Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Debt Is Going To Continue To Be A Problem In The United States

Officials at the Federal Reserve and in many other leadership positions around the world believe that liquidity is the solution to our current woes. And, if the amount of liquidity that is in the anking and financial markets is not enough to resolve our problems then more liquidity is certainly the answer.

This is behind QE2, and this is behind most of the effort to resolve the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

What does liquidity allow you to do? It allows you to sell assets into the marketplace.

However, selling assets into the marketplace does not solve your problems if the price at which you sell the assets is substantially below the accounting value of the assets on your balance sheet. In such cases, having liquid markets in which to sell assets may allow you to more than wipe out your equity and leave you unable to pay off your debts.

There are two ways to counter this problem. The first is to inflate prices so that the real value of the debt declines which reduces the amount of leverage you have on your books. The second is to create income and wealth so that equity increases relative to the debt outstanding thereby reducing leverage.

The people advocating the injection of more liquidity into the financial system hope to spur bank lending and thereby stimulate economic growth. Those that are concerned with the creation of more and more liquidity argue that this first group of people really just want to create inflation and reduce the real value of the debt.

The problem I see unfolding is that the economy is expanding and will continue to expand in 2011, but it will not expand in such a way as to stimulate sufficient income growth and wealth creation so as to lower the debt loan many people are bearing. As a consequence, the further liquefying of the banking and financial markets will just benefit those who are not too highly leveraged…generally the financially better off in society…and continue to depress those who are highly leveraged.
In terms of economic growth, the economy is expanding. However, by historical standards, the year-over-year rate of growth of real Gross Domestic Product is substantially below the general recovery pattern. In the year-over-year rates of growth in 2010 were 2.4%, 3.0%, and 3.4% in the first, second and third quarters, respectively. Historically, at this stage of the recovery, the growth rates are usually much greater.

The problems come when we observe some very basic facts with respect to economic performance. First, although Industrial Production has recovered from the lows reached during the recession it has not come close to reaching the peak it attained before the recession set in. Second, the capacity utilization of our manufacturing has recovered, yet it still lies well below its previous peak (which is the lowest peak achieved since the statistical series was begun in the 1960s). Finally, even though unemployment dropped last month, under-employment continues to be extremely high as I estimate that one out of every four or one out of every five individuals of employment age are either unemployed, working part time but would like to work full time, or have dropped out of the work force. This phenomena is captured in the data on the Civilian Participation rate. Note, that this rate is substantially below the level it was before the Great Recession began in December 2007 and is also even further below the level reached before the 2001 recession. Under-employment in the United States has been growing, almost steadily, since the latter part of the 1960s.

Even though corporate profits are rising dramatically, even though many large corporations are acquiring other corporations at a very rapid pace, even though commodity prices are going through the ceiling, even though the big banks are doing very well, thank you, there seems to be a real structural problem in the United States. Liquidity is helping a lot of people but it is not the people we are talking about in this

1 comment:

smurfy said...

I reckon "to inflate prices so that the real value of the debt declines" is inevitable.

My concern is securing a comfortable retirement, coming from a low base.

any suggestions?