Category Archives: default

Eclectica Fund’s April 2012 TEF Commentary

Eclectica Fund’s April 2012 Commentary

April 2012 TEF Commentary

April 2012 TEF Commentary

NY Fed May Demand Reports From Europe Banks – Bloomberg

NY Fed May Demand Reports From Europe Banks

By Meera Louis – Oct 2, 2011

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York may ask foreign lenders for more detailed daily reports on liquidity as the U.S. steps up monitoring of risks from Europe‘s sovereign debt crisis, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Regulators held informal talks with some of the largest European lenders about producing a “fourth-generation daily liquidity” or 4G report, according to the people, who asked for anonymity because communications with central bankers are confidential. The reports may cover potential liabilities such as foreign-exchange swaps and credit-default swaps, said one person. The U.S. has already increased the number of examiners embedded in these banks, the person said.

Concern is growing that European lenders may falter as Greece teeters on the brink of default. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithnerhas warned that failure to bolster European backstops would threaten “cascading default, bank runs and catastrophic risk” for the global economy.

“The Fed is trying to understand what the pressure points are in terms of liquidity and potential risks that are imposed by foreign banks to domestic institutions in our financial system,” said Kevin Petrasic, an attorney at the Washington- based law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLC. “There is a little bit more sense of urgency as a result of what’s going on in Europe.”
Liquidity Risk

U.S.-based money funds, which buy short-term commercial paper, have been shunning securities issued by some banks based on the continent, and European Central Bank Governing Council member Yves Mersch said Sept. 28 that liquidity shortages pose the main risks to the region’s banking system.

Jack Gutt, a spokesman for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, declined to comment. The largest European bank holding companies by assets in the U.S. include units of Deutsche Bank AG (DBK), HSBC Holdings Plc. (HSBA) and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria S.A., according to Fed data. Duncan King, a spokesman for Frankfurt- based Deutsche Bank, Thaddeus Herrick, a spokesman for Spain- based BBVA and London-based HSBC’s Rob Sherman said they couldn’t comment.

U.S. banks are starting to provide a 4G report and they are being phased in this month, said Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Washington-based Federal Financial Analytics Inc. Some Europeans are asking U.S. counterparts for information on how to prepare the report even though there has been no formal request from the Fed so far, one of the people said.
Avoiding a Squeeze

“The report requires rapid and in some cases daily data on a banks’ assets, liabilities and potential claims to measure the degree to which the bank could be caught in the classic borrow- short, lend-long squeeze,” Petrou said. “The 4G is one of the tools to reveal liquidity risk.”

The forms aren’t public, according to Petrou, and the New York Fed declined to provide a copy.

Euro-zone banks and other institutions were more than $350 billion in debt to the Fed’s emergency-lending facilities at one point during the2008-2009 financial crisis, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. The analysis was based on Fed documents released earlier this year after court orders upheld Freedom of Information Act requests by Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, and News Corp.’s Fox News Network LLC. Fed lending to these entities totaled more than $100 billion on an average day.
Swap Contracts

Regulators lack access to data on foreign institutions operating in the U.S. that would allow them to “make informed judgments about the adequacy of such firms’ capital and liquidity buffers,” William C. Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a Sept. 23 Washington speech.

U.S. prime money-market funds cut their exposure to euro- zone bank deposits and commercial paper, or short-term IOUs, to $214 billion in August from $391 billion at the end of last year, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. data. The funds are rationing their credit to European banks because of concerns that financial institutions will take large losses if a euro- zone nation defaults.

Credit-default swaps allow bondholders to buy protection against losses if an issuer doesn’t pay its debts. The contracts can entitle the holder to face value if the borrower defaults. Lawmakers and regulators have blamed misuse of swaps and lack of disclosure for helping to trigger the 2008 financial crisis.

A currency swap is a contract in which one party borrows one currency from another, and simultaneously lends another to the second party. Foreign-exchange swaps are used to raise foreign currencies for financial institutions and their customers, such as exporters and importers as well as investors.

Currencies and their related derivatives are among the most actively traded markets in the world, with average daily turnover reaching $4 trillion as of September 2010, Bank for International Settlements estimates.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meera Louis in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lawrence Roberts at; Rick Green at

S&P cuts US debt rating to double A plus

It was a long time coming, well it’s finally here:
S&P cuts US debt rating to double A plus

By Robin Harding in Washington and Aline van Duyn and Telis Demos in New York

Contentious and historic move highlights the weakened fiscal stature of the world’s most powerful country
Read the full article at:
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Moody’s downgrades Cyprus bonds

Another one "to bite the dust?"

