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Tue March 20, 2012
U.K. Considering Long-Term Bonds
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Now, one way governments raise money is by issuing bonds: you or your pension fund lend them the money, and they then pay a set amount of interest for a set amount of time, say 10 or 20 years. Well, Britain's finance minister, George Osborne, is reportedly ready to announce that the UK plans to issue a bond that only your great-grandchildren will be able to cash in. It matures in a hundred years.
Vicki Barker has this report from London.
VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: George Osborne keeps saying it: austerity is king. Debt reduction is his number one priority. And the markets like what they hear. While Eurozone nations, such as Greece and Italy, are paying sky-high rates to service their debts, Britain's cost of borrowing is at a historic low. Now Osborne reportedly wants to lock in those low rates with bonds that take a hundred years to mature.
Brokerage executive Bill Blain says that could create a kind of positive feedback loop, making British debt look even more sustainable.
BILL BLAIN: It means that we're not running back to the markets every year, desperately trying to refinance, which many of the European countries have been doing.
BARKER: The hope is that a hundred years' worth of guaranteed returns will appeal to big pensions funds, say, looking for a conservative investment. But fund manager Andrew Bell won't be one of them, Even if the bonds pay the rumored three percent.
ANDREW BELL: What you're looking for is some sort of real return over time. And it seems to me, unlikely in the extreme, that inflation will average less than three percent over the next hundred years.
BARKER: And that is precisely why Britain is doing this – just as it did after World War I, and before that, following the bursting of the South Seas investment bubble back in the 1720s.
Albrecht Ritschl is an economic historian at the London School of Economics.
ALBRECHT RITSCHL: What happened was that the economy slowly but gradually grew out of the debt, so to speak.
BARKER: Inflation and economic growth steadily rendering that debt, and ever smaller portion of GDP. Osborne's hope, this time around, by time the principle is due, it'll be the sovereign equivalent of chump change.
For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.