Home Editor's Picks US federal debt is the biggest long-term downside risk for markets: analysts

US federal debt is the biggest long-term downside risk for markets: analysts


Analysts at Goldman Sachs and Wolfe Research released notes Monday highlighting their worries regarding the U.S. federal debt. 

Goldman Sachs told investors that the fiscal outlook is “not good, but a little better,” with the federal budget deficit looking likely to settle at around $1.8 trillion this year, $100 billion more than its prior estimate.

“However, this slight deterioration masks modest improvement under the surface,” says the bank. “If fiscal year-to-date trends remain intact, the primary (ex-interest) deficit will shrink by 2% of GDP from last year, when the deficit was driven wider by a number of one-off factors. At around 3%, this would put the primary deficit at the lowest level since 2019.”

Goldman Sachs notes that two factors offset this improvement: rising interest expense, projected to hit nearly $900 billion this year, and accounting complications related to student loan policies.

Overall, the bank believes that over the next few years, the primary deficit looks likely to drift slightly lower, on average, while interest expense continues to climb. 

However, the election could change the medium-term fiscal outlook, though potentially less than one might imagine. 

“While a Republican sweep would involve an extension of the expiring tax cuts, for the most part this would simply extend current policy (and the current effect on the deficit). While a Democratic sweep would likely involve tax increases, much of this would likely go toward new spending,” they add. 

Meanwhile, Wolfe Research sees the federal debt as a “huge long-term downside risk.”

“Fiscal tailwinds have played key roles in driving solid economic growth & rising stock prices in the post-pandemic environment,” state analysts at the firm. “Transfer payments, the CHIPS Act, the IRA, and infrastructure spending should keep this trend intact (for now).”

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Even so, they argue that the huge obvious problem is the U.S. federal debt being “on a completely unsustainable long-term trajectory.”

“More specifically, the CBO currently projects that publicly held federal debt will reach an all-time high in 2029 — surpassing the level reached following World War II,” they conclude.

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