Government bonds issued by big developed economies have surged in price this year — pushing yields to record lows. A key reason is that these “safe assets” are in short supply.
A wide variety of investors and corporations prize the highest-quality government bonds for their cash-like qualities — and the near certainty of getting their money back.
According to research by Oxford Economics, the resultant global shortage of these safe assets is going to get worse. The consultancy calculates that the supply of these assets will grow by $1.7tn annually over the coming five years — with a $1.2tn issuance of bonds to fund the US budget deficit the largest driver. But demand for these assets is estimated to grow more rapidly, creating a $400bn annual shortfall and indicating that government bond yields are set to remain low.
“The largest buyers are relatively price-insensitive and will continue to accept low returns in exchange for safety,” said Michiel Tukker, global macro strategist at Oxford Economics.
Mr Tukker said the extra demand would come as the global economy grew more quickly than the supply of safe assets. Governments around the world could alleviate the shortage by issuing more debt, he said. Indeed, higher borrowing has recently moved towards the top of the political agenda in the UK, the US and even the eurozone.
However, a big shift towards looser fiscal policy around the world is unlikely, unless there is an economic downturn, Mr Tukker thinks. In that case, he said, central banks would be likely to respond by ramping up their own purchases of safe assets — adding to demand.