Category Archives: US debt

12/6/20: American Love Affair with Debt: Part 2: Leverage Risk

I have earlier updated the data on the total real private economic debt in the U.S. as of the end of 1Q 2020 here:

So, just how much is the U.S. economic growth dependent on debt? And have this dependency ben rising or falling prior to COVID19 pandemic onset? Well, here is your answer:

Using data through 1Q 2020, U.S. dependency on debt to generate economic growth in the private sector shot through the roof (see dotted red line above). In other words, U.S. corporate sector is leveraged to historical highs when the corporate debt levels are set against corporate value added.

All we need next is to see how 2Q 2020 COVID19 pandemic figures stack against this. A junkie hasn't been to a rehab, and the methadone clinic is closed...

12/6/20: American Love Affair With Debt: Pre-COVID Saga

Latest data for debt levels at the U.S. non-financial businesses and households (including non-profits) is out this week. So here are the charts and some stats:

There has been a bit of rush back in 1Q 2020 (the latest data available) to load up on loans by both private households and private businesses. 
  • Non-financial business debt rose 7.86% y/y in that quarter, before COVID19 pandemic fully hit the U.S. economy. For comparison, previous quarter, debt rose *just* 4.81% y/y and 8 quarters annual growth rates average through 4Q 2019 was *only* 6.21%. Not only the U.S. businesses levered up over the last two years at a pace faster than nominal GDP growth, but their reckless abandon went into an overdrive in 1Q 2020.
  • U.S. households and non-profit organizations serving them were not far behind the U.S. businesses. Debt levels in the U.S. households & NPOs rose 3.75% y/y in 1Q 2020, up on 3.26% y/y growth rate in 4Q 2019 and on 3.32% average growth rate over the two years through 4Q 2020. Which, in part, probably helps explain how on Earth financially-stretched American households managed to buy up a year worth of toilet paper supplies in one week in April.
Thus, overall, real private economic debt in the U.S. has ballooned in 1Q 2020, rising to USD 33.092 trillion. This marked y/y growth rate of 5.80% in 1Q 2020, up on 4.03% growth in 4Q 2019 and on 4.73% average growth over two years through 4Q 2019:

And yes, leverage risks in the private sector have increased as the result of these figures. At the end of 1Q 2020:
  • U.S. non-financial businesses debts stood at 78.07% of GDP, an all-time high since the post-WW2 data started;
  • U.S. households and NPOs debts stood at 75.6% of GDP, marking an official end to the post-Global Financial Crisis 'deleveraging' period that saw debt/GDP ratio declining to the low of 74.2% in 4Q 2019.
  • Total non-financial private real economic debt stood at 153.67%, the highest level since 1Q 2011.

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).

21/1/18: FT Warns on Credit Cards Delinquencies: High or Hype?

The FT are reporting a 20% rise in credit cards delinquencies across major U.S. banks in 2016, compared to 2017 (see here: Which sounds bad. Although, of course, neither new nor completely up-to-date. That is because the NY Fed give us the same figures (for all U.S. households) through 3Q 2017.

So here is the analysis of the Fed figures:
Despite these worrying dynamics, the levels of delinquencies are still low. In 2007-2008, credit card delinquencies rates were around 9.34% and 10.84%, respectively. In 2006, these were 8.54%. In fact, current running average for 1Q-03Q 2017 is 6.14% or lower than for any year between 2003 and 2012. 

As the chart below shows, the real crisis is currently unfolding not in the credit cards debt, but in Student Loans with 10.05% average delinquency rate for 2017 so far. Credit crds delinquencies are only fourth in terms of severity. 

In terms of total volumes of debt in delinquency, 3Q 2017 data shows credit cards with USD12.3 billion, against mortgages at USD88.56 billion, student loans at USD 30.16 billion and auto loans at USD 17.05 billion. 

Even in terms of transition from shorter-term delinquency (30 days-89 days) to longer-term delinquency (90days and over), credit cards are not as prominent of a problem as student loans:

In summary, thus, the real crisis in the U.S. household debt is not (yet) in credit cards or revolving loans, and not even (yet) in mortgages. It is in student debt, followed by auto loans.

10/6/17: Cart & Rails of the U.S. Monetary Policy

So, folks, what’s wrong with this picture, eh?

Let’s start thinking. The U.S. Treasury yields are underlying the global measure of inflation since the onset of the global ‘fake recovery’. Both have been and are still trending to the downside. Sounds plausible for a ‘hedge’ asset against global economic stagnation. And the U.S. Treasuries can be thought of as such, given the U.S. economy’s lead-timing for the global economy. Except for a couple of things:
  1. U.S. Treasury is literally running out of money (by August, it will need to issue new paper to cover arising obligations and there is a pesky problem of debt ceiling looming again);
  2. U.S. Fed is signalling two (or possibly three) hikes over the next 6 months and (even more importantly) no willingness to restart buying Treasuries again;
  3. U.S. political risks are rising, not abating, and (equally important) these risks are now evolving faster than global geopolitical risks (the hedge’ is becoming less ‘safe’ than the risks it is supposed to hedge);
  4. U.S. Fed is staring at the prospect of potential increase in decisions uncertainty as it is about to start welcoming new members ho will be replacing the tried-and-trusted QE-philes;
  5. Meanwhile, the gap between the Fed policy’s long term objectives and the reality on the ground is growing: private debt is rising, financial assets valuations are spinning out of control and 

So as the U.S. 10-year paper is nearing yields of 2%, and as the premium on Treasuries relative to global inflation is widening once again, the U.S. Fed is facing a growing problem: tightening rates is necessary to restore U.S. dollar (and U.S. Treasuries) credibility as a global risk hedge (the key reason anyone wants to hold these assets), but raising rates is likely to take the wind out of the sails of the financial markets and the real economy. Absent that wind, the entire scheme of debt-fuelled growth and recovery is likely to collapse. 

Cart is flying one way. Rails are pointing the other. And no one is calling it a crash… yet…