Moody's decision to lower Cyprus' debt rating to just above junk status is the latest sign the island nation may become the fourth eurozone country heading towards a bail-out

Moody's downgrades Cyprus bonds

By Peter Spiegel in Brussels

The rating agency's decision is the latest sign the island nation may become the fourth eurozone country heading towards a bail-out

Read the full article at:

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China complains of U.S. debt, but has too much at stake to dump dollars

It is the ultimate ”too big to fail” global relationship, said Andy Rothman, an analyst in Shanghai for the investment bank CLSA. If Beijing even hinted that it might try to sell part of its U.S. debt, ”other countries might sell their dollar assets,” Mr. Rothman said, noting that this would drive down the value of China’s holdings. ”It would be financial suicide for China.”

From The International Herald Tribune:

China complains of U.S. debt, but has too much at stake to dump dollars

SHANGHAI — However grim Washington’s debt and deficit negotiations may seem to U.S. citizens, the impasse is nearly as disturbing for China.

As the United States’ biggest foreign creditor — holding an estimated $1.5 trillion in Treasury securities and other U.S. government debt — China has been a vocal critic of what it considers Washington’s politicized profligacy.

”We hope that the U.S. government adopts responsible policies and measures to guarantee the interests of investors,” Hong Lei, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news conference last week.

Beijing might prefer to respond by starting to dump some of its U.S. debt. But in this financial version of the Cold War, analysts say, both sides fear mutually assured destruction. One reason America would want to avoid defaulting on its debt is that such a move could alienate China, which is a steady purchaser of Treasury securities. Beijing, meanwhile, already has too much invested in U.S. debt to do much more but continue to buy, hold and grumble.

It is the ultimate ”too big to fail” global relationship, said Andy Rothman, an analyst in Shanghai for the investment bank CLSA. If Beijing even hinted that it might try to sell part of its U.S. debt, ”other countries might sell their dollar assets,” Mr. Rothman said, noting that this would drive down the value of China’s holdings. ”It would be financial suicide for China.”

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>John Paulson’s Interview With The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission


