When the Fed releases its quarterly household credit report, the one item most focused on is the amount of mortgages outstanding and originated in the prior quarter, since courtesy of its monthly consumer credit updates we know that US households have largely given up charging their credit cards at the expense of non-revolving student and car loans. So here is the summary.
First, the good news: courtesy of ZIRP mortgage defaults and discharges tumbled in Q1, resulting in an increase in total mortgage debt balances of $8.17 billion, or an increase of $116 billion in the quarter.
Now, the bad news: the increase in total mortgage balances had nothing to do with a surge in mortgage demand. Quite the contrary, as we have been reporting and as bank mortgage origination bankers have felt first hand, for whatever reason mortgage origination as a business has virtually slammed shut. The Fed confirmed as much when it reported just $332 billion in originations in Q1: well below the $452 billion in Q4, and certainly below the $577 billion a year ago.
In other words, the only reason why total mortgage balances did increase is due to a slowdown in either prepayments and/or discharges, which represents as the simple difference between Q1 originations and the change in total mortgage outstanding, tumbled to just $216 billion - the lowest in the past decade! One can be certain that absent a pick up in originations the total mortgage balances are set to tumble in the coming quarter as even this one last final refuge of the "consumers are releveraging" crowd is smashed.
But that is not to say that consumers have no interest in increasing their debt load. Quite the contrary. Because when one excludes those two conventional methods of leveraging up, credit cards and mortgages, US households are on an epic spending spree funded by, what else, student loans.
We have covered the topic of the student loan bubble extensively in the past so we won't waste more digital ink on where it comes from or what it means for the troubled US consumer, suffice to report that according to the Fed, in Q1 total Federal student loans rose by another $31 billion to a record $1.11 trillion, and up a whopping $125 billion, or 12% from this time last year.
For all the talk that the student loan bubble may have popped the demand for cheap, uncle Sam loans certainly is as strong as ever. The one places where the bubble may have popped, however, is the amount of delinquencies: at 11% it means that some $122 billion in student loans will never be repaid. And considering the Fed historically does a woeful job of accurately estimating the true delinquency rate, we would estimate that at this moment some $250-$300 billion in student debt is already 1 or more months delinquent with no intentions of ever being repaid.
Full NY Fed household debt presentation below (pdf)