge in domestic personal saving largely covered the government’s heightened borrowing needs. How the reliance on foreign funds changes in 2021, when the government deficit will again be quite elevated, will depend on whether domestic personal saving remains high.

Foreign Purchases of U.S. Government Securities

Federal government actions during the pandemic caused a surge in the amount of federal debt outstanding. Specifically, the level of U.S. government marketable debt held by the public, pulled from the Treasury’s Statement of the Public Debt, rose by $4.3 trillion over the course of 2020, climbing from $16.7 trillion to $21.0 trillion. For comparison, this measure of debt increased by $1.1 trillion in 2019.

Balance of payments data show that foreign investors did not step in to buy this additional debt. Instead, they were net sellers of federal government securities, to the tune $75 billion. This was a change from being net buyers of $226 billion of these securities in 2019. Foreign investors were interested in other assets, with cross-border financial inflows going toward purchases of equities and investment funds ($726 billion) and corporate bonds ($194 billion).

Considering just Treasury securities in examining the role of foreign investors, though, misses the more important question of how much financial inflows rose to help fund the U.S. economy. From this perspective, increased foreign investment in U.S. assets created a pool of money that would not have been there otherwise, indirectly supporting sales of Treasury securities.

Government Saving versus Personal Saving during the Pandemic

One way to connect the change in the budget deficit with the change in borrowing from abroad is to rely on national income identities. Start with the notion that someone’s spending is another person’s income. To simplify the discussion, assume the U.S. economy is closed to the rest of the world so that domestic spending always equals domestic income. Spending can be broken down into consumption and physical investment spending and income can be broken down into consumption and saving. Consumption is the same for both identities, so you are left with the identity that investment spending must equal domestic saving.

Removing the assumption of a closed economy allows for a country to borrow from the rest of the world or lend depending on the difference between its saving and investment spending. In the case of the United States, the economy borrows from the rest of the world because domestic saving is insufficient to finance investment spending. For financial markets, this plays out as follows: the amount of cross-border financial inflows (for example, to buy Treasury securities) exceeds financial outflows from U.S. investors buying foreign assets by the amount determined by the domestic saving-investment spending gap.

To see what happened to U.S. borrowing in 2020, we break down U.S. saving into public (federal government, state and local government) and private (personal, business) components. (Note that government saving is not the same as the budget deficit because the saving calculation considers the difference between government income and consumption and does not include the government’s investment spending.)

The table below shows how all these components fit into the saving-investment spending framework. There was a $217 billion decline in saving in 2020 relative to the 2019 level, with a huge deterioration in federal government saving mostly offset by a jump in personal saving and a more modest increase in state and local government saving. Adding in a decline in investment spending ($105 billion) leaves the saving gap only $113 billion wider than it was in 2019. (The United States borrowed $503 billion in 2019.) Put another way, 90 percent of the $2.1 trillion decrease in federal government saving in 2020 was offset by increases in other sources of domestic saving and lower investment spending.


Is the United States Relying on Foreign Investors to Finance Its Bigger Budget Deficit?

From this perspective, foreigners helped offset the increase in federal government dissaving, but the scale of their contribution was modest.

What to Look For Going Forward

The fiscal support packages passed in December 2020 and March 2021 will substantially increase the amount of Treasury debt again this year. So, will the pace of net foreign investment continue to be relatively stable? Unfortunately, while the saving-investment spending framework is useful for understanding what happened, it is less useful in predicting what will happen going forward. It is just an identity, after all, and offers no insights about the interactions between the various forms of saving and the economy.

One is thus left to speculate. A retreat in state and local saving and an increase in investment spending would seem to be in the cards, judging by their levels last year relative to pre-pandemic times. Both developments would increase foreign borrowing.