John Paulson’s Interview With The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission
Courtesy of
John Paulson, of the eponymous uber-hedge fund did an hour-long interview with the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.  I listened to it (thanks to NYT Dealbook, although not sure where they got it from), and really, I got a kick out of it even though I think my carpal-tunnel is really flaring up now.  Anyway, without further ado, here’s what the man behind the Greatest Trade Ever has to say about the Financial Crisis…
Description: asked what he saw, when, and why he decided to get short, he said “First thing we noticed was that real estate market appeared very frothy, values rose very rapidly, which led me to believe real estate markets were over valued.”  That’s pretty simple/straightforward, no?  I think it’s pretty interesting that he said the 3 homes he’s bought were all out of foreclosure, and they’d increased in value 4-5x over a 2-3 year period through ~’2005.  Apparently the impetus for the research that led to The Trade was literally staring him in the face every time he got home from work!
He explained his approach, and the way he put it makes me really think the guys who didn’t leave their trading desks & “never saw the bubble/crash coming” really had their heads buried in the sand deeper than I previously thought.  As Paulson said, “Credit markets were very frothy, very little attention paid to risk, spreads were very low, we thought when those securities correct, it could present opportunities on short side.”
Their research approach was pretty straight-forward: Focus on subprime, where they were amazed at how low quality the underwriting was, and how low the credit characteristics were on the loans.  They found the average FICO  was around 630, and over half of the loans were for cash-out refi’s, which were based on appraised, not sales prices (so “value” could be manipulated).  For many of these loans, LTV was very, very high, 80, 90, 100% with many of them concentrated in California (no surprise there).  Close to have of the mortgages they looked at were of the stated-income, no-doc variety.
Those who did report incomes had D/I ratios of > 40% before taxes and insurance.  80% of them were ARMs, so-called 2/28’s with teaser rates around 6-7% for those first 2 years, but after they reset, the rates were L+ 600bps which at the point would have doubled the interest rate on these loans, and Paulson & Co thought there was very little – if any – chance borrowers would be able to afford the higher payments.
Once the rates reset, the only thing these borrowers could do would be to sell, refinance, or default.  These were people spending > 40% of their gross income on their mortgages already, once the rate jumped up after the teaser period, they expected that many borrowers would simply default, and the price of the RMBS into which these loans were securitized would fall drastically, while the price of the protection (CDS, etc) Paulson bought on them would skyrocket.
Paulson & co also went much further in their analysis, well-beyond what many of those on Wall Street were doing.  In May, 2006, they researched growth of 100 MSA‘s and found that there was a correlation between growth and the performance of subprime loans originated within them.  As growth rates slowed, defaults rose.  From 2000-2005, they found that with 0% growth, there’d be losses of around 7% in the mortgage pools.
When they looked at the structure of the RMBS they found the average securitization had 18 separate tranches and that the BBB level only had 5.6% subordination, essentially, once losses surpassed that point, the tranches would become impaired, and if they reached 7% losses (what Paulson thought would happen once home price appreciation only slowed to 0%), the entire tranch would get wiped-out entirely.
By mid-2006, home prices not only had slowed to 0% but were actually decreasing, albeit slowly, only about 1%.  Even still, demand from institutional investors was so great, spreads tightened to 100bps. Why?  Because as Paulson went on to explain, institutional investors were buying up the BBB tranches (the lowest investment grade ones) in hoards.
While he didn’t say it, I will (for the umpteenth time!): This is what happens when institutions effectively outsource credit research to the Ratings Agencies, even though many had/have internal credit analysis groups (ahem IKB ahem).  They buy the highest-yielding security you can find that meets your investment guidelines, which meant that for many, they could only buy securities deemed by the brain trusts at the Ratings Agencies as “Investment Grade.”
Paulson started their credit fund in June, 2006, and as he explained, it wasn’t really as simple as it may seem. Historically – going back to about WWII – the average loss on subprime securities was 60bps, nowhere near what Paulson & Co expected was about to happen.  As he said “according to the mortgage people, there’d never been a default on an investment grade (IG) mortgage security.”  These same people were also of the mindset that they’ll NEVER get to the levels where the BBB tranches are impaired let alone wiped out completely.   These were also the same people who said that not since the Great Depression there hadn’t been a single period where home prices declined nation-wide.  These same people thought, worst case, home price growth would drop to 0% temporarily and then return to growth, just like before.

