The Credit Crisis: Five Years Past or Five More in the Making
Wall Street is now reflecting upon the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the start of the Credit Crisis. In fact, most are celebrating the belief that the complete collapse of the American economy was avoided thanks to a massive intervention of government-sponsored borrowing and money printing.
However, it is much more accurate to maintain that the Great Recession was only temporarily mollified by our proclivity to re-inflate old bubbles. Therefore, the Great Recession should not be thought of as something that is behind us. Quite the contrary; the last five years have been spent creating the conditions conducive for producing a depression.
It was our reliance on asset bubbles to generate economic growth that caused the Great Recession of 2007. Therefore, to believe that we have truly overcome our problems we should have already weaned the economy from its addictions to debt, low interest rates and inflation. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Our central bank pushed down interest rates to one percent during 2002-2003 and that was the primary contributor to the creation of the housing bubble. Now the Fed has resorted to providing a zero percent overnight lending rate from December of 2008 until today. The monetary base has jumped from just $800 billion, before the start of the Great Recession, to $3.7 trillion-and it’s still growing at a rate of one trillion dollars per annum. The money supply is back to the same growth rate as witnessed during previous bubbles. Our nation’s debt is now at 107% of GDP and the aggregate debt now stands at 350% of our annual output-the same level as it was at the start of the Credit Crisis. Home prices are back rising at the same double digit clip as they were during the height of the real estate bubble and stock prices are up nearly 20% YOY on little or no earnings and revenue growth. And, keeping in line with our tradition of lending money to people who can’t pay it back, subprime auto loans now make up 36% of all car financings.
Yet despite of all the above facts, most investors now believe our problems are behind us and interest rates can rise without causing a slowdown in growth. But if that were indeed the case, why is it that the Fed is still conflicted over whether or not the economy can withstand even a slight reduction in its $85 billion worth of monthly counterfeiting? It seems they are tacitly admitting that our GDP growth (anemic as it may be) is still contingent on the perpetual growth of asset bubbles, debt, low interest rates and money printing.
The truth is that the U.S. economy is more addicted to the artificial stimuli provided by government than during any other time in our nation’s history. Aggregate debt levels, the size of the Fed’s balance sheet, the amount of monthly credit creation and the low level of interest rates are all in record territory at the same time. This condition has caused the re-emergence of bond, stock and real estate bubbles all existing concurrently. If investors choose to believe this is an economy that is on a sustainable path they can do so at their own peril. Disappointingly, it is much more probable that the government has brought us out of the Great Recession only to set us up for the Greater Depression, which lies on the other side of interest rate normalization.