US student loans, having boomed in the past 8 years, surged to their all-time highest at an aggregated $1.3 trln, representing roughly 11 percent of total outstanding household debt in the US, with over 7 mln borrowers unable to serve their obligations.
The situation is significantly holding back the improvements in consumer sentiment, offsetting recent improvements in the labour market, and limiting the prospects of US economic growth.
With some 72 percent of the US GDP driven by consumer purchases, the mounting concerns over student loans, especially non-performing loans (NPLs), are becoming an increasingly prominent factor is assessing the prospects of any further economic acceleration. Particularly so, as the Federal Reserve is normalising the US monetary conditions with borrowing costs going up, the issuance of the debt and refinancing of existing loans is now more expensive, and the downside risks of the monetary policy are increasingly prominent in the projected dynamics of the broader GDP expansion.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, during the past 15 years, the burden of student loans in the US economy has increased from just 3.3 percent of overall household indebtedness in 2003 at $240.7 bln to the current $1.3 trln, or 10.6 percent of total household debt. About 44 mln Americans currently have a student loan to service, and about every sixth borrower has defaulted on their obligations.
Anyone in mainland China with a lot of money to move — companies foreign or domestic, or individuals — now seems likely to run into the capital controls that the authorities have thrown up in hopes of stopping a sell-off in the currency.
Real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi has given up on selling the Hongkou Soho, a striking Shanghai office tower whose tenants include Japanese electronics group Panasonic. Located just north of the Bund, the city’s iconic waterfront, the building was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Pan had been looking to invest proceeds from the sale overseas but sees little hope of gaining approval for that.
Similar cases of apparent official obstruction have surrounded other foreign deals. Online game developer Giant Interactive’s agreed-on purchase of an Israeli peer for 30.5 billion yuan ($4.42 billion) remains under review. Technology group LeEco and conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group have yet to complete their respective U.S. acquisitions of television maker Vizio and TV studio Dick Clark Productions.
Meanwhile, total social financing, China’s broad measure of credit and liquidity, continues rising by double digits. With limited outlets to overseas, Chinese money has nowhere to go but domestic assets.
With the reliability of a finely-tuned watch, the latest release of foreign-currency reserves held at the Swiss National Bank has shown yet another record, in a sign the central bank continues to swim against the tide.
Reserves swelled to SFr683.2bn ($SFr679.3bn) in March, up by nearly SFr15bn on the previous month.
Though the SNB famously dropped its hard upper limit on the franc two years ago, it continues to try and manage the currency’s ascent, buying foreign currencies, chiefly euros, whenever it sees fit. It often stresses its view that the franc is overvalued.
The euro now trades at SFr1.07. Deutsche Bank thinks the Swiss currency will climb much further from here, taking that rate to parity.
Among the reasons, it says the Swiss authorities may feel some pressure from the US:
The US Treasury looms large, as it is due to release its latest report on the FX policies of US trading partners sometime this month. As argued elsewhere, Switzerland is already closest to meeting all three criteria of currency manipulation. Its current account surplus runs well above 3% of GDP, and the SNB has intervened well in excess of 2% over the past year. In the past, the Treasury acknowledged the constraints on domestic asset purchases given the limits of the Swiss bond market; but such subtleties could fall by the wayside under the Trump administration. Free trade with the US is too important for Switzerland to be risked by continued FX intervention.
In addition, inflation is picking up, and the German bank disputes the idea that the franc is overvalued.
Back in October 2015, roughly around the bottom of the recent commodity cycle, we reported a stunning statistic: more than half of Chinese companies did not generate enough cash flow to even cover the interest on their cash flow, and as we concluded “it is safe to assume that up to two-third of Chinese commodity companies are now at imminent danger of default, as they can’t even generate the cash to pay down the interest on their debt, let alone fund repayments.“
While commodity prices have staged a powerful bounce over the past 18 months, and despite the government’s powerful drive to avoid major defaults over concerns about resulting mass unemployment, the inevitable default wave has finally arrived, and as Bloomberg reports overnight, “China’s deleveraging push has racked up the most defaults on corporate bonds ever for a first quarter, and the identity of the debtors is pretty revealing.”
Seven companies have defaulted on a total of nine bonds onshore so far in 2017, versus 29 for all of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In a sign of the struggles facing China’s old economic model, most of them depend on heavy industry and construction. While it’s still far from a crisis point, the defaults shows how policy makers’ efforts to reduce the liquidity that had propelled the bond market until late last year is exacting casualties.
Cited by Bloomberg, Liu Dongliang, a senior analyst at China Merchants Bank Co. in Shenzhen said that “weak companies can’t sell bonds, which adds to the pressure on their cash flow.” As a result, “the pace of defaults will continue. It will be even more difficult for weak companies to sell bonds because corporate bond yields may rise further — the current yield premium doesn’t provide enough protection against credit risks.”