Why would “the mortgage people” expect anything else?  From their desks on the trading floors in Manhattan, Stamford, London, and everywhere else, things looked just peachy!  Spreads were tightening, demand for product was up, and more importantly, so were bonuses!  As far as they knew, the mammoth mortgage finance machine they’d created, based on their complex models and securities was working perfectly…
Paulson also made a distinction missed by many if not most: Everyone was looking at nominal home price appreciation, but real appreciation numbers were much different.  Going back 25+ years using real growth rates, they found that prices had never appreciated nearly as quickly as they had from 2000-2005, and that this trend was unlikely to continue for much longer, i.e. there would be a correction and then mean reversion.  Their thought was that once this correction came about, because of the poor mortgage quality and questionable assumptions/structures in mortgage securities, losses would be much worse than estimated.
Paulson was intent to make one distinction, one that must have been the cause of at least some frustration (followed by fantastic jubilation), that they did their own analysis, they weren’t really trying to attack “the mortgage people’s” views specifically.  Instead, they were trying to understand the conventional wisdom and understand why they had contrary viewpoints.  As myself and countless others have pointed out over the years since, the mortgage industry (I guess we’ll stick with calling them “the mortgage people?”) brushed Paulson off as “inexperienced, as novices in the mortgage market, they were very, very much in the minority…Even our friends thought we were so wrong they felt sorry for us…”
The mortgage people didn’t see any problems because there’d never been a default, except for one manufactured housing (mobile home) deal in the early 1990’s in California.
“The Ratings agencies – Moody’s – wouldn’t let you buy protection on securities from a particular state, because they ensured that the pools were geographically diversified, so they were essentially national pools, although California loans had the highest concentrations therein the pools correspond to the level of home sales in each state.”
What I found surprising from the interview is that Paulson actually praised the mortgage underwriting/originating practices of the big established banks like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan, which he said generally had the best underwriting standards and controls.  The worst were from the New Centuries and Ameriquests, eclipsed in their lax standards only by the mom & pop type shops who were really just sales businesses who made money on the volume of product they originated and sold to Investment Banks like Lehman and Morgan Stanley that didn’t have their own origination network.
These smaller “rogue” mortgage originators were mostly private entities who weren’t under the same scrutiny of their larger, publically-traded “competition.”  Their sales teams were compensated purely on quantity of loans originated with little-to-no care for quality.  These were the guys who routinely falsified documents, appraisals, incomes, assets and/or encouraged borrowers to do the same.  These were the kind of places that made Countrywide’s standards and controls look almost honorable by comparison.
The FCIC then asked Paulson about the infamous ABACUS debacle.  Paulson’s tone when responding to questions from the FCIC here was so, so, awesome; you could hear it in his voice, like he wanted to just say “are you guys freaking kidding me?  Seriously?!?!  REALLY?!??!” every time they asked him about how CDO’s got made.  He basically said (paraphrasing) “If ACA and IKB or Moody’s didn’t like the ~100 subprime reference securities we helped pick for the deal, they could have…not bought the deal or – get this – replaced them with ones they liked better…I couldn’t have gone short if they hadn’t gone long, they agreed on the reference portfolio, it got rated, boom, done”  It sounded like he just wanted to say something like “Hello morons?!  This is how Finance works, HELLOOO!!!”
The ABACUS conversation ended pretty awkwardly (as you might imagine), and then the FCIC moved onto asking Paulson about his Prime Brokerage relationships and what he thought about the Banks.  Interestingly (to me, at least), Paulson had much of it’s assets with Bear Stearn’s Prime Brokerage primarily because the way Bear was structured , the PB assets were ring-fenced from the rest of Bear’s assets in a separate subsidiary, so even if Bear went down, the PB assets would theoretically be safe.  The rest of Paulson’s assets were with Goldman’s PB.  When Bear’s Cioffi/Tanin-run internal hedge funds failed, Paulson saw that as the proverbial canary in a coal mine; they knew the crap that Bear, Lehman, and everyone else had on their books.  They didn’t pulled all of their cash balances from their prime brokers and set up a contra-account at Bank of New York, where, by the time Lehman went Bankrupt, they were holding most of their assets in Treasuries there.
Next, the FCIC asked him about regulators and banks and what people could (or, better, SHOULD) have done that might have prevented the crisis.  Paulson called out the Fed for not enforcing the mortgage standards that were already in effect.  He mentioned that pre-2000, no-doc loans were only given to people who could put 50% down and only represented about 1% of the mortgage market, but only a few years later, originators were “underwriting” NINJA loans with 100% LTV!
Paulson went on to explain how simple fixes, so-to-speak, just enforcing existing regulations like requiring income/asset verification, that homes were owner-occupied, and a downpayment, as low as 5% would have made a huge difference.  Most of the mortgages that failed didn’t have those characteristics.  Excessive leverage and poor understanding of the credit, problems Paulson also say brought down Bear and lehman.  They were leveraged (total assets: tangible common equity) on average, 35:1.  At that sort of massive leverage, a 3% drop in assets would wipe out every $ of equity!
Even if that ratio was brought down to 12:1 and you increase their capital ratio to 8%, the banks still couldn’t hold some of the riskier, more illiquid assets like Private Equity interests, equity tranches of CDO’s, lower-rated buyout debt from many real estate deals, and other assets that themselves were already highly-leveraged.  Adding further leverage to assets themselves already levered an additional 12:1 is just lunacy.  No financial firm should be able to do that, at max those assets should only be allowed to be levered 2:1 (similar to the max leverage for stocks due to Fed Regulation T).
He went on (this is pretty much verbatim, emphasis mine): “Under those scenarios, I don’t think either bank would default.  AIG FP was absurd and exemplified the derivative market where you can sell protection with zero collateral.  AIG FP Sold $500bn in protection with $5bn collateral, 100:1 collateral.  ACA was collateral agent, they were like 120:1 leveraged.  $50bn protection on $60mm collateral.  You have to hold collateral, we need margin requirements for both buying & selling protection.  It’s not the derivative itself that’s the problem, it was the margin requirements (or lack thereof).  We need something like Reg T (max 2:1 leverage at trade inception).  What these guys did would be like like buying $100 of stocks with $1 of equity, a tiny downward move is a huge loss of equity.  In all, these four things would have likely prevented the crisis:

