Total USA Debt

It is interesting to examine what has happened to debt in the US since the collapse of the Debt Bubble in 2007-08.  

The following chart makes things pretty clear: Households deleveraged sharply, going from owing 95% of GDP in 2008 to 78% today, while the government ramped up its borrowing from 65% to 105%.

Household Debt (left scale) - Government Debt (right scale)
Basically, the government stepped in and assumed household debt by bailing out banks and other major financial institutions (AIG, for example).But total debt just kept on increasing... total debt now stands at 183% of GDP versus 160% in 2008.

In the next post I'll also look at debt comparisons for the financial and corporate sectors.

Negative Rates Uber Alles

 A pretty simple chart to begin with after such a long time away from blogging.  Yet... simplicity is often underestimated to the detriment of us all.

German Government 10 Year Bond Yield

German government debt yields have been coming down for 45 years (thank you Ronnie, Maggie and Deng) and are now in negative territory ("thank you" Lehman, Bear, Countrywide, Iceland, Ireland, etc etc etc).  Yes folks, it has come to this absurdity: a government issues money/debt and then charges YOU interest to lend it back to them for ten years!!  Talk about weird...

Bund Yields For Last 12 months
Apart from macro-economic effects (pensions, anyone?) what is the more immediate meaning of negative interest rates?  For one, it means that people are SCARED.  So scared of depression, deflation and bank failures that they are willing to pay dear old Deutschland a premium over Continue reading "Negative Rates Uber Alles"

Back To The Future

It has been a long while since I last posted.  Lots and lots of water under the bridge...

What is bringing me back?  The immediate reason is my third viewing of rhe movie The Big Short last night.  Old readers will recall my rants against the mortgage backed securities fraud, the poisonous alphabet soup of CDOs, CDO squared, synthetic CDOs, CDS, etc, etc.

But, like I said, that's ancient history in the finance universe.

What gives today in the debt world?  The most glaring, flash in your eyes signal is negative interest rates.  Think about it:  NEGATIVE INTEREST on fiat money savings... Negative returns on pension assets for an aging workforce!!  Good luck with that, I say.

I will stop here for today, but I am back for good now.  Yes, charts and thoughts on a money world gone upside down batty.

Talk soon!

Crunch Time, Addendum

I think it is instructive to provide a chart on what is going on in the Federal budget.  Government spending has been flat for almost five years and the deficit gap is narrowing fast.  Yes, part of the flattening out in spending has come from ultra-low interest rates on debt outstanding, but still...  Can't say that the Obama administration is a spendthrift..

Crunch Time

It is getting close to crunch time for the US and its Himalayan-sized mountain of debt.  Right now no one really believes that the world's most powerful and prosperous nation will default, thereby committing financial suicide, over an internecine legislative tiff. I certainly don't believe it myself. 

Well.. I don't want to believe it.

But I have a very bad feeling this time.  No, I am not predicting a default.  Rather, my unease stems from the sheer size and spread of the debt problem all around the world. I cannot see how this global FUBAR situation will be resolved without wrenching upheaval, given that political and financial leaders clearly do not want to address the problem at its core, never mind the common people.

I have frequently referred to Permagrowth as the root cause of the Debt Crisis, i.e. the single-minded expansion in the consumption of everything, fuelled by  ever more debt. Obviously, exponential growth within a closed system leads to disaster.  

If we do not willingly renounce Permagrowth as our leading economic paradigm what I fear is ahead is an involuntary and abrupt end, one that will result in chaos.

Think of putting a pressure cooker on the stove, with the safety valve closed...

Ding Dong Dammit!!

Congress has not (yet) approved the Federal debt ceiling increase necessary to keep the government running.  This fandango goes on regularly in the US, sometimes even resulting in shutdowns of  government operations.  No one really cares.. because everyone believes that after the requisite amount of hot air has been released into the political atmosphere, yet another huge slice of debt pie will be duly approved, baked and served a la mode to the indifferent public.

The debt ceiling process pits the power of the purse (Congress) against the power of the bully pulpit (the President), but it is the referee who always wins in the end.  The referee being the very real danger of default, the unspoken horror of Treasury bonds going from AAA to D in one fell swoop - call it MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) of the post-Soviet world. (Come to think of it, there is a great resemblance between the overkill inherent in the tens of thousands of nuclear MIRVs, and that of trillions in debt bombs owed/held by just about all sizable economies).

Well, the ref always won - in the past.  And I say in the past because... accidents do occur (yes, Virginia shit happens).  What if the two contestants call each others bluff and thereby both smartly smack the ref, sending him reeling to the canvas?  I hear some hawks say that it would be ok to default, it would serve as a warning bell, etc etc.  Well, all I have to say to that is... here's a joke (if you blush at pink ones, you've been warned...).

It's nearing Christmas and a married woman is entertaining her lover in her own bedroom, when hubby unexpectedly comes home early...

Honeyyyyy, I'm hoooome !

Oh damn, quick, hide in here, rasps the unfaithful wife to her lover and brusquely shoves him inside a closet.  Unfortunately, in the rush her friend's - ahem - family jewels are caught by the door and are left dangling outside the closet, turning a crimson red.

Heeeeyy, what are those?.. asks the husband.

Ohhh, those? Err... oh they are Christmas bells, just ornaments, dear.

How cute... let me hear the sound they make... says the clueless husband and tinkles the.. bells. Obviously, not a sound.  He tries again and again, with increasing vigor in his smacks, puzzled at the lack of the bells' jingling.  The lover inside is in painful, insufferable agony.

Finally, the husband gives a mighty whack! at which point the lover moans..

Ding - dong damn it, ding-dong!!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen of Congress and the Executive, those are most certainly NOT Christmas ornaments hanging out there and we don't much appreciate your using them as bells, warning or otherwise.

The Big(ger) Picture

I went on a two week sailing vacation away from it all and what do you know..?  No news, no market quotes and no insta-charts to clutter my brain had the usual salubrious effect.  That is to say, the big picture is easier to see, from... the sea!

And what IS the Big Picture? Trade and Energy.  Having shifted just about all of our manufacturing to China and its satellites we can follow the current health of the global economy from just a couple of indicators: shipping activity and energy prices. 

Yeah, yeah.. I know:

  •  Oversupply of newbuildings is glutting the shipping market and keeps charter rates down (see chart below).
Baltic Dry Index

Nevertheless, if the global economy had continued to expand as bubbleconomists projected some years ago the new ships would have found ready employment and rates would not have crashed as they did.

  • Technical advances in oil extraction (eg frac oil) has raised non-OPEC production, particularly in the US, threatening a significant pullback in global petroleum prices.  Thus, in my opinion, the current Syrian crisis.  (I can't get the film "Syriana" out of my mind.  It was released in 2005 and I wonder why the title involved Syria, since the film has nothing to do with the country.)
 US Oil Production

My Big Picture conclusion?  The global economy is held up by a bunch of chicken wire and the duct tape of easy money.