Will Consumer Credit Drive The Next Economic Boom?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Lance Roberts of STA Wealth Management,

Just recently the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released its quarterly survey of household debt which showed an increase of $24.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013.  My friend Cullen Roche commented on this increase stating:

"This was the first year over year increase in debt since 2008.  It’s a pretty momentous occasion in my view as it changes the dynamics of the economy from one in which we were de-leveraging to one which is now officially re-leveraging without government aid."

The importance of this comment is that it was the "leveraging" up of the household balance sheet that supported economic growth, beginning in the 1980's, as shown in the chart below.


As the deregulation of the banking industry occurred, it led to a consumer credit driven society.  The age of "easy credit terms" and "no money down" led to a consumption boom that offset a decline in actual economic productivity, incomes and savings.  Of course, the basic lesson of economics is that it is savings that ultimately leads to productive investment,  production and economic growth.  Unfortunately, we have precious few of those key ingredients available. 

However, there are two potential issues with the current re-leveraging cycle.  First, the increase in the latest report, outside of real estate related mortgages as shown in the chart below, was primarily driven by increases in student and auto loan debt. 


The two primary areas of increase in debt are also those with the highest default rates as they are primarily "sub-prime" in nature.  However, with low savings rates and rising costs of living, it is not surprising that debt is used to offset the differential.  The chart below shows  the gap between incomes and spending. 


What is important to remember is that a BIG chunk of the "deleveraging" process that occurred was not from consumers becoming more conscious about the financial stability.  Primarily that process occurred through "force" as the financial crisis led to a wave of foreclosures, bankruptcies, debt forgiveness and restructuring.  In the past, a "bankruptcy" meant no credit for at least seven years.  Today, as long as you can blame the financial crisis for your personal insolvency, credit can be quickly restored.  There is already emerging evidence that subprime borrowers are once again gaining traction in the credit markets, bonds are being issued on very risky collateral such as "rental income streams" and mortgages are being issued with very low, or no, down payments.  Since it all worked out so well before, it makes perfect sense to do it again.

The good news is that median debt to income ratios per capita has declined from all-time peaks.  However, as stated above this was primarily by "force" rather than choice.  However, for those hoping that a resurgence in personal debt will lead to the next great economic boom - there is likely to be some disappointment.   With the deviation from the long-term median debt to income ratio still extremely elevated, it is likely there is little room to recreate the consumption boom of the 90's.


Furthermore, it is important to remember that the demographic shift will also play a key role as the massive "baby boomer" generation moves from "upsizing" to "downsizing."  The first chart above really tells the story of how debt masked a weakening economy over the last 30 years.  Of course, this is also why we stand at the crossroad between economic growth and recession. Much like a patient on "life support," economic growth remains tied to ongoing interventions of monetary policy. 

The mirage of prosperity created by massive levels of debt has begun to show it foundational cracks.  Without increased levels of personal savings, production and investment there is little ability to achieve stronger economic growth.  While we can certainly "hope" for something different, there are some basic laws which are insurmountable.  The physics of debt is one of them.

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spastic_colon's picture

from today.....writes BofA Merrill strategist Michael Hartnett. "Both corporate bond and equity markets reflect the fact that corporate America has 91-weeks of net income sitting in cash and probably ended 2013 with more money than ever before," he says. "Until credit cracks, we think it's impossible to believe in a bear market in stocks."


how easy is it to be a strategist?

LawsofPhysics's picture

Indeed. No mention of ZIRP (NIRP in real terms) and 75 billion in direct monetization every month?

Hang em high, nothing changes otherwise.

Ham-bone's picture

Seems there is no "de-leveraging" but instead gigantic increases in US Treasury debt "foreigners" have amassed...something to consider as Fed "tapers" out QE...


