Sunday, May 21, 2017

Understanding U.S. Private Debt Data

As I have written in the past, private debt is an important indicator of economic bubbles, but the data is not just nominal, but also historical, and  composed of trends.  While the recent U.S. private household debt report showed nominal debt levels higher than the 2008 Peak level, the debt level ratio is actually less when compared with disposable income and not deserving, when thoroughly analyzed, of scary debt level headlines.

The current report data does show continued upward trends in student loan debt and auto loan debt with a small uptick in credit card debt.  While delinquencies 90+ days are still above pre-2008 levels, the levels are actually historically low or close to historically low.  Auto loan delinquencies have been driven by subprime used car loan originators and more recently by auto manufacturers trying to move stock in a period of slowing motor vehicle sales.  The student loan problem is the result of poor governmental administration and financial aid support, rising tuition, and poor governmental oversight of private student providers who have been particularly predatory in trying to collect payments despite an established legal process.  All three private providers have similar complaints, but Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) is the largest, sued not only by the CFPB but also by two state attorney generals, and, as the largest, is currently favored by the Trump Administration to be the vendor in creating a single entry point website for student loan application and administration which would defeat the Obama Administration attempt to create a transparent, streamlined single entry point and form.  The student loan debt levels and delinquencies are a serious trend which has saddled the millennial generation with historically high student debt in a stagnant, low growth economy which has slowed marriages, home buying, and putting off having children. 

If you are going to look at household private debt, you also need to look at corporate debt and you will see the nominal levels are up, but lower when viewed as a percentage of market value and credit market debt as a percentage of net worth is also lower and close to pre-2008 levels.

There is no debt crisis.  The U.S. data is very available and current and, if you inspect the nominal, historical, and trend date, you see the student loan and auto loan trend problems which the U.S. government has failed to correct.  After all, the 1% do not have these problems, which may be why so many young adults, with respect to student loan debt, are not happy with government and the prospect they will not have the quality of life their parents have.  At some point incumbent politicians and political candidates are going to have to start listening to the current young adult generation no matter who is financing their campaigns and demanding their loyalty.

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