WASHINGTON The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday announced an $81 billion quarterly debt refunding and said government securities issuance may be peaking, although the government plans to expand its offerings of inflation-protected securities.
The refunding level, which was in line with market expectations, matches a record amount set in the previous quarter, the Treasury said.
The Treasury said it believes it has reached a peak, and is now adequately financed to address a broad range of financing scenarios.
The Treasury said the issuance levels position it to cope with "a very large budget deficit."
U.S. government borrowing has soared in recent years as government spending has outpaced revenues.
The Treasury does plan to gradually increase issuance of Treasury Inflation-Index Protected Securities (TIPS). The Treasury is also considering increasing the frequency of TIPS auctions to include a second reopening to a 10-year TIPS auction.
Demand for inflation-protected securities has increased in recent years, Treasury official Matthew Rutherford told reporters at a briefing.
If implemented, the reopening would happen in July, bringing TIPS auctions to a total of six per year, the Treasury said.
President Barack Obama's $3.8 trillion budget proposal unveiled this week forecasts a budget deficit of $1.56 trillion, or 10.6 percent of gross domestic product, in 2010.
If deficits decline, Treasury said it will need to begin cutting auction sizes.
Representatives of firms that deal directly with the government in the Treasury securities market agreed that if the government's deficit forecast is accurate, auction sizes should come down.
How quickly auction sizes decline depends on the strength of the economic recovery, Rutherford said.
Treasury will bump up against its $12.4 trillion debt ceiling by the end of the month if Congress does not increase it, the Treasury said. The Senate has approved an increase to $14.3 trillion and the House of Representatives is due to vote on the measure on Thursday.
The national debt more than doubled over the past decade as Republican President George W. Bush cut taxes while pursuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and setting up an expensive prescription-drug benefit as part of the Medicare health insurance program for senior citizens.
The debt level has also been driven up by efforts by the Democratic Obama administration to pull the economy out of the worst recession since the 1930s.
A Treasury program to help the Federal Reserve manage its greatly expanded balance sheet could be tapped anew if the debt ceiling rises, but depends on the Fed's intentions, Rutherford said.
Faced in the fall with the possibility of piercing the debt ceiling, the Treasury began scaling back its Supplementary Financing Program, under which Treasury sells short-dated bills and provides the proceeds to the Fed, draining reserves from the financial system.
Rutherford said that, with a higher debt ceiling, Treasury would have the ability to increase the program going forward if the Fed asks for it. The Treasury is not counting on increasing the program, he said.
The program's balance peaked at about $550 billion in October and November of 2008 at the height of the financial crisis but has shrunk to $5 billion.
(With additional reporting by Ellen Freilich in New York; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Leslie Adler)