Daily US Deficit For 1/17/2013

The US Daily Deficit for 1/17/2013 was $3.8B, bringing the January total through 17 days to $39B, now pretty much even with 2012. The revenue gap has narrowed to $22B and the outlays have narrowed to $27B. As mentioned yesterday, 2013 is currently 2 business days ahead of 2012 so it’s not a stretch to assume we are pretty much in line with last year at this point in time. Still no progress being reported on increasing the debt ceiling with about 4 weeks to go. I give it two weeks and it should start to get a lot more interesting.
2013-01-17 USDD

Daily US Deficit For 1/15/2013

The US Daily Surplus for 1/15/2013 was $4.5B bringing the deficit through 15 days to $36B. Timing differences are still apparent in the data. Not only is 2013 1 business day ahead of 2012, but MLK holiday timing is throwing off the timing as well. I expect these timing issues to mostly resolve themself by next Tuesday, so by next Wednesday we should have a general idea of how January is going down.
The DTS for 1/15 has some oddities that I don’t quite understand at the moment, though I don’t think it affects my deficit numbers. I’m almost certain it us due to “extrordinary measures”, but I can’t quite wrap my mind around the accounting… Note to self…. never get into government accounting!! The gist of what they have done is somehow redeemed about $27B of Intragovernmental Debt …our pretend debt to ourselves and ended up with $27B in cash….while still staying under the debt limit. I sent an email to their usually very helpful staff…hopefully that yields some clarity. If not, i guess we’ll just have to take their word for it. In any case, this neat little switcharoo has pushed the cash balance, and debt limit cushion up to $77B over yesterday’s $50B. When coupled with the delay in tax refunds, this pushes the needle for impending default per my simple linear model to about 2/10 to 2/14. Remember that 2/15 there is a large interest payment due…~$35B from memory. If Bernanke can conjur up $27B in cash at will on a random Tuesday, it’s a pretty safe bet he can make that payment.
As a side note…regarding the debt limit, there has been a lot of talk about prioritizing payments, and all of the difficulty that would bring. I’m not reccomending this, and I fully expect a debt limit increase before we get there, but the answer is obvious…just delay tax refunds and prioritize all other spending above them until the debt ceiling is raised. Don’t get me wrong, delaying any payments is going to hurt the economy and piss people off, but delaying tax refunds seems a little bit less disruptive than not paying soldiers, social security, doctors ect… If Obama can frame the headlines that way…and blame Republicans for blocking tax refunds, I just don’t see the republicans having the spine to continue fighting. Or…it would just cause riots in the streets, but I guess that’s one of the risks of playing with fire like this. Without further ado…today’s charts.

2013-01-15 USDD

2012 Tax Refunds Delayed by 8 Days

Well, it’s official. the IRS has delayed the opening of tax season by 8 days from 1/22 to 1/30 due to the late fiscal cliff deal. I don’t know about broader economic effects from the 8 day delay, but if nothing else, this will likely give us a one week delay in the debt limit saga. Now…for the record…February is just about the worst month you could pick to have a debt limit fight…or best I suppose depending on which side you are on, since tax refunds make it the absolute worst month of the year.

For a few weeks now, my needle on the “Debt Limit Cushion” has barely budged…pointing to 2/1 as the imminent default date…maybe a few days later. Treasury, on the other hand came out and said 2/15. Last year, between 2/2 and 2/15, the government ran a $141B deficit…I just couldn’t understand how we were that far off….but they likely knew about the delay far in advance…heck maybe they even encouraged the delay for extra time. In any case, I can buy 2/15 now…+/- 3 days.

From a monthly deficit perspective, I’m not quite sure how to model this. After all, I almost never have the tax documents I need to file until early Feb. anyway. So if I file the same time I always do, will processing time be the same? Is there excess capacity to process claims, or is there a queue…and I will be pushed back 8 days due to the delay? Since 99% of everything is automated, I wouldn’t really expect a full 8 day delay, but this is our government, so why wouldn’t it be?

The January effect is a bit more certain. Those early filers received about $7B of refunds in late Jan-2012….we can probably expect most of that to get pushed into Feb., lets just say $5B. Not much in the big picture.

February could go either way. In 2012, $129B of refunds went out in Feb., $60B in the last 8 days. If there is a linear delay….expect a material change in February. If the delay is not linear, and the IRS has the capacity to process most of the delayed returns in early Feb, there could be little to no change. All that is left to do now is sit back and watch….and of course hope Treasury even has the cash to pay us: Increase Debt Limit or Tax Refunds Will Not Go Out

Daily US Deficit For 1/9/2013

The US Daily Deficit for 1/9/2013 was $10B primarily due to $11.5B of social security payments made yesterday. Social Security payments of around $58B per month  go out in four monthly batches.  The first goes out on the third of the month…usually about $25B. The next three batches go out on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Wednesday’s of the month and are around $11B each. This timing issue makes comparing year on year numbers throughout the month a little tricky. For example…in 2012, the second Wednesday of the month was 1/11, compared to 1/9 this year. Looking at the charts below, you can see that January 2013 outlays are a full $18B ahead of 2012 through 9 days, which is a pretty big increase. However, around $10B of that is due to SS timing. Revenue continues to pace ahead of 2012 and cost is a bit ahead, even after adjusting some for timing. All in all, through 9 days everything is looking pretty much in line with last year with increased revenues being offset by increased cost.

I don’t expect a lot of excitement for the remainder of the month deficit wise, but there will be a large surplus….maybe next Tuesday. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it is related to income tax witholding…wild guess is that for some entities, taxes withheld from paychecks are sent in on a specific date a few weeks after a quarter closes??  Whatever it is, expect a spike in revenues on that day of around $15-20B.

The “Debt Limit Cushion” is at $47.4B, and shrinking roughly at the expected pace. Using last year as a guide, we only get to 2/3, not 2/15 like the last projection I saw…I will reiterate that I do not have enough data to accurately model “Extrordinary Measures” but last year, the cash deficit between 2/1 and 2/15 was $174B. Need I point out that we currently have $47B in hand, and three weeks left in January? I will continue to keep my eye out though….what I expect to see is a substantial reduction in imaginary “Intragovernmental” debt, currently at 4.856T, offset entirely by an increase in external debt exchanged for cash. Effectively what they would do is push that debt off balance sheet, ignore it, and then issue new debt for cash, technically staying under the limit. Just a little bit shady, but nothing in comparison to the “Trillion Dollar Coin”…don’t get me started.2013-01-09 USDD

Last Year’s Debt Ceiling Fight

I was watching “Meet The Press” yesterday and during David Gregory’s interview of Mitch McConnell, Gregory was hounding McConnell on whether or not he would use the debt limit as a bargaining tool over the next month. Fair enough, but one thing he kept repeating kept grating against my skull. He kept implying that the reason the US rating was downgraded after the last round was simply because the fight happened in the first place. This is ridiculous. The debt was downgraded because we as a nation have a negative cash flow of about $100B per month and no viable plan to even marginally address this problem. Gregory kept implying that if only Republicans had not made the debt limit an issue, our credit rating wouldn’t have been downgraded. Financial ignorance is nothing new, and since McConnel didn’t call him on it, it’s a pretty safe assumption they are in the same boat. Looking at the facts, it’s a wonder US debt isn’t rated as Junk.

Full Disclosure….a few years back I liquidated about $1k of savings bonds my kids had received from their grandparents for college and purchased silver dollars. I have no regrets.