The table above, though, suggests that the most important unknown is whether personal saving will again offset high federal government dissaving. Consider two extreme outcomes. In one case, consumers take the “extra” saving accumulated in 2020 as an increase in their wealth and do not let it affect their spending behavior. As a result, personal saving remains high this year, again boosted by government transfer payments, and there is little effort to spend down this accumulated savings going forward. The other extreme has consumers running down the extra savings when the pandemic eases over the course of the year and spending rises to match income. The flow of personal saving then disappears and the economy’s reliance on foreign financial inflows jumps.

A further complicating factor in anticipating how this plays out is that the amount of U.S. borrowing has to be equal to the sum of net lending by the rest of the world. Essentially, any increase in the U.S. saving shortfall has to be matched by a bigger saving surplus elsewhere and the mechanism that makes this identity hold has very unclear implications for exchange rates and global asset prices.

Thomas KlitgaardThomas Klitgaard is a vice president in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.

How to cite this post:

Thomas Klitgaard, “Is the United States Relying on Foreign Investors to Finance Its Bigger Budget Deficit?,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics, May 21, 2021, https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2021/05/is-the-united-stat...

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.

Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/07/2021 - 5:56am in

Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klaauw

Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic

Federal government actions in response to the pandemic have taken many forms. One set of policies is intended to reduce the risk that the pandemic will result in a housing market crash and a wave of foreclosures like the one that accompanied the Great Financial Crisis. An important and novel tool employed as part of these policies is mortgage forbearance, which provides borrowers the option to pause or reduce debt service payments during periods of hardship, without marking the loan delinquent on the borrower’s credit report. Widespread take-up of forbearance over the past year has significantly changed the housing finance system in the United States, in different ways for different borrowers. This post is the first of four focusing attention on the effects of mortgage forbearance and the outlook for the mortgage market. Here we use data from the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) to examine the effects of these changes on households during the pandemic.

Background: Who Qualifies for COVID-19 Mortgage Forbearance?

Initially, under the CARES Act, borrowers with federally backed mortgages could request up to twelve months of forbearance, made up of two 180-day periods, if they experienced financial hardship because of COVID-19. Several agencies have subsequently granted extensions. Specifically, borrowers with mortgages backed by the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can request up to two additional three-month extensions (for a maximum of eighteen months of total forbearance) if they were in an active forbearance plan as of February 28, 2021, while borrowers with mortgages backed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development/Federal Housing Administration (HUD/FHA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can enroll in forbearance until June 30, 2021, and receive up to eighteen months of total forbearance. At the same time, the CARES Act (section 4013) eased the accounting treatment of pandemic-related modifications for loans in bank portfolios, and the federal banking agencies released guidance to that effect in early April 2020.

How Does Forbearance Work?

Widespread forbearance is a new policy, although similar programs have previously been rolled out on a smaller scale in the wake of natural disasters. Typically, the missed payments will be added to the end of the loan; for a borrower in the first year of a thirty-year mortgage, a forbearance thus amounts to a twenty-nine-year interest-free loan of the forborne amount. These forbearances are safe loans in part because they are incentive-compatible: in order to preserve their housing equity, borrowers must resume payments when they are able. (Note that renters, with no equity in their property, do not have strong incentives to pay back forborne rent payments, making the provision of relief to renters more difficult than to owners.)

Who Entered Forbearance?

As we reported back in November, large numbers of mortgage forbearances began to appear on credit reports in April 2020, and by May 2020, 7 percent of mortgage accounts were in forbearance. By June, however, exits from forbearance began to outweigh entries, and the number of mortgages in forbearance began a slow decline. The following chart shows that by March 2021, the overall forbearance rate had fallen to 4.2 percent, accompanied by reductions in both entries and exits, suggesting a relatively stable group of borrowers in forbearance for a relatively long period of time. In fact, of the 2.2 million mortgages still in forbearance in March 2021, 1.2 million entered forbearance in June 2020 or earlier. (In March, the inflows into forbearance are likely affected by additional payment relief offered in Texas as a response to the effects of the winter storm there.)

Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic

These dynamics—a sharp rise in April and May, followed by a slow decline through the summer and fall—are common across most types of mortgages, but FHA borrowers were considerably more likely to take up mortgage forbearance initially, and have remained in the program longer. As of March 2021, more than 11 percent of FHA borrowers remain in forbearance, as shown below.

Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic

What accounts for the higher forbearance rates for FHA borrowers? FHA borrowers are much more likely to be first-time home buyers and to live in lower-income areas. About 41 percent of FHA borrowers live in neighborhoods with average annual household income below $50,000, compared to 22 percent for GSE borrowers.

With this context, it’s perhaps not surprising to find that forbearance rates rose most, and were most persistent, in lower average income zip codes. As shown in the next chart, forbearance rates in the poorest quartile of zip codes approached 10 percent in May and June 2020 and remain above 5.5 percent at the end of March 2021.

Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic

The likelihood of forbearance falls steadily as borrower credit score (measured at the date of mortgage origination) rises, and it is far higher for loans that were delinquent in March 2020; see the next chart. Indeed, forbearance rates remain near 40 percent for borrowers who were delinquent on their mortgages pre-pandemic. The higher rates of mortgage forbearance in poorer areas and among FHA borrowers is consistent with the uneven impact that COVID-19 and the accompanying recession have had on different segments of the population. Mortgage forbearance has been an important policy tool to mitigate the impact of these challenges faced by less-advantaged households.

Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic

Since housing costs are typically one of the largest household expenses, it isn’t surprising that mortgage forbearance offers very substantial cash flow relief to the households that take it up. The table below provides details on the payment relief that different forbearance participants received. (As we show in a companion post, being enrolled in forbearance isn’t quite the same as receiving cash flow relief.) We estimate this relief using the average payment that was due prior to enrolling in forbearance for those who were enrolled in forbearance as of March 2021. (These figures have been very stable since March 2020, so we don’t show the changes over time here.)

Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic

As the table shows, the average monthly cash flow relief associated with a mortgage forbearance is somewhat different across different mortgage types and grows sharply as neighborhood income rises. Indeed, aggregate cumulative payments skipped by borrowers from the poorest 25 percent of neighborhoods are about 38 percent of those skipped in top-quartile neighborhoods.

All told, in absolute dollar terms, mortgage forbearance has brought the most benefit to the highest-income areas. This is due to a combination of high homeownership and relatively expensive mortgage payments in these areas, which more than offsets the considerably higher incidence of forbearance in lower-income areas. Still, the high rates of forbearance take-up on FHA loans and in poorer zip codes makes clear that these programs have been an important lifeline to less-advantaged households.

Conclusion

We find that mortgage forbearance has been an important policy tool to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and has become a fairly common phenomenon since it became widely available last year. After an initial rapid rise to over 7 percent, the share of mortgages in forbearance has slowly declined and stood at just over 4 percent in late March 2021. Forbearance has been more common for FHA borrowers and mortgagors from poorer neighborhoods, as well as those who were already delinquent in March 2020. In a separate post, we look at how being in forbearance affects borrowers, and continue to look at the distribution of those effects.

Andrew F. HaughwoutAndrew F. Haughwout is a senior vice president in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.

Donghoon LeeDonghoon Lee is an officer in the Bank’s Research and Statistics Group.

Joelle ScallyJoelle Scally is a senior data strategist in the Bank’s Research and Statistics Group.

Wilbert van der KlaauwWilbert van der Klaauw is a senior vice president in the Bank’s Research and Statistics Group.

How to cite this post:

Andrew F. Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klaauw, “Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics, May 19, 2021, https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2021/05/keeping-borrowers-....

Additional Posts in This Series

What Happens during Mortgage Forbearance?

Small Business Owners Turn to Personal Credit

What’s Next for Forborne Borrowers?

Related Reading
Economic Inequality: A Research Series

Press Briefing

Keeping Borrowers Current in a Pandemic

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the authors.

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