Individual country / regional increases (as "assigned" by TIC. below TIC data based on where these are bought / held, not nationality of buyer), Jan '00 - '07 - Dec '13:



              $1 T  --->  $1.6 T ---> $5.6 T


China $60 B  --->  $400 B ---> $1.27 T
Japan $315 B --->  $600 B ---> $1.18 T
Taiwan $35 B --->  $38 B  ---> $182 B
HK       $39 B --->  $52 B  ---> $159 B
Singapore $30 B->  $30 B  ---> $86 B
India      <$5 B -->  $15 B  ---> $69 B
Thailand $13 B ->  $16 B  ---> $52 B

TOTAL   $497                         $3 T (600% increase, '00-'13)

Brazil <$5 B  --->  $54 B  ---> $245 B
Canada $15 B  ---> $28 B  ---> $56 B
"Carribean banking centers"
        $      35 B ---> $68 B  ---> $291 B

TOTAL  $55 B                    $592 B  (1100% increase)


"oil exporters" 
        $45 B ---> $112 B ---> $238 B  (500% increase)


Russia <$5 B --->  $9 B   ---> $139 B
Norway  <$5 B ---> $20 B  ---> $97 B
UK    $50 B  --->  $100 B ---> $164 B
Switzerland $18 B> $34 B  ---> $175 B
Turkey <$5 B  ---> $25 B  ---> $52 B

TOTAL    $83 B                       $627 B  (750% increase)



Ireland $5 B --->  $19 B  ---> $125 B
Belgium $28 B -->  $13 B  ---> $257 B
Luxemburg <$5 B-> $60 B --> $134 B

TOTAL    $38 B                         $516 B  (1350% increase)


Germany $54 B ---> $50 B ---> $67 B
Italy      $20 B   ---> $14 B ---> $30 B
Netherland $13 B-> $15 B ---> $37 B
France   $27 B  ---> $10 B ---> $54 B
Spain    $20 B   ---> $<5 B ---> $23 B

TOTAL   $134 B                   $211 B  (57% increase)

fonzannoon's picture

welcome to the evil mastermind disinformation msm shill club,

or the status quo propogating msm shill evil mastermind club. I forget which one it is. I was never good with long names....

redpill's picture

After the "re-leveraging" cycle comes the "where is the fucking money Lebowski" cycle.  Should be fun!

kito's picture

lets see how much of the "taper" will continue to get absorbed by other cbs over the coming months. they have to fund not only their own house of cards, but also pick up the slack for the u.s. over a period of time. i have my doubts......

Ham-bone's picture


"Carribean banking centers"
        $      35 B ---> $68 B  ---> $291 B
Switzerland $18 B> $34 B  ---> $175 B

HK       $39 B --->  $52 B  ---> $159 B
Singapore $30 B->  $30 B  ---> $86 B

Ireland $5 B --->  $19 B  ---> $125 B
Belgium $28 B -->  $13 B  ---> $257 B
Luxemburg <$5 B-> $60 B --> $134 B

TOTAL    $160 B                    $1227 (767% increase)

I wonder who really owns all these T's..."foreigners" is simply the term TIC applies to Treasury's purchased / held in "overseas custody accts"...the data is provided by US based "custodians"...data "may not be attributed to actual owners"..."data may not provide "precise" acct'ing"...

The data in this table include foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury marketable and non-marketable bills, bonds, and
     notes reported monthly under the Treasury International Capital (TIC) reporting system. The data are collected
     primarily from U.S.-based custodians. Since U.S. securities held in overseas custody accounts may not be attributed
     to the actual owners, the data may not provide a precise accounting of individual country ownership of Treasury
     securities (see TIC FAQ #7 at:  http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/tic/Pages/ticf...).

LawsofPhysics's picture

Well then, I guess we can shut down QE tommorrow.