  1. Mortgage underwriting standards, simple & logical
  2. Higher bank capital ratios
  3. Higher capital against risk assets
  4. Margin requirements against derivatives

Paulson was then asked about the Ratings Agencies and what role they played in the bubble/crisis.  Regular readers know where I stand on them & NRSRO regs, and no surprise, Paulson is similarly critical, particularly of the issuer-pays compensation structure, calling it the perverse incentive that it really is, despite whatever nonsense rhetoric RA executives say.
That, combined with being public (or part of public companies) and they were in this race to keep pace with their competitors, to keep up earnings growth with their derivatives business, which he called a “perverse economic incentive that may have led to their laxness in rating securities”
He went-on to explain this same – in the immortal words of Citi CEO Chuck Prince – “keep dancing while the music’s still playing” – incentive structure led the Banks to take similarly short-sighted actions as they struggled to keep up earnings, growth, and of course, bonuses.  At that point, the only way to do that was to grow their balance sheets, add more leverage to earn spread.  In Paulson’s words “Once things go up like that, you don’t see any downside, so at top of market they just weren’t looking at the downside, just upside, became more and more aggressive until they blew up.”
Paulson said the Fed certaintly could have cracked-down on lax-underwriting standards, eliminated negative-amortization loans, stated-income, 100% LTV, IO’s, etc where most of the problems developed.  On the banks and more broad financial services industry, he said “…people became delusional, ‘we can leverage AAA 100:1…’ if you had margin requirements against derivatives, AIG could have NEVER happenedIf they held higher equity against risky investments, they would have never defaulted. Constructively, that’s what Basel 3 says, 8% equity/capital and higher risk weightings for illiquid risky type assets.  I think adoption of those rules will lead to a safer financial system.”
When asked about the role of Fannie May & Freddie Mac, he pointed out the problem was largely similar to what brought down the banks and AIG: excessive leverage and poor oversight/underwriting. “They deviated from their underwriting standards as a way to gain share in alternate mortgage securities, of poor quality & higher losses.  Second, they were also massively leveraged 80-120:1 if you include on-balance sheet assets & guarantees which is way more than any financial institution should have.”
Yea, I think 120:1 leverage is just a wee bit more than prudent, just a bit though…
From this interview it seems painfully clear that those with whom the safety of the Financial System rested were in a deep coma at the helm, Bank executives, regulators, Congress, institutional money managers, all of them.   It’s clear that the nonsensical argument put-forward by Tom Arnold & Yves Smith that those who were shorting housing, subprime, etc were NOT IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM remotely responsible for causing the crisis.  Institutional managers were not gobbling-up BBB-rated RMBS CDO tranches because shops like Paulson & Co were shorting them. Like I said before: they wanted the highest yield they could get away with holding!
As Paulson said, anyone who looked at the data he did should have noticed the impending doom, but apparently, either very, very few people did that type or analysis or they did and just, like Chuck Prince said, kept on dancing until the music stopped.
These traders thought tight spreads indicated safety, which is just wrong in so many ways.  These are the same morons who – thought they should know better – constantly confuse correlation with causation.  Low spreads may have been historically correlated with low default and loss rates, but low spreads do not cause low losses/defaults.  Spreads, like stocks, trade as a function of supply and demand, and all low spreads indicate(d) is that, as Paulson noted, institutional managers were swallowing up as much of these MBS and derivatives (for reasons I explained above), and, like a bunch of lemmings, all thought history would continue despite significant evidence suggesting this time, it was actually different.
One other thing that critics and the public at large probably doesn’t know is that Paulson & Co had a MASSIVE internal, independent research effort wherein they did crazy things like *gasp* look at loan-level data.  Imagine that!  This enabled them to hunt for CDO and other product that contained an inordinate amount of crap for them to short.  This same work also helped them to buy RMBS/CMBS etc when the market turned in 2008 and 2009. They had done the work, and knew what they were willing to pay once it was time to go long.
I’m not saying there’s anything necessarily wrong technical, momentum, and quantitative trading strategies.  There is, however, something very wrong, and very dangerous about relying on these strategies alone while ignoring fundamentals, as evidenced by the housing crisis.  Those who did the hard work like Paulson & Co. made the greatest trade ever, while those who ignored or were otherwise blind to the fundamentals got absolutely crushed.


