Is the world’s most important asset market broken?
- Regulators have proposed radical changes to how Treasuries are traded, to the dismay of investors
In 1790 America’s finances were in a precarious state: debt-servicing costs were higher than revenues and government bonds traded at 20 cents on the dollar. Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first treasury secretary, wanted a deep and liquid market for safe government debt. He understood the importance of investor confidence, so proposed honouring all debts, including those of states, and offering to swap old debt, at par, for new bonds with a lower interest rate. This was controversial. Shouldn’t speculators who picked up cheap debt in secondary markets be paid less? Yet Hamilton could not be swayed: “When the credit of a country is in any degree questionable, it never fails to give an extravagant premium, in one shape or another, upon all the loans it has occasion to make."