Britain May Revive Perpetual Gilts

Low interest rates, long term make bonds 'interesting'

Everything old is new again–Britain is considering bringing back perpetual gilts, long-term bonds that were first debuted after the South Seas Bubble crisis of 1720. With 100-year maturities and today’s extra-low interest rates, the idea is attractive to many.

Bloomberg reported that Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is expected to revive the notion in his March 21 budget. The bonds to be issued would have terms up to 100 years but have no fixed maturity–the same type of bond that was used for the British government to postpone paying off debt that emerged from the pricking of the South Seas Bubble.

Societe Generale had said late in 2011 that the U.K. should issue at least 200 billion pounds ($314 billion) of 100-year gilts to capitalize on low interest rates.

At the time, Julian Wiseman, head of U.K. interest rates strategy at Societe Generale in London, was cited saying, “Interest rates are low and that makes long bonds interesting. For the U.K. Debt Management Office to have to find 200 billion pounds today could be a problem. But for the DMO to find 200 billion pounds in a century, after 100 years of inflation and economic growth, would not be difficult.”

While Britain has never sold a 100-year bond, its current perpetual gilts total about 2.7 billion pounds. Of that amount, 1.9 billon pounds is from the 1917 War Loan, at 3.5% interest. Current rates are considerably lower, with benchmark gilt yields coming in at 1.92% on Jan. 18–the lowest since 1989, when Bloomberg began tracking such data. Currently the yield stands at 2.17%.

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