Ham-bone's picture

Actually - I think that may be correct...I suspect there is an equal or even greater shadow QE @ play...the "cleanest dirty shirt" meme may be exactly backwards

In 6yrs time since ’08 “foreign” holders of US Treasury debt have increased their holdings from $2.4 T (Jan ’08) to $5.8 T (Dec ’13)?!? A 150% increase while the Fed sold/ did not roll $800 B in ’08 (almost entirely in bills) to it’s present $4.2 T (2.25 T, all Notes/Bonds…$0 bills and $1.5 T MBS). So the Fed & “foreigners” have picked up $5.6 T of $7.2 T increase in Public Outstanding Treasury debt since ’08. This means Fed & “foreigners” have purchased $5.35 T of $6.2 T in new Notes / Bonds issuance & own 80% of total Public Outstanding Notes/Bonds.

The “red flag” in this is the Fed tapering. The Fed in it’s recent QE were buying nearly all medium term Notes / all Bonds (up to their 70% limit) but on their stated exit from QE, “Foreigners” who own $5 T+ (double the Fed’s holdings) would have seen rates would be rising and prices falling absent this buyer…typical “investors” they would have been selling to front run the Fed’s exit. The Fed would have known this taper would cause a rate shock. But no selling…no yields to the moon. Rather “foreign” holdings have hit a new record high as of December. Seems these “foreigners” are not typical “investors”. Upon the exit from the “market” of a buyer of 40% to 70% of issuance, they are unconcerned. Typical “investors” would be concerned w/ the likelihood of losses.

fonzannoon's picture

The bottom line is that a few things are happening. Foreigners are still buying a shit ton of treasuries (China/Japan included). The fed is tapering. Also, Belgium is acting as a PD for the EU. 

So as Kito said, we still need to see if foreigners step in to fill the fed's void. If they are, that says a lot about what is really going on here. 


walküre's picture

My first thought would be that the buyers, foreign or not are flipping the paper back to the Fed and make a few points. If they're increasing their purchases and holdings, than they must have run out of alternative collater???al or they are hell bent on keeping the USD story alive for decades to come. Otherwise what would their motivations be? Being good allies or friends of the Fed and DC?

LawsofPhysics's picture

First, foreign central banks are proxy for the Fed, so quite possible the shadow banking is much, much, bigger than expected.  Coupled with the reverse repos we are seeing, this simply confirms a major currency crisis in progress.  Look, a counterparty is a counterparty, shadow or otherwise...

margin calls, and no one wants this paper, they are "not concerned" because they have written this shit off, basically the Fed is playing in a "market" by itself.

The black market commerce and desire for physical PMs I am seeing around me would tend to confirm that.

Ham-bone's picture

@ Laws - as you note, the reverse repo's are having a big impact on tightening money...as seen in the monetary base growth slamming on the brakes over the past couple months after steady $100 B /mo growth...

St. Louis Adjusted Monetary Base (AMBNS)

2014-01: 3,749.462 Billions of Dollars   Last 5 Observations

2013-12:  3,736.789   2013-11:  3,705.077   2013-10:  3,610.306   2013-09:  3,508.808  


@ Fonz - I can't say you are wrong regarding buyers...it just seems to make so little sense that foreign investors would willingly be piling into the flaming vehicle that is the Treasury market / dollar. 

KidHorn's picture

I thought the latest taper dropped it to 65 billion/month.

Seasmoke's picture

Make everybody pay cash. Let's see where we really are !!!

Sudden Debt's picture


Recently we're paying for our drinks at a bar and one of my friends dropped all his credit cards... I mean... I didn't even know there existed so many banks.
I think he had like 8 visa's and 6 bank cards. So... why the fuck do you need so many cards? I don't think it's because you have to much money on all those cards.
I have 3, a bankcard, a visa and a spare visa for emergencies.

pursueliberty's picture

I carry over a dozen per day, most are store cards, sears, hd, lowes, sams, costco.


A lot of them are simply discount, lowes is 5%, zero interest, etc.  I only use an american express.  I never use a debit card.  I earned two flights last year, this year will maybe earn three.  Kinda silly not to charge.  I paid $38 interest last year, plus the fee for the the amex, under $300 total.

madcows's picture

theyll just take money out of the savers accounts to fund the next round of purchasing/zombi propping.

unrulian's picture

it's time to downsize, pay off debt and become more self sufficient. 