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Debt Factoids on Our National Debt Are Puzzling – And Scary – Seeking Alpha

If you’re interested in the subject of our national debt, there is a new must read report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on the topic. It includes some odds and ends that I found interesting.
We know that there is a law called the debt ceiling. We also know that we will (again) hit that limit early in 2011. Many think that this will be a line in the sand fight with the new Congress. Phooey. According to the CBO report, suspending issuance of maturing cash management bills in the supplementary financing program will cost $200 billion; suspending flows and redeeming securities in government accounts, $124 billion; from the civil service retirement fund, “at least” $200 billion; from the exchange stabilization fund, $20 billion; and swapping debt with the federal financing bank, $15 billion. Total: $560 billion.

Conclusion: If there is to be a fight over the debt limit, it could be a long one.
The CBO is speaking with forked tongue in this report. A critical issue: How do we define what debt is at the federal level?

There are so many components to the puzzle. I give the CBO an A+ for this position:

CBO believes it is appropriate and useful to policymakers to include Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s financial transactions with other federal activities in the budget. The two entities do not represent a net asset to the government but a net liability — that is, their impact on the government’s financial position is a negative one.

So how does CBO actually account for F/F? It gets a D- for this:

Neither CBO nor the Administration currently incorporates debt or MBSs issued by Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) and Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB).

That’s interesting. They say they “should” do it, but they don’t. Who makes that decision?

The Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) makes the ultimate decision about whether the activities of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be included in the federal budget.

The White House decides which categories of debt are included when determining what constitutes debt? That is convenient. When did that happen? We are not talking chicken scratch here. The good folks over at the Fannie and Freddie have piled up $6 trillion in debt. We would blow out the debt ceiling set by Congress by over 40% if that came on the books. So it stays off the books. But the debt is staring us in the face. Funny system.
This also caught my eye:

Payments of interest from the FFB to the Treasury have been less than $1 billion annually in recent years but are projected to increase (to as much as $6 billion) because of higher loan activity (particularly by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program and the Rural Utilities Service). As of September 30, 2010, the FFB portfolio totaled $60 billion.

Hello, what is this? For interest to rise at the FFB from $1 billion to $6 billion, it would have to imply that there is at least a four- or five-fold increase in the balance sheet. This means that there is a plan to grow the FFB by $250 billion. Who is going to be the beneficiary of that? That is a hell of a lot of money. Is the FFB going to fund a solar build-out? The existing portfolio of Department of Energy loans:

Another (minor) data point of interest: The federal government has a number of trust funds that are used as accounting vehicles to store up IOUs from the government. The principal accounts and current holdings:

Social Security Trust Fund…….2.6t
Civil Service Retirement Fund…0.8t
Military Retirement Fund………0.3t
All others…….…………………0.6t

Total:…………………………..4.6 trillion

These funds are all anticipated to grow over the next decade. One has a growth rate that is way out of whack with the others:

The Military Retirement Fund is growing at three times the rate of the others. The raw numbers are $282 billion for 2010 and $1.012 trillion for 2020. That’s a 10-year increase of $730 billion (a 350% increase). What is that about? Are we planning on a new war, or have we just not accounted for the retirement costs of the military properly over the past decade or two? I suspect (hope) it is the latter.
We have all seen a form of this chart elsewhere. It is nothing to be proud of. Yes, there are a few countries in worse shape than us. But Italy, Greece and Belgium are now making front-page news with their debt. And the U.S. will have a different outcome than Japan.

This chart of trust fund assets is central to our problem. Notice that these funds are scheduled to grow by more than $2 trillion. It sounds nice that the nation has trust funds where money is squirreled away someplace safe — money that can be used to pay bills (Social Security) when they come due over the next 20 years.

But there is no money in the trust funds. They have IOUs that obligate future taxpayers to come up with the cash when needed. The trust funds have nothing to do with “savings” in the traditional sense.
This has been going on since 1983, when Greenspan created the accounting gimmick and the huge surpluses that followed. The fact is we do have future liabilities, and there have been some savings set aside for that. But the money has been spent on funding past deficits. So, really, there are no savings.
I am not sure there is a fix to this problem. I do know that the bills on this are coming due in the next five years or so. I don’t think we will make it another 10 years without having to confront this problem.

Debt Factoids on Our National Debt Are Puzzling – And Scary – Seeking Alpha

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