Treasury launches 20-year bond to help fund the record borrowing needed this quarter

Key Points
  • The Treasury Department is launching a 20-year bond later this month in a $20 billion auction.
  • Government debt has been piling up during the coronavirus crisis, and the latest move is an effort to stretch out duration.
  • The national debt is just shy of $25 trillion, escalated by efforts to get the economy through the pandemic.

The Treasury Department is launching a new 20-year bond in an effort to fund a record level of borrowing the government will need to do this year to support the economy through the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of its quarterly refunding, the department said it will introduce a 20-year coupon bond later this month. An auction May 20 will feature a sale of $20 billion worth as part of an effort to push the record-setting debt levels further out in terms of duration.

"Treasury's borrowing needs have increased substantially as a result of the federal government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak," Brian Smith, assistant secretary for federal finance, said in a statement. "Over the next quarter, Treasury's cash balance will likely remain elevated as Treasury seeks to maintain prudent liquidity in light of the size and relative uncertainty of COVID-19-related outflows."

The announcement comes just two days after the Treasury said it will be doing a record $3 trillion worth of borrowing this quarter. Government bond yields were higher on the news.

However, in its previous borrowing the government had kept duration relatively short. But with the red ink building on a $25 trillion national debt, the Treasury is looking to stretch the duration while long-term rates remain around historic lows.

"While the initial increases in financing related to the COVID-19 outbreak response were focused on Treasury bills, Treasury expects to begin to shift financing from bills to longer-dated tenors over the coming quarters," Smith said. "In light of the substantial increase in borrowing needs, Treasury plans to increase its long-term issuance as a prudent means of managing its maturity profile and limiting potential future issuance volatility."

In addition to the May auction, the Treasury has slated sales of $17 billion each in June and July, with the total sales raising an additional $54 billion for the quarter.

The move to the 20-year is part of a larger financing move on debt that matures later in May. Treasury is offering $96 billion in auctions later this month for 3- and 10-year notes as well as a 30-year bond. Respective sales will be $42 billion, $32 billion and $22 billion.

The size of the 20-year auction may have been more than the market was expecting.

""For the 20 year the range people were expecting was $13 to $15 billion and it came in at 20 billion," said John Briggs of NatWest. The 20-year would be especially attractive to insurers and pension funds who need more duration in their portfolios to mitigate risk, added Briggs, head of strategy for the Americas.

Despite the surge in debt his year, costs to finance all the spending actually had been running behind the pace from fiscal 2019. Debt service costs through the first half of fiscal 2020, through March, totaled $269.6 billion, compared with $574.6 billion for 2019.

— CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this article.

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