TheRideNeverEnds's picture

I have achieved self sufficiency, you see my strategy is borrow money and use it to buy e-minis then use the guaranteed monthly profits from the inevitable inflation of assets by the FED to pay down my debt and buy more e-minis.  Its basically like I am printing my own money. 


If the FED can do it why can't I?  



NOTaREALmerican's picture

Re:  If the FED can do it why can't I?  

You could.   If you were a normal human pathological optimist you'd be doing it.   If you were lucky enough to be a sociopath you'd have a website selling your idea to other pathological optimists. 

thestarl's picture

Agreed, problem is a whole generation knows no different to the constant credit debt merry go round.Secondly no idea of the looming freight train coming at them.

skwid vacuous's picture

My sell side sources say... YES!

starman's picture

There are two thing's that are  growing in America, personal debt and part time jobs!

What can possibly go wrong.

Ayn Rand's picture

Add in government debt.

Implicit simplicit's picture

The percentage of working age peopel that have dropped out of the work force has also increased.

The percentage of people on food stamps"....."

"................................" filing bankruptcy......."


Screwball's picture

Not bad, but he missed a large point - cheap oil.  That's gone too.

Without cheap oil & easy credit, we-r-fucked.

NOTaREALmerican's picture

Re:  Without cheap oil & easy credit, we-r-fucked.

There is easy credit.    As credit is money,   the oil is relatively cheaper as the supply of credit increases.

Most normal humans view credit as free money.

kito's picture

i heard fracking was going to save us

mayhem_korner's picture



Yes, leveraging up on declining real incomes is a recipe for prosperity.  Who would question that?

wmbz's picture

The majority of "consumers" will keep right on spending their days and weekends at the mall. As long as they can get credit they will shop. They do not see themselves as debt slaves. They want stuff. I believe it has now become inbred. 26% interest on a credit card? No problem, watch how many sign up. The card companies know just how easy it is to hook them.

Every newborn is starting out deeply in debt and they had nothing to do with it.

mt paul's picture

no interest for a year

pay in full by month 11


free loan to buy materials..

Dollarmedes's picture

"Will Consumer Credit Drive the Next Economic Boom?"

No...no, it won't.


ejmoosa's picture

And when I have no real need to consume, what then?

Forced consumption ala Obamacare?

LawsofPhysics's picture

"And when I have no real need to consume, what then?" - no, you will be dead.

Sardonicus's picture
What will Consumer Credit Drive The Next Economic Boom?

Snowblowers, according to the weather

NoIdea's picture

But isn't the weather preventing people from buying snowblowers?

viator's picture

Recently I began getting credit card solicitations in the mail almost daily, sometimes as many as four. That phenomenon had slacked off for several years, now it's back.

pursueliberty's picture

I've noticed a pick up also, longer 0% terms.  I'm a sucker for free money being loaned to me.

NOTaREALmerican's picture

The graphs clearly show debt increasing.   The doomers predictions of generational changes in debt use was wrong (of course, the doomers have never understood normal humans). 

Humans will go into as much debt as they are allowed too by the lenders.   As the humans get more confident the debt will increase.  As the Fed will never let another large lender fail, this means debt can increase until the Fed itself fails.


Dollarmedes's picture

Other questions that need answering:

"Will the California drought result in a bumper crop this year?"

"Will amnesty for illegals result in a Republican supermajority?"

"Will the failure of Obamacare result in Obama's becoming a laisez-faire capitalist?"

"Will declining bee populations result in the USD/JPY rising to 400?" (9000!?!)

youngman's picture

I bet the Pols will force the banks to give easy credit to the subprimes as to placate them for their votes....free money gets a vote for sure...and the Pols wil help get their debts removed too...it will become a new social program...

