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Tax Revenues Tanking

Latest data say US tax revenues are collapsing as the depression bites...

WHILE EVERYONE has been focused on the banks' stress tests and how much government is spending to bail out banks judged "too big to fail", says David Galland, managing editor of The Casey Report, a disturbing trend on the other side of the equation is now emerging:

How much (or rather, how little) the US government is receiving in tax revenues.

After combing through the past 25 editions of the "Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government", which is compiled and published by the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service, we created the following chart.

Here's what's going on:

  • In 2007 and 2008, US government tax revenues averaged about $633.15 billion per quarter. For the first quarter of 2009, however, the numbers just in tell us that tax receipts totaled only about $442.39 billion – a decline of 30%.
  • Looking to confirm the trend, we compared the data for April – typically the big kahuna of tax collection months – to the 2007-2008 average, and found that individual income taxes this year were down more than 40%.
  • The situation is even worse for corporate income taxes, which were down a stunning 67%.
  • When you add in all revenue from all sources (including Social Security revenue, government fees, etc.), the fiscal year-to-date revenue shortfall for October through April comes to 19%. That compares with the 14.6% shortfall projected by Obama's budget.
  • If, however, the accelerating shortfall apparent year-to-date, and in April in particular, continues, the spread between projected and actual tax receipts will widen considerably.
  • Tellingly, for the first time since 1983, the US government posted a deficit in April. That's a big swing in the wrong direction, as the bump in personal tax collections in April historically results in a big surplus – on average about $68 billion.

What are the implications of this tanking tax revenue?

For starters, it means the federal government deficit is going be as bad or worse than the $2.5 trillion Bud Conrad, chief economist of Casey Research, projected it to be last year.

If the shortfall in individual and corporate tax revenue persists – and we expect it will – then the deep hole the government is already digging for itself will be that much deeper.

Using the government's own expense projections, the revenue shortfall, even if it doesn't worsen further, would push the fiscal 2009 budget deficit up to about $1.958 trillion. For reasons we've discussed at some length in The Casey Report, those expense projections are likely to be significantly understated.

Case in point, in January the government projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for fiscal year March, just three months later, they upped the projection to $1.8 trillion. That $600 billion "adjustment" alone totaled more than any full-year budget deficit in the nation's history.

Yet the real fly in the ointment is that the actual borrowing by the Treasury is likely to be at least half a trillion Dollars more than the deficit.

That's because the Treasury is buying toxic investments (mortgage bonds, credit-card loans and so on) and putting them on the books with a higher value than the market is willing to assign.

While that makes the budget deficit appear smaller, it doesn't negate the fact that the government still must borrow the money needed to buy the toxic paper in the first place. The additional revenue shortfall means they have to raise that much more money. Based on the struggle they had pushing the $14 billion in long-term notes at the latest auction, it becomes increasingly apparent that when push comes to shove, the only way the government is going to come up with the money needed to meet its aggressive spending is to print it up.

In other words, events are rolling out almost exactly as we have been anticipating. Below, for example, are some useful excerpts from an April 3 article titled "Widening Deficits" by Casey Research CEO Olivier Garret. To quote:

"In the midst of the Great Depression, the 1931 federal tax revenues had fallen by 52% from their 1929 highs. While we do not expect anything that dramatic in 2009, it would not be unrealistic to see a 20% to 25% reduction in cash flow from tax collections this tax season. Such a drop would pose significant challenges given that spending commitments are off the charts and climbing.

"In the absence of sizeable increases in tax revenues, it is quite clear that the lion's share of the planned sales of Treasuries in 2009 cannot be met by demand from the market. Either the Treasury will have to raise interest rates significantly, or the Fed will need to step in very aggressively to support the planned auctions. Our expectation is that both will happen. Auctions will fail and the Fed will step in. The market will react to more printing by anticipating inflation and demanding higher interest rates. Once the cycle starts, it will be very hard to pull interest rates back."

We continue to stand by our December forecast that the 2009 budget deficit is more likely to widen to levels between $2.5 and $3 trillion rather than the CBO's $1.8 trillion forecast. We also believe that inflation could start setting in as early as Q3 of 2009 and will accelerate sharply by 2010. Treasury Rates will start climbing and the era of cheap money will end, making it harder for overleveraged consumers, businesses, and governments to service their debt.

Now failed auctions and rising interest rates on Treasuries are making headlines, as this May 7th story from Bloomberg reported:

"Treasury 30-year bonds fell the most in four months as investors demanded higher-than-forecasted yields at today's auction of $14 billion of the securities with the US slated to sell a record amount of debt this year."

"This is a problem," said Chris Ahrens, head interest-rate strategist at UBS AG in Stamford, Connecticut, one of 16 primary dealers required to bid in Treasury auctions. "The market required a fairly significant discount to buy the bonds."

The upshot for bond investors? Thirty-year bonds have lost investors 20.9% so far this year according to Merrill Lynch data. So, what does all this mean?

As per above, the rock-and-the-hard-place scenario we have been predicting is unfolding before our eyes. At this point, other than sharply changing course and letting the free market cope with the crisis through a brutal "survival of the fittest" scenario, the government is left with no other option than to accelerate its buying up of its own debt.

Which is to say, it must push even harder on the levers of its printing presses, further setting the stage for the massive period of inflation we continue to see as a stunning rise in interest rates preceded by stellar gains in precious metals such as Gold Bullion.

Doug Casey is a world-renowned investor and author, whose book Crisis Investing was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for 29 consecutive weeks, a record at the time.

He has been a featured guest on hundreds of radio and TV shows, including David Letterman, Merv Griffin, Charlie Rose, Phil Donahue, Regis Philbin, NBC News, and CNN; and has been the topic of numerous features in periodicals such as Time, Forbes, People and the Washington Post.

His firm, Casey Research, LLC., publishes a variety of newsletters and web sites with a combined weekly audience in excess of 200,000, largely high net worth investors with an interest in resource development and international real estate.

See full archive of Doug Casey articles

Please Note: All articles published here are to inform your thinking, not lead it. Only you can decide the best place for your money, and any decision you make will put your money at risk. Information or data included here may have already been overtaken by events – and must be verified elsewhere – should you choose to act on it. Please review our Terms & Conditions for accessing Gold News.

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