Ten years ago, it was too-easy credit that brought financial markets to their knees. Today, it could be a global debt of $247 trillion that causes the next crash.
After a decade of escalating US household debt brought on by low wages and the national debt more than doubling over the same time frame, to $21 trillion, debt could soon put the brakes on this economic recovery, analysts warn.
“We think the major economies are on the cusp of this turning into the worst recession we have seen in 10 years,” said Murray Gunn, head of global research at Elliott Wave International.
And in a note, he added: “Should the [US] economy start to shrink, and our analysis suggests that it will, the high nominal levels of debt will instantly become a very big issue.”
The economic stats:
US household debt of $13.3 trillion now exceeds the 2008 peak. That’s due in part to mortgage lending, which is hovering near its decade-ago level of $9 trillion-plus.
Student loans outstanding have skyrocketed from $611 billion in 2008 to around $1.5 trillion today.
Auto loans, at nearly $1.25 trillion, have exceeded the 2008 total, while credit card balances are just as high now as before the Great Recession.
Meanwhile, global debt — a result of central bankers flooding economies with cheap money to lift them out of an funk — is now $247 trillion, up from $177 trillion in 2008. That is close to 2 ¹/₂ times the size of the global economy.
“We won’t be able to call it a recession, it’s going to be worse than the Great Depression,” said economic commentator Peter Schiff, forecasting a major economic downturn as early as the tail end of the Trump presidency’s first term. “The US economy is in so much worse shape than it was a decade ago.”
Economic theorists say insurmountable debt is the big kahuna. The huge sums today certainly fed the boom times. But since it must eventually be repaid, the tipping point will come when a wave of defaults by overwhelmed borrowers — potentially squeezed by rising interest rates — leads to a widespread reduction in spending and incomes, economists explain.
Although Schiff has gotten some calls wrong in the past — he incorrectly predicted the US Federal Reserve would fail in its roundabout quantitative easing campaign to “reflate” housing and stocks in the wake of the financial crisis — he is convinced he is right on the money this time.
“I think we are going to have a dollar crisis — you think the Turkish lira looks bad now, wait till you see when the dollar is imploding and we have a sovereign debt crisis in the US,” he told The Post. “The US government is going to be given a choice between defaulting on the debt, or else massive runaway inflation.”
Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs said the fiscal outlook for the US was “not good,” and could threaten the nation’s economic security during the next recession.
Schiff dismisses the latest batch of positive indicators, including the lowest unemployment rate in a generation, soaring business confidence spurred by President Trump’s tax cuts and the Dow hitting record highs. “Obviously, there is a whole lot of optimism — but there is a very good chance the US economy is in recession within the next two years. This is already the second-longest economic expansion in history,” Schiff said, adding that recent dips in new housing starts and auto sales may be red flags.
Gunn sees a brutal deflationary spiral ahead in the next downturn.
“People will look to central banks to help them out, but the authorities will be found wanting,” Gunn warned.
“Our prediction is that central banks will go from being feted for ‘saving the world’ in 2008 to being vilified for being impotent in the coming deflationary crash.