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U.S., in Nod to China, to Sell More TIPS

August 13, 2009

WSJ         6 Aug 09

By ROB COPELAND and MAYA JACKSON RANDALL

The Treasury Department, responding to growing demand from China and other investors, will boost the sale of inflation-protected bonds that hold their value as consumer prices rise.

“We continue to hear growing demand for the product,” Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Federal Financing Matt Rutherford said at a news conference announcing the plan on Wednesday.

The decision to increase sales of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, or TIPS, is part of a broader effort to ensure there is enough demand for Treasury bonds to help the U.S. finance its swelling budget deficit. The Treasury already has issued a record amount of debt in the past year, and the department said Wednesday it will sell a record $75 billion next week.

In particular, Treasury officials need to ensure demand from China, the largest holder of U.S. government debt. Last week’s auctions of fixed-rate notes saw lukewarm demand from China and other investors. Chinese officials had indicated they want inflation-protected securities, especially as the U.S. economy starts to recover.

“Inflation is the No. 1 worry,” said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. “This is the government saying, ‘We will take that inflation risk away from you.'”

Even with an increase, TIPS would remain a fraction of the overall market for Treasurys. Of the $6.66 trillion of government bonds issued between Oct. 1, 2008 and June 30 of this year, just $44 billion were TIPS.

The Treasury could easily sell as much as $10 billion more, said Jeffrey Elswick, director of fixed income at Frost Investment Advisors LLC. But those extra sales mightn’t be such great news for existing owners of inflation-protected notes. If the Treasury continues to ramp up TIPS sales, it will “cheapen” the bonds of existing investors, said Don Martin, a financial planner with Mayflower Capital in Los Altos, Calif.

The value of the securities fell after the announcement, sending the gap between TIPS and comparable nominal notes to a two-month high. The gap ended at 1.93 percentage points, signaling that investors expect annualized inflation of 1.93% over the next decade.

The Treasury also said it may issue 30-year TIPS in place of 20-year TIPS.

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