Rumors of the demise of the U.S. dollar as the global safe haven currency remain unfounded.
Forces external to the U.S. are not the only factors keeping U.S. interest rates relatively low.
The Federal Reserve has essentially committed to keeping short-term interest rates at or near zero into 2013. As short-term rates are one of the more visible tools the Fed has to manage the level of overall interest rates, this policy currently supports the very low short-term and long-term U.S. interest rates.
An example of the comfort investors have with the lower level of long-term interest rates is the success the Department of Treasury had in its latest auction of 30-year maturity government bonds. Approximately $13 billion of 30-year maturity bonds were sold by the Treasury to investors at a median yield of 2.89 percent.
One gauge of the success of these Treasury bond auctions is the ratio of interest on the part of investors in the 30 year bond to the amount of bonds actually sold. In the case of this latest auction, the Treasury reported total interest in the new 30-year bond in excess of $39 billion. This compares favorably to the $13 billion sold.
One of the reasons the Treasury did not sell $39 billion and meet the level of interest expressed by all potential bond investors is many of the indications of interest were at yields higher than the median rate of 2.89 percent. In other words, investors were interested in additional 30-year bonds, but only at higher yield levels.
Among the wide variety of factors affecting the general appetite of investors in owning 30-year U.S. Treasury-issued debt is the general level of uncertainty global investors feel in the other similar bonds issued by other countries. For investors desiring to own a 30-year maturity bond, there can be a relatively short list of issuers where there is sufficient comfort owning sovereign default risk for the next 30 years.
One significant risk of owning a 30-year maturity bond with such a low interest rate is the possibility overall interest rates will rise during the 30-year period. As the coupon on these bonds is fixed for the 30-year period, a rising interest rate environment will cause the market price of these bonds to fall.
For investors converting a local currency into U.S. dollars to purchase bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury, the interest payments and return of principal at maturity will be in U.S. dollars.
If these non-dollar investors desire to convert their U.S. dollar returns to another currency, changing currency exchange rates introduce an additional level of variability to the return anticipated during the holding period.
Even with these and other risks involved in owning a 30-year maturity, U.S. dollar denominated, Treasury-issued bond, investors are demonstrating a relative level of comfort purchasing these investments.
Kirby Brown is the CEO of Beneficial Financial Group in Salt Lake City.