Friday, January 15, 2016

Recession in a Jubilee?

It may actually be time to pay the piper.

...[D]espite record low mortgage rates, first-time homebuyers can no longer afford to make the down payment. And without first-time home buyers, existing home owners can't move up.

Likewise, the total value of stocks has now become dangerously detached from the anemic state of the underlying economy. The long-term average of the market cap-to-GDP ratio is around 75, but it is currently 110. The rebound in GDP coming out of the Great Recession was artificially engendered by the Fed's wealth effect. Now, the re-engineered bubble in stocks and real estate is reversing and should cause a severe contraction in consumer spending.

Nevertheless, the solace offered by Wall Street is that another 2008-style deflation and depression is impossible because banks are now better capitalized. However, banks may find they are less capitalized than regulators now believe because much of their assets are in Treasury debt and consumer loans that should be significantly underwater after the next recession brings unprecedented fiscal strain to both the public and private sectors.

But most importantly, even if one were to concede financial institutions are less leveraged; the startling truth is that businesses, the federal government and the Federal Reserve have taken on a humongous amount of additional debt since 2007. Even household debt has increased back to its 2007 record of $14.1 trillion. Specifically, business debt during that time frame has grown from $10.1 trillion, to $12.6 trillion; the total national debt boomed from $9.2 trillion, to $18.9 trillion; and the Fed's balance sheet has exploded from $880 billion to $4.5 trillion.

Banks may be better off today than they were leading up to the Great Recession but the government and Fed's balance sheets have become insolvent in the wake of their inane effort to borrow and print the economy back to health. As a result, the federal government's debt has now soared to nearly 600 percent of total revenue. And the Fed has spent the last eight years leveraging up its balance sheet 77-to-1 in its goal to peg short-term interest rates at zero percent....
Interestingly, all this comes in the context of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. Jubilee years, historically, have been characterized by debt forgiveness of one sort or another. Perhaps it's time to return to an ancient remedy for the fix we're in.


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