Another month down, another month in which US consumers deleveraged by paying down their credit cards. Although that is not exactly correct: as we showed recently, the New Normal source of credit has nothing to do with revolving debt, or credit cards, or any other old normal notions, and everything to do with student debt, which is used for everything except paying for tuition. That, and car loans of course. Sure enough, in February, of the $13.7 billion in new loans created, $13.9 billion, or 102% of all, was there to fund student and car loans. And looking further back at the data over the past year, of the $172 billion in new consumer debt, a stunning 96% has gone to new student and car loans.
Despite warnings from various members of the Fed that Student Loans are becoming troublesome, we suspect President Obama's address this afternoon on expanding opportunities to go to college will be nothing but more pumping free money into a hyper-inflating (and increasingly worthless) higher education system...
Take Ray Selent, a 30-year-old former retail clerk in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was unemployed in 2012 when he enrolled as a part-time student at Broward County's community college. That allowed him to borrow thousands of dollars to pay rent to his mother, cover his cellphone bill and catch the occasional movie... Tommie Matherne, a 32-year-old married father of five in Billings, Mont., has been going to school since 2010, when he realized the $10 an hour he was making as a mall security guard wasn't covering his family's expenses. He uses roughly $2,000 in student loans each year to stock his fridge and catch up on bills. "We've been taking whatever we can for student loans every year, taking whatever we have left over and using it to stock up the freezer just so we have a couple extra months where we don't have to worry about food,"... Mr. Selent, of Fort Lauderdale, knows he is getting himself deeper in a hole but prefers that to the alternative of making minimum wage. In his 20s, he earned a bachelor's degree in communications from a local for-profit school but couldn't find a job.... He is now taking courses for a degree in theater so he can become an actor.
Is anyone surprised that the poorest and least credit worthy of Americans are being saddled with piles of debt in order to buy new cars? It’s not enough that a generation of our citizens will toil pointlessly to pay off more than $1 trillion of student loans, we may as well add some other form of debt burden on top of it. It’s hard to even imagine this is happening so shortly after the last credit bubble train wreck, but happening it is. Creative ways for people to purchase cars they can’t afford have been on our radar screen for some time now... Well the dancing has continued, and now we have Americans borrowing at all-time record levels to buy cars.
So you want to be a mortgage banker? then listen now to what i say Just get liability insurance... and get ready to pay and pay...
There’s good propaganda and bad propaganda. Bad propaganda is generally crude, amateurish Judy Miller “mobile weapons lab-type” nonsense that figures that people are so stupid they’ll believe anything that appears in “the paper of record.” Good propaganda, on the other hand, uses factual, sometimes documented material in a coordinated campaign with the other major media to cobble-together a narrative that is credible, but false. The so called Fed’s transcripts, which were released last week, fall into the latter category... But while the conversations between the members are accurately recorded, they don’t tell the gist of the story or provide the context that’s needed to grasp the bigger picture. Instead, they’re used to portray the members of the Fed as affable, well-meaning bunglers who did the best they could in ‘very trying circumstances’. While this is effective propaganda, it’s basically a lie, mainly because it diverts attention from the Fed’s role in crashing the financial system, preventing the remedies that were needed from being implemented (nationalizing the giant Wall Street banks), and coercing Congress into approving gigantic, economy-killing bailouts which shifted trillions of dollars to insolvent financial institutions that should have been euthanized. What I’m saying is that the Fed’s transcripts are, perhaps, the greatest propaganda coup of our time.
A national average sounds an alarm: investors that drove up the housing market are bailing out
In December 2008, two brief conversations from Ms Yellen and Mr Bullard appear to have set the scene for both the scale and focus of the Fed's actions over the ensuing years... ironically it was Janet Yellen's fear of a "rising" labor force participation rate and Jim Bullard's rapid realization that the US was "moving to a Japanese-style deflationary, zero nominal interest rate, situation at an alarming pace." Topics that now are quickly ushered away as nonsense by the mainstream economist crystal-ball gazers...
Not a word about soaring prices and higher rates that have pushed median-priced homes beyond the reach of hardworking Americans
One of the key insights from recent work in psychology is that humans tend to substitute easier problems rather than solve difficult problems. Daniel Kahneman explained this dynamic in his recent book Thinking, Fast and Slow. To "solve" a difficult problem we are unfamiliar with, we substitute a lesser problem we already know the answer to, and then declare we've "solved" the original (often knotty, complex) problem. The real problem then festers, unsolved and addressed, while the misguided "solution" only drains resources and exacerbates the real problem. An excellent example of this dynamic is higher education: the real problems are soaring costs and sharply declining yields in actual learning and in the real-world value of a diploma.
While the bulk of the quantity data contained in the Fed's quarterly Household Debt and Credit Report is known in advance courtesy of the Fed's monthly tracking of household revolving and non-revolving debt, the quality components always provide a welcome insight into the state of the US household. It is there that we find that the most disturbing trend in recent years: the encumbering of students with record amounts of loans continues. In fact, as of December 31, the total amount of non-dischargeable (for now) student loans hit a new all time high of $1.08 trillion an increase of $53 billion in the quarter. By comparison, total credit card debt as of the same period was "only" $683 billion. At this rate, total student loans will be double the size of all credit card debt within 2-3 years. What's worse, while the 90+ day student debt delinquency rate did post a tiny decline from 11.8% to 11.5% in Q4, on a total notional basis due to the increase in outstanding balances, as of this moment the amount of heavily delinquent student loans has just hit a fresh record high of $124.3 billion, up from $121.5 billion in the prior quarter.
Today’s economic model was best summed up by dictator Benito Mussolini in one short sentence: “Fascism … is the perfect merger of power between the corporations and the state”. But tyranny also has its life-cycle within the balance between the past and the future. Once the past becomes far too much of a millstone for the future generations to carry any longer, governments fall and debt and servitude recede. Empires can fall largely without violence and allow a new, freer system to emerge, as most of the satellite states of the Soviet Union achieved. Or the legacy of fallen empire becomes violent chaos followed by renewed oppression, like the French Revolution. This bottom-up style revolution is happening to nations across our 21st Century. The future lies in the balance. The bell tolls for all Western nations, too. So, in the United States, it seems, liberty will have its chance again before too long.
The market correction that begin in January appears to be subsiding, at least for the moment, as Yellen's recent testimony gave markets the promise of the continuation of Bernanke's legacy. With the markets back into rally mode, for the moment, this week's "Things To Ponder" focuses on some of the bigger issues concerning the effectiveness of QE, investing and "77 reasons you suck at managing money."
Trying to force simplistic results out of complex systems inevitably generates unintended consequences. Liquidity and credit expansion act like pressure in a closed system; central planners look at the site of the last financial break and see no leaks, so they assume they've got the system under control. But the next failure in the system will occur where no one is looking--the points in the system that everyone assumes are "safe." The system is doomed if central banks continue creating trillions of dollars in new leveraged credit and liquidity to keep the system from imploding, and it is also doomed if they cease creating new leveraged credit (i.e. taper their geometric expansion of credit). Doomed if you do taper, doomed if you don't taper.
If we strip away obscuring narratives, we can clearly see that the two employment sectors (healthcare and higher education) that have expanded rain or shine for decades have functioned as gigantic make-work projects. However, that growth has started to slow for the simple reason that they've run out of oxygen: we can no longer afford their expansion or their out-of-control costs. Much cheaper and more effective systems are within reach, if only we look past failed models and politically powerful cartels and fiefdoms.