Last week, rating agency DBRS raised a red flag when it calculated that in the past decade average US wages have risen by only 5.7%, while consumer debt over the same period rose 60% more, or 9.3%. However, while the US household's reliance on debt to fill in the income gaps is hardly news, on Monday JPMorgan found another, even more concerning debt inflection point: household debt, fast as it may be rising, is about to be eclipsed for the first time ever by the even faster rising federal government debt.
As JPM writes in its weekly market recap, prior to the Financial Crisis, household debt relative to federal government debt hit a high of 3 to 1 times. Since then, a combination of bank credit tightness and consumer prudence has sharply limited the growth in household debt, with liabilities increasing just 4% since 3Q 2008. However, JPM adds, "the same cannot be said of the federal government, with liabilities increasing almost 150% over the same period and nearly reaching household debt levels for the first time in modern history."
On top of that, the CBO projects that, even excluding the impact of tax cuts, government debt levels will continue to march upward over the course of the next 10 years, ultimately hitting $25.5 trillion by the end of 2027.
While this does not point to an impending crisis, it does mean that, should another downturn occur, the government would be far less able to come to the rescue as it did in 2008. It also means that while tax cuts may take place today, it becomes all the more probable that they will become tax increases or spending cuts in the future, with tax increases likely to hit higher income households and elderly households being more vulnerable to spending cuts.
Finally, "this means that while consumers have taken steps on their own account to ensure a smaller debt burden, older and wealthier households should be particularly wary of the potential impact of rising government debt on their finances" especially once the next government - far more likely to be of the "wealth redistribution persuasion" - decides to do just that..