Category Archives: debt overhang

15/2/19: Nothing to Worry About for those Fiscally Conservative Republicans


H/T to @soberlook:

U.S. Federal deficit was up $192 billion y/y in December 2018. Nothing to worry about, as fiscal prudence has been the hallmark of the Republican party policies since... well... since some time back...  That, plus think of what fiscal surplus will be once Mexico pays for the Wall, and Europeans pay for the Nato.

Soldier on, Donald.

15/2/19: Nothing to Worry About for those Fiscally Conservative Republicans


H/T to @soberlook:

U.S. Federal deficit was up $192 billion y/y in December 2018. Nothing to worry about, as fiscal prudence has been the hallmark of the Republican party policies since... well... since some time back...  That, plus think of what fiscal surplus will be once Mexico pays for the Wall, and Europeans pay for the Nato.

Soldier on, Donald.

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: https://www.ft.com/content/bafdd504-fd2c-11e7-a492-2c9be7f3120a). 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.

16/8/17: Year Eight of the Great American Recovery: Household Debt


U.S. data for household debt for 2Q 2017 is out at last, and the likes of Reuters and there best of the official business media are shouting over each other about the ‘record debt levels’ warnings. As if the ‘record debt levels’ is something so refreshingly new, that no one noticed them in 1Q 2017.

So with that much hoopla in your favourite media pages, what’s the data really telling us?

Quite a bit, folks. Quite a bit.

Let’s start from the top:


Debt levels are up. Almost +4.5% y/y. All debt categories are up, save for HE Revolving debt (down 5.44% y/y). Increases are led by Auto Loans (+7.89% y/y) and Credit Cards (+7.54%). High growth is also in Student Loans (+6.75%). Mortgages debt is rising much slower, as consistent with lack of purchasing power amongst the younger generation of buyers.

As you know, I look at this debt from another perspective, slightly different from the rest of the media pack. That is, I am interested in what is happening with assets-backed debt and asset-free debt. So here it is:


Yes, debt is up again. Mortgages debt share of total household debt has shrunk (it is now at 67.7%) and unsecured debt share is up (32.3%). Unsecured debt was $3.925 trillion in 2016 Q2 and it is now $4.148 trillion. Why this matters? Because although cars can be repossessed and student loans are non-defaultable even in bankruptcy, in reality, good luck collecting many quarters on that debt. Housing debt is different, because with recent lending being a little less mad than in 2004-2007, there is more equity in the system so repossessions can at least recover meaningful amounts of loans. So here’s the thing: low recovery debt is booming. While mortgages debt is still some $600 billion odd below the pre-crisis peak levels.

On the surface, mortgages originations are improving in terms of credit scores. In practice, of course, credit scores are superficially being inflated by all the debt being taken out. Yes, that’s the perverse nature of the American credit ratings system: if you have zero debt, your credit rating is shit, if you are drowning in debt, you are rocking…

Still, here is the kicker: mortgages credit ratings at origination are getting slightly stronger. Total debt written to those with a credit score <660 2016.="" 2016="" 2017="" 2q.="" 2q="" also="" auto="" billion="" buyers="" class="Apple-converted-space" credit="" down="" fell="" from="" good="" improving:="" in="" is="" issuance="" loans="" news.="" origination="" quality="" score="" span="" sub-660="" to="" which=""> 

Bad news:

Severely Derogatory and 120+ delinquent loans are still accounting for 3% of total loans, same as in 2Q 2016 and well above the pre-crisis average of 2.1%. Total share of delinquent loans is at 4.77%, slightly below 1Q 2017 (4.83%) and on par with 4.79% a year ago. So little change in delinquencies as a result of improving credit standards at origination, thus. Which suggests that improving standards are at least in part… err… superficial.

And things are not getting better across majority of categories of delinquent loans:



As the above clearly shows, transition from lesser delinquency to serious delinquency is up for Credit Cards, Student Loans and Auto Loans. And confirming that the problem of reading Credit Scores as improvement in quality of borrowers are the figures for foreclosures and bankruptcies. These stood at 308,840 households in 2Q 2017, up on 294,100 in 1Q 2017 and on 307,260 in 2Q 2016. Now, give it a thought: over the crisis period, many new mortgages issued went to households with better credit ratings, against properties with lower prices that appreciated since issuance, and under the covenants involving lower LTVs. In other words, we should not be seeing rising foreclosures, because voluntary sales should have been more sufficient to cover the outstanding amounts on loans. And that would be especially true, were credit quality of borrowing households improving. In other words, how does one get better credit scores of the borrowers, rising property prices, stricter lending controls AND simultaneously rising foreclosures?

Reinforcing this is the data on third party debt collections: in 2Q 2017, 12.5% of all consumers had outstanding debt collection action against them, virtually flat on 2Q 2016 figure of 12.6%. 


In simple terms, in this Great Recovery Year Eight, one in eight Americans are so far into debt, they are getting debt collectors visits and phone calls. And as a proportion of consumers facing debt collection action stagnates, their cumulative debts subject to collection are rising. 

Things are really going MAGA all around American households, just in time for the Fed to hike cost of credit (and thus tank credit affordability) some more. 

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 http://www.bis.org/publ/work645.pdf) 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.