Category Archives: real economic debt

7/2/20: Mapping Real Economic Debt: BRICS

Some great charts on real economic debt, via IIF, with my highlighting of the BRICS economies:

First off, mapping corporate debt and government debt as a share of GDP:

 China is an outlier within the BRICS group when it comes to corporate debt.

 Chart above shows how dramatic has been deleveraging out of FX-denominated debt in Russia over the last decade. Much of this came from the reduction in US Dollar-denominated exposures.

Lastly, the chart above showing changes in the US Dollar-denominated debt quality (by corporate ratings). Again, Russia is a positive stand-alone in this, with more positive outlook than negative outlook corporates - a trend strikingly different from both the Emerging Markets overall, and for other BRIC economies.

7/2/20: Mapping Real Economic Debt 2019

A neat summary map of the real economic debt as a share of the national economies, via IIF, with my addition of Ireland's benchmark relative to its more accurate measure of the national income than GDP:

Yep, it is unflattering... albeit imperfect (there is some over-estimate here on the corporate debt side).

14/12/19: Governance and Government Debt

What I am reading this week: a new paper via EFMA, titled "Governance and Government Debt" by João Imaginário and Maria João Guedes, available here:

The paper looks at "the relationship between Worldwide Governance Indicators [a proxy for governance quality] and Government Debt in 164 countries for the period between 2002 and 2015." Using fixed effects (FE) and generalized method of moments (GMM) models the authors show that "governance quality is negatively and statistically related with government debt. For Low Income countries was found evidence that better governance environment is associated with lower public debt levels."

More specifically, "for a set of 164 countries on a period between 2002 and 2015, ... estimation results for FE model suggest that Control of Corruption (CC) and Voice and Accountability (VA) indexes are negative and statistically significant on influencing government debt. In part, this result confirms our Hypothesis 1 that better governance quality is associated with lower levels of public
debt." But the study also shows that these 'global' effects are predominantly driven by the presence of low income countries in the full sample. The authors find that "the link between good governance quality and government debt reduction is more evident for Low Income countries."

As a caveat, the authors do find that overall higher score in the World Governance Indicators Index (as opposed to specific sub scores) has a negative and statistically significant impact on the levels of government debt, so that overall higher measure of governance quality is associated with lower government debt for the High Income economies. The magnitude of this effect was reasonably large, as well.

26/7/17: Credit booms, busts and the real costs of debt bubbles

A new BIS Working Paper (No 645) titled “Accounting for debt service: the painful legacy of credit booms” by Mathias Drehmann, Mikael Juselius and Anton Korinek (June 2017 provides a very detailed analysis of the impact of new borrowing by households on future debt service costs and, via the latter, on the economy at large, including the probability of future debt crises.

According to the top level findings: “When taking on new debt, borrowers increase their spending power in the present but commit to a pre-specified future path of debt service, consisting of interest payments and amortizations. In the presence of long-term debt, keeping track of debt service explains why credit-related expansions are systematically followed by downturns several years later.” In other words, quite naturally, taking on debt today triggers repayments that peak with some time in the future. The growth, peaking and subsequent decline in debt service costs (repayments) triggers a real economic response (reducing future savings, consumption, investment, etc). In other words, with a lag of a few years, current debt take up leads to real economic consequences.

The authors proceed to describe the “lead-lag relationship between new borrowing and debt service” to establish “empirically that it provides a systematic transmission channel whereby credit expansions lead to future output losses and higher probability of financial crisis.”

How bad are the real effects of debt?

From theoretical point of view, “when new borrowing is auto-correlated [or put simply, when today’s new debt uptake is correlated positively with future debt levels] and debt is long term - features that are present in the real world - we demonstrate two systematic lead-lag relationships”:

  • “debt service peaks at a well-specified interval after the peak in new borrowing. The lag increases both in the maturity of debt and the degree of auto-correlation of new borrowing. The reason is that debt service is a function of the stock of debt outstanding, which continues to grow even after the peak in new borrowing.” It is worth noting a well-known fact that in some forms of debt, minimum required repayment levels of debt servicing (contractual provisions in, say, credit cards debt) is associated with automatically increasing debt levels into the future.

  • “net cash flows from lenders to borrowers reach their maximum before the peak in new borrowing and turn negative before the end of the credit boom, since the positive cash flow from new borrowing is increasingly offset by the negative cash flows from rising debt service.”

Using a panel of 17 countries from 1980 to 2015, the paper “empirically confirm the dynamic patterns identified in the accounting framework… We show that new borrowing is strongly auto-correlated over an interval of six years. It is also positively correlated with future debt service over the following ten years. In the data, peaks in debt service occur on average four years after peaks in new borrowing.” In other words, credit booms have negative legacy some 16 years past the peak of new debt uptake, so if we go back to the origins of the Global Financial Crisis, European household debts new uptake peaked at around 2008, while for the U.S. that marker was around 2007. The credit bust, therefore, should run sometime into 2022-2023. In Japan’s case, peak household new debt uptake was back in around 1988-1989, with adverse effects of that credit boom now into their 27 years duration.

