When the Fed unexpectedly stopped reporting the data for Total Credit Market Instruments in September 2015, the most comprehensive series of total credit in the US economy, there were many screams of disappointment and frustration from US debt watchers. However, this was unnecessary, as all the Fed did was break up the series into its two constituent components: total debt (found here) and total loans (found here).
So today we had a chance to update the total US credit following the release of the Fed's Flow of Funds (Z.1) statement, which is usually parsed for its tracking of changes to household wealth. And while it showed that in the first quarter the net worth of US residents, mostly the wealthy ones as the bulk of financial assets is held by a small fraction of the total population, rose by $837 billion to $88 trillion mostly as a result of a change in real estate holdings, we were more interest in the aggregate picture.
It wasn't pretty.
As a reminder, according to the latest BEA revision, nominal Q1 GDP was $18.23 trillion, an increase of just $65 billion from the previous quarter or an annualized 0.7% rate, the question is how much credit had to be created to generate this growth. Well, according to the Z.1, total credit rose to a new record high $64.1 trillion. This was an increase of $645 billion from the previos quarter. It means that in the first quarter, it "cost" $10 in new debt to generate just $1 in new economic growth!
And here are the two other key charts: the first, showing total credit (debt and loans) vs GDP growth since 1950. The trend is hardly anyone's friend, except for those who create the debt out of thin air to pocket the ever lower cash flows associated with it (and await the next inevitable bailout):
More importantly, on a leverage ratio basis, the US economy is now at a level of 352% total credit/GDP, the highest since Q1 2013, and a level which has been relatively flat since it peaked at 380% just before the crash. One way to read this chart perhaps is that the "carrying debt capacity" of the US economy is roughly 380% at which point something "unexpected" happens. At the current rate of surging credit relative to slowing GDP, the US economy should be there in the not too distant future.