"Deleveraging? What Deleveraging?"
No, that's not the title of a Zero Hedge article from 2011, 2012, 2013 and so on (because we have written on the concept of global "deleveraging" simply because there has been none). It is, however, the title of the 16th Geneva Report on the world economy, released this morning by the Center for Economic Policy Research, which merely confirms, once again, everything we have said, namely that while the Fed's liquidity injections have boosted the stock market, everyone else has been levering up as much as possible, with corporations once again in debt to record levels using easy debt proceeds to buyback their own stock (and push their equity-linked exec comp into the stratosphere), while consumers have loaded up on term debt, mostly in the form of student loans, to pay for their increasingly unaffordable lifestyle (and certainly not for tuition or textbooks), while defaulting, not deleveraging, on mortgages.
That's what we call it. The Geneva Report has far harsher words. Here is an excerpt via the FT:
A “poisonous combination” of record debt and slowing growth suggest the global economy could be heading for another crisis, a hard-hitting report will warn on Monday.
The 16th annual Geneva Report, commissioned by the International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies and written by a panel of senior economists including three former senior central bankers, predicts interest rates across the world will have to stay low for a “very, very long” time to enable households, companies and governments to service their debts and avoid another crash.
The warning, before the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting in Washington next week, comes amid growing concern that a weakening global recovery is coinciding with the possibility that the US Federal Reserve will begin to raise interest rates within a year.
So here is lie #1, debunked: "One of the Geneva Report’s main contributions is to document the continued rise of debt at a time when most talk is about how the global economy is deleveraging, reducing the burden of debts."
It got so bad in recent years, we thought everyone is so stupid they no longer grasp the concept of debt fungibility in an intimately interconnected, globalized world. Thankfully, the Geneva guys get it: "Although the burden of financial sector debt has fallen, particularly in the US, and household debts have stopped rising as a share of income in advanced economies, the report documents the continued rapid rise of public sector debt in rich countries and private debt in emerging markets, especially China.
And this is where the report tells us what it really thinks:
It warns of a “poisonous combination of high and rising global debt and slowing nominal GDP [gross domestic product], driven by both slowing real growth and falling inflation”.
The total burden of world debt, private and public, has risen from 160 per cent of national income in 2001 to almost 200 per cent after the crisis struck in 2009 and 215 per cent in 2013.
“Contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not yet begun to delever and the global debt to GDP ratio is still growing, breaking new highs,” the report said.
What widely held beliefs? We have been saying this since 2010! In fact, we have also been saying what one of the report's main authors says next, namely that the "solution" to every growth crash in the past has been... drumroll... more debt!
Luigi Buttiglione, one of the report’s authors and head of global strategy at hedge fund Brevan Howard, said: “Over my career I have seen many so-called miracle economies – Italy in the 1960s, Japan, the Asian tigers, Ireland, Spain and now perhaps China – and they all ended after a build-up of debt.”
Mr Buttiglione explained how, initially, solid reasoning for faster growth encourages borrowing, which helps maintain growth even after the underlying story sours.
The report’s authors expect interest rates to stay lower than market expectations because the rise in debt means that borrowers would be unable to withstand faster rate rises. To prevent an even more rapid build-up in debt if borrowing costs are low, the authors further expect authorities around the world to use more direct measures to curb borrowing.
Oh come on: even the IMF figured it out. Recall: "Global debt markets have grown to an estimated $100 trillion (in amounts outstanding) in mid-2013 (Graph C, left-hand panel), up from $70 trillion in mid-2007." Is everyone else really that dumb they can't do simple math?
Anyway, about debt rates: lower for longer. Got it. Can we now stop all that BS about the Fed hiking rates already?
Oh, and yes, there is a bubble:
Although the authors note that the value of assets has tended to rise alongside the growth of debt, so balance sheets do not look particularly stretched, they worry that asset prices might be subject to a vicious circle in “the next leg of the global leverage crisis” where a reversal of asset prices forces a credit squeeze, putting downward pressure on asset prices.
At this point we hope ZH regulars are yawning, because none of the above, which apparently goes according to conventional wisdom, is new, especially for those who recall: Deutsche Bank: "We've Created A Global Debt Monster", to wit:
We've created a global debt monster that's now so big and so crucial to the workings of the financial system and economy that defaults have been increasingly minimised by uber aggressive policy responses. It’s arguably too late to change course now without huge consequences. This cycle perhaps started with very easy policy after the 97/98 EM crises thus kick starting the exponential rise in leverage across the globe. Since then we saw big corporates saved in the early 00s, financials towards the end of the decade and most recently Sovereigns bailed out. It’s been many, many years since free markets decided the fate of debt markets and bail-outs have generally had to get bigger and bigger.
This sounds negative but the reality is that for us it means that central banks have little option but to keep high levels of support for markets for as far as the eye can see and defaults will stay artificially low. As such we remain bullish for 2014. However it’s largely because we think the authorities are trapped for now rather than because the global financial system is healing rapidly. So as well as EM being very important for 2014, we continue to think the Fed taper pace is also very important. If the US economy was the only one in the world then maybe they could slowly taper without major consequences. However the world is fixated with US monetary policy and huge flows have traded off the back of QE and ZIRP so it does matter. We have suspicions that the Fed may have to be appreciative of the global beast they've helped create as the year progresses.
In other words: all of this is super bullish because the system will continue to collapse and need more bailouts. The Bizarro world Bernanke created truly is a fascinating place.