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Investors are tripping over themselves to lend Europe money

At first glance, the European Union doesn't seem like the most creditworthy of borrowers. But the Wall Street Journal highlights the massive investor demand for European sovereign bonds, a demand that is enabling countries like Austria to issue bonds at 1% for 70 years.

The Journal looks at countries like Spain, France, and Italy that face outsized political and economic risks in the coming years. These economies are facing slowing or even negative population growth, historically high debt burdens, widening economic inequality, and the rise of populist parties with unorthodox economic philosophies. None of these trends should inspire the confidence of lenders, yet the search for yield has inspired investors to front the money nonetheless.

Why it matters: That bond investors are unafraid of a slow-growing, highly-indebted, and perennially-gridlocked country like Italy defaulting on debt over the next thirty or more years tells us that:

  • Central bank stimulus has helped make government borrowing cheaper;
  • The market thinks that countries have a much higher capacity for debt than politicians do;
  • Significantly higher inflation isn't on the way;
  • The U.S. should seriously consider issuing debt at maturities longer than 30 years. Locking in today's interest rates for 70 or more years would be a godsend to future budgeters.