RaceToTheBottom's picture

It worked before directly with the Banksters, why not mine a little from the peons directly?

delivered's picture

The article picked up on a very good point in relation to noting how much debt was "wiped out" by simply defaulting. Consumers in mass defaulated on home mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, etc., etc., etc. with the Fed and the government picking up the tab. I have yet to see a study which clearly presents who much debt was written-off and how much was actually repaid. I'm guessing 50 to 75% was written-off with the balance actually repaid.

But the article misses a key concept that people really need to understand as it relates to total implied consumer debt levels and is specifically centered in the transition of home ownership to being a renter. If you are a renter, then technically, you have not taken on new debt similar to securring a mortgage to buy a home. While your monthly payment comittment may be the same (i.e., I pay $1,500 a month in rent or I use to pay $1,500 a month in a mortgage payment), the technicality of what's debt versus what isn't debt is a major issue that needs to be addressed. This level of "implied" debt needs to be better understood as and factored into the calculations as it is clear that today, more sheepie are renters versus home owners (as home ownership levels continue to decrease). I think if you calculated an imputed debt load based on rental comittments, the level of consumer debt would actually be much higher.

My point in all of this is just how outdated and unless traditional historical economic measurements have become. The unemployment rate is a perfect example. What's important is not the reduction in the unemployment rate (which we all know is highly suspect) but rather the quality of the jobs being created in terms of base compensation, job security, upward mobility potential, benefits offered, etc. These elements of a job will have far more meaning and impact to support a real economic recovery than just the number of jobs being created. This same concept applies to the analysis provided on consumer debt as more and more people have moved to being renters than home owners, are having to absorb more direct burden with healthcare costs, etc. A much better analysis would be taking a look at total monthly set or firm payments (including rent/mortgage, auto, student loans, insurance, etc.) compared to the average earnings of a person to see exactly how much disposal income really remains (both today and from a historical comparison). This would be very informative and more relevant in today's economy (not to mention factoring in the impact on consumers of interest rates were normalized from the Fed artificially low rates).

Just remember, the Devil's in the Detail as while TPTB can spin how "strong" the consumer is now and their ability to take on more debt to support economic growth, the reality is usually far different when the details are really understood. What modern economists and their studies don't realize is just how much has changed over the past decade as a result of the CB's never before witnessed level of involvement in the world economies. The tools used and relied upon through the 1990's, which are still being used today, are sorely outdated. Until real information is accumulated that can be relied upon, it's no wonder that everyone in Wall Street and Washington continue to scratch their heads and walk around bewildered as to why the economy is not performing better. 



walküre's picture

you're correct for the most part, however

it's no wonder that everyone in Wall Street and Washington continue to scratch their heads and walk around bewildered as to why the economy is not performing better.

Is your naive assumption.That head scratching and bewildered look is a show for you. They have to pretend they care, but they truly don't. Can we just get past that?

Neither Wall Street, nor DC care how the economy actually performs as long as they can either make more and more for themselves or gain more and more control and power in the process of what they all think is their "job" to improve the economy. Quite frankly even that is presumptious. Their economy is doing just fine and why would they give a fuck about anyone else unless they're pretending during a campaign?

MagicMoney's picture

Well you are preaching to the choir. Yes the type of jobs is very important. The mainstream media is only concerned by employment of anything. Implying that any job is a great job even if it's low skilled jobs like retail, or stock boys in the back moving retail good around. The thing is, the government, and fed favors this type of economy. Want to bail out the markets slash interest rates. Want to spur consumption, and investment slash interest rates. Everything is about making money easier to spend versus treating money itself as a good for future growth. Many people have 401ks for example, and have no savings in the form of cash stored. The form of savings does matter in a economy. The Fed's solution is always cheap money to solve every single problem. Remember savings are evil....... Fed wants higher prices. Lower prices are evil, and lead to "deflation" which is bad. We need overpriced houses, so forth, so yeah, lever up, and provide maximum consumption, and bid up prices even more..... And what is all this derived from? Keynesian theories & even neoclassical theories....