Most people look at debt-to-GDP ratios when thinking about sovereign debt. It’s a good measure, but there’s a better one that goes for the jugular; the ratio of public debt to government revenue. By changing the denominator in this way you get a direct feel for how increases in interest rates affect government accounts. For example, when public debt is 10X government revenue then a 1% increase in the average interest rate paid on public debt forces the government to use an additional 10% of its revenues for paying interest. In short, this metric gives you a clear idea of just how easily a government could reach the keynesian endpoint (i.e. the point at which all of government revenues are used to pay interest alone).

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One of the most important themes over recent years has been the presence of negative real interest rates in the developed world. Whether one likes it or not, it has a big impact on how institutional money is allocated. Professional investors, who are under constant pressure from clients to make money, feel compelled to chase market momentum, especially when their clients’ money is slowly withering away because of negative real rates of interest. As Jeremy Grantham puts it:

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Addogram.com have come up with a large graphic (an “addogram”) about the evolution of central banking in England and America going as far back as 1640. If you take a look at the zoomable image (click “Explore this addogram in high-resolution” once at the link above) you can see how UK & US central banks affected (and were affected by) equity, bond and gold prices since 1840. Present dynamics in central bank balance sheets and long & short-term yields looks eerily similar to 1930-1950. Interesting stuff.

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