As discussed in recent months, the Chinese central bank has been curbing leverage in money markets leading to a spike in borrowing costs…
The news from Greece continues to portray storm clouds on the horizon
The noises still emanating from Greece that there’s trouble within the Greek government are still coming thick and fast.
The latest from Greece is that there could be trouble due around April 7th and that threats might be issued that if the bailout review has not been concluded favourably by then, the Greek government may declare that it cannot repay its debts.
According to our sources, the rumours surrounding my story from 16th March are still circulating and gaining some additional traction.
This latest “smoke” has apparently been coming from unnamed Greek MEP’s and government officials.
Greece is facing some substantial debt repayments in the next few months and these could be in the balance if there’s trouble.
During the last 129 months, the Fed has held 86 meetings. On 83 of those occasions it either cut rates or left them unchanged.
So you can perhaps understand why Wednesday’s completely expected (for the last three weeks!) 25 bips left the day traders nonplussed. The Dow rallied over 100 points that day.
Traders understandably believe that this monetary farce can continue indefinitely, and that our Keynesian school marm’s post-meeting presser was evidence that the Fed is still their friend.
No it isn’t!
Our monetary politburo has expanded its balance sheet by a lunatic 22X during the last three decades and in the process has systematically falsified financial asset prices and birthed a mutant debt-fueled of simulacrum of prosperity.
But once it begins to withdraw substantial amounts of cash from the canyons of Wall Street as per its newly reaffirmed “normalization” policy, the whole house of cards is destined to collapse.
There will be a stock market implosion soon, and that will in turn generate panic in the C-suites as the value of stock options vanish. Like in the fall of 2008 — except on an even more sweeping and long-lasting scale — corporate America will desperately unload inventories, workers and assets to appease the robo-machines of Wall Street.
But there is nothing left to brake the casino’s fall.
As the vulture pundits in the mainstream media pick apart hollow political scandals, the essential bankruptcy of the federal government looms just ahead. The national debt is creeping toward 20 trillion dollars, and the United State’s largest problem is once again staring the world in the face.
Just before the government was slated to shut down in 2015 (as it did in 2013), Congress was able to pass a delay on the debt ceiling decision until March 15th of this year — Wednesday of this week. Recurring uncertainty caused by events like this has implications that extend far beyond our own borders. The amount of leverage in the current system has already forced foreign holders of U.S. debt to question the real value of America’s full faith and credit.
2016 was a record-setting year for the liquidation of foreign-held U.S. bonds, topping out at nearly $405 billion. The selling was led by China, America’s second-biggest creditor, which currently holds over $1 trillion of U.S. debt, almost 28% of the total held by foreign central banks. They weren’t alone, though, and even the U.S.’ number one lender, Japan, has rolled back their positions to protect themselves as the reality of U.S. insolvency comes into focus. A gradual change has been set in motion, and the global superpower status of the United States may be systematically eroded — not militarily, but economically.
If the government does shut down again, the Treasury Department reportedly has as little as $66 billion in reserves and just enough income from taxes to meet its essential obligations.
Just as everyone was finally accepting the idea of deflation and negative interest rates, inflation decides to pay a return visit. In the past week, articles with the following headlines appeared in major publications around the world:
What happened? Well, towards the end of 2015 most of the world’s major governments apparently got spooked by deflation and decided to ramp up their borrowing and money creation. China, for instance, generated the following stats in 2016:
New loans totaling 12.65 trillion yuan, or $1.8 trillion.
M2 money supply growth of 11%.
Debt-to-GDP ratio jump from 254% to 277%.
In Europe, the European Central Bank ramped up its bond buying program, pumping about a trillion newly-created euros into the Continental economy:
After yet another round of inconclusive bailout talks in Athens, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he believed a comprehensive deal with creditors could be reached by April while taking a dig at the International Monetary Fund over its tough stance on labor rights.
In comments to reporters at the end of a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels, Tsipras said he believed a technical-level agreement could still be reached in time for a March 20 Eurogroup, with a broader accord, including the specification of medium-term debt relief measures, coming in April.
Tsipras indicated, however, that tough talks on collective wage bargaining would be harder to conclude. “That issue can’t be solved at the technical level. There’s a disagreement,” he said, adding that the IMF must understand that Greece is a European country and that non-European labor models cannot be imposed on it.
In a related development, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said Tsipras asked the Fund “to stand by Greece” in its third bailout program.
“To commit to Greece, as the Greek prime minister has requested, in addition to reforms, the debt should be sustainable,” Lagarde told French newspaper Le Parisien in an interview.