Global Reversal

It's been a few weeks and there's been a bit of excitement surrounding the Fed. But from an economic and credit standpoint, it's largely "sound and fury, signifying nothing." Risk spreads are still wide, lots of high-grade and few low-grade bonds are being issued, market rates (all but the shortest maturities) are higher not lower. Sure, stock markets are rallying on the promise of inflation but the Fed may not be able to deliver, especially since only the Bank of Japan is using the same playbook.

If you look closely, the recent past is very similar to the 1970s. We have rising inflation everywhere, though masked this time using statistical manipulation in the First World. Inflationary credit excess driving unsustainable demand for all kinds of stuff. This benefits rising industrial exporters (Japan then, China now) and commodities producers (OPEC, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Texas, Alberta and various African nations). We experienced a co-ordinated global boom then, just as now and for the same reasons. In fact, we are currently experiencing the highest sustained rate of global GDP growth since the early 1970s - not a terribly auspicious precedent.

Even with cuts in the Fed funds target rates, the US economy seems to be well along the road to a severe recession. Housing can only be described as collapsing. To those who argue that prices haven't come down much, you are correct - that comes later. Prices are sticky in housing since the average market participant is poorly informed. Price declines often continue well after a bottom in sales and construction. Just given what's happened already, we can look forward to 18-24 months of falling prices.

Predictably, lending against depreciating collateral isn't terribly popular and the initial effects of less EZ credit are being seen in the first small drops for consumer spending and retail sales. The declines would have been worse without rapid growth of credit card balances.

The Federal Reserve reported that consumer credit rose at an annual rate of 5.9 percent in August, the biggest increase since a 7.9 percent jump in May.

The increase was led by an 8.1 percent leap in revolving credit, the category that includes credit card loans.

This will get much worse for at least a year. With consumer spending now accounting for an unprecedented 72% of the economy, the vulnerability to a consumer spending slowdown is obvious. Of course American consumers have been spending money they don't have for the last 5 years and the engine for excess spending - the housing bubble has been sputtering and has now shut down.

What's fascinating is that similar dynamics are now being seen overseas. Many nations have experienced simultaneous housing bubbles and their associated wealth effects. A number of them are now rolling over in credible imitations of the US housing market of 2006. What ties them all together is credit. Live by the (credit) sword, die by the sword. It hasn't hit the inflation boom economies yet but it very likely will.

UK Builders
UK Lenders
New Zealand

There's evidence of housing rolling over in such diverse locations as Sri Lanka, the Baltic States and Thailand. Once again, the only common thread is a deflating global credit bubble.

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