2008 Redux? Treasury and Banks to Meet on Debt Crisis
Policy + Politics

2008 Redux? Treasury and Banks to Meet on Debt Crisis

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The last time Treasury and the banks got together the country was on the brink of a financial collapse.  Who would live (Bank of America) and who would die (Lehman Brothers) was determined at these unprecedented public/private meetings. Well, it’s déjà vu all over again—the U.S. is on the verge of another financial nervous breakdown as hopes to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default are fading like a tie-dyed print that’s been in the sun too long.

Executives from the nation's largest banks will have an opportunity Friday to ask Treasury Department officials face to face about what will happen if Congress fails to raise its borrowing limit before next week's deadline. The Treasury late Thursday invited 20 of the largest banks to a meeting to discuss an upcoming quarterly auction of government debt. The discussions will take place at noon at the New York Federal Reserve.

Officials representing the bond-trading divisions of banks including JPMorgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital have been invited to the discussions. Officials said they wanted to meet with all of the big banks involved in the Treasury bond market in light of the concerns confronting the market at the moment with the impasse over approving an increase in the government's $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.

The government issues large amounts of securities every three months in a process called a "quarterly refunding." The next refunding is scheduled to take place the week of Aug. 15 and is expected to feature the sale of different types of securities on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of that week. However, the size of those auctions and their timing have all been put into doubt by the congressional impasse over the debt ceiling.

Officials have warned of serious consequences if the Treasury failed to make payments on its debt, triggering a default that could send shockwaves through financial markets around the world. However, so far the Treasury bond market has continued to function normally, indicating that investors expect Congress to pass an increase in the debt limit before a default occurs.

Financial analysts have said that Treasury would be expected to use any existing cash on hand to make interest payments to prevent a default for as long as possible. Some private economists have suggested that the government's cash reserves could be enough to prevent a default for perhaps two weeks beyond the Aug. 2 deadline.

Treasury officials refused to provide specifics on what they planned to tell the major financial institutions on Friday but they indicated that the discussions would allow officials to hear concerns voiced by the biggest participants in the bond market.