When it comes to assessing the implications of credit booms for the real economy, the authors establish three key findings:

1) “…new household borrowing has a clear positive impact, and its counterpart, debt service, a significantly negative impact on output growth, both
of which last for several years. Together with the lead-lag relationship between new borrowing and debt service this implies that credit booms have a significantly positive output effect in the short run, which reverses and turns into a significantly negative output effect in the medium run, at a horizon of five to seven years.”

2) “…we demonstrate that most of the negative medium-run output effects of new borrowing in the data are driven by predictable future debt service effects.” The authors note that these results are in line with well-established literature on negative impact of credit / debt overhangs, including “the negative medium-run effect of new borrowing on growth is documented e.g. by Mian and Sufi (2014), Mian et al. (2013, 2017) and Lombardi et al. (2016). Claessens et al. (2012), Jorda et al. (2013), and Krishnamurthy and Muir (2016) document a link between credit booms and deeper recessions.” In other words, contrary to popular view that ‘debt doesn’t matter’, debt does matter and has severe and long term costs.

3) “…we also show that debt service is the main channel through which new borrowing affects the probability of financial crises. Consistent with a recent literature that has documented that debt growth is an early warning indicator for financial crises, we find that new borrowing increases the likelihood of financial crises in the medium run. Debt service, on the other hand, negatively affects the likelihood of crises in the short turn.”

In fact, increases in probability of the future crisis are “nearly fully” accounted for by “the negative effects of the future debt service generated by an increase in new borrowing”.

The findings are “robust to the inclusion of range of control variables as well as changes in sample and specification. Our baseline regressions control for interest rates and wealth effects. The results do not change when we control for additional macro factors, including credit spreads, productivity, net worth, lending standards, banking sector provisions and GDP forecasts, nor when we consider sub-samples of the data, e.g. a sample leaving out the Great Recession, or allow for time fixed effects. And despite at most 35 years of data, the relationships even hold at the country level.”

So we can cut the usual arguments that “this time” or “in this place” things will be different. Credit booms are costly, painful and long term.

26/7/17: Panic… Not… Yet: U.S. Student Debt is Cancerous

Reuters came up with a series of data visualisations and brief analytics pieces on the issue of student loans in the U.S. These are ‘must read’ materials for anyone concerned with both the issues of debt overhang (impact of real economic debt, defined as household, non-financial corporate and government debts, on economic activity), demographic and socio-political trends (e.g. see my analysis linking - in part - debt overhang to current de-democratization trends in the Western electorates, as well as issues of social equity.

The first piece presents a set student loans debt crisis charts and data summaries: Key takeaway here is that although the size of the student loans debt market is about 1/10th of the pre-GFC mortgages debt overhang, the default rates on student loans are currently well above the GFC peak default rates for mortgages:

The impact - from economic point of view includes decline in home ownership amongst the younger demographic.

But, less noted, the impact of student debt overhang also includes behavioural and longer-term cross-generational implications:

  1. Younger cohorts of workers are saddled with higher starting debt positions that cannot be resolved via insolvency/bankruptcy, which makes student loans more disruptive to the future life cycle incomes, savings and investments of the households;
  2. Behaviourally, early-stage debt overhang is likely to alter substantially life cycle investment and consumption patterns, just as early age unemployment and longer-term unemployment do with future career outcomes and choices;
  3. Generational transmission of wealth is also likely to suffer from the student debt overhang: as older generations trade down in the property markets, the values of their properties are likely to be lower than expected due to younger generation of buyers having lower borrowing and funding capacity to purchase retiring generations' homes;
  4. The direct nature of student loans collections (capture of wages and social security benefits for borrowers and co-signers on the loans) implies unprecedented degree of contagion from debt overhang to household financial positions, with politically and socially unknown impact; and
  5. The nature of interest rate penalties, combined with severe lack of regulation of the market and a direct tie in between Federally-guaranteed student loans and the fiscal authorities implies higher degree of uncertainty about the cost of future debt service for households.

On the two latter matters, another posting by Reuters worth reading:  Student loans debt is now turning the U.S. into an expropriating state, with the Government-sanctioned coercive, and socially and economically disruptive capture of household incomes.

One thing neither article mentions is that student loans are a form of investment - investment in human capital. And as all forms of investment, these loans are set against the expected future returns. These returns, in the case of student loans, are generated by increases in life cycle labor income - wages and other associated forms of income - which is, currently, on a downward trend. In other words, just as cost of student loans rises and uncertainty about the future costs of legacy loans is rising too, returns on student loans are falling, and the coercive power of lenders to claim recovery of the loans is beyond any other form of debt.

We are in a crisis territory, even if from traditional systemic risk metrics point of view, the market for student loans might be smaller.