Household Debt At Record Level – Bigger Than China’s GDP

by Dave Kranzler, Investment Research Dynamics:

The economy continues to grow weaker despite all of the Fed, Wall St. and media propaganda to the contrary. The economy is growing weaker due to the deteriorating financial condition of the consumer, which is by far the biggest driver of GDP in the United States. The only way the policy-makers can avoid a systemic collapse is “helicopter” money printing, in which printed cash or digital currency credits is, in some manner, distributed to the populace.

The Fed reported that non-revolving consumer debt (not including mortgage debt) hit $2.6 trillion at the end of the first quarter. Student loans outstanding hit a record $1.44 trillion. Recall that at least 40% of this debt is in some form of delinquency, default or “approved” non-pay status. Auto loans hit a record $1.2 trillion. Of this, at the very least  30% is subprime. A meaningful portion of the auto debt is of such poor credit quality when it’s issued that it is not even rated. Credit card debt is now over $1 trillion dollars and at a record level. The average outstanding balance per capita is $9600 per card for those who don’t pay in full at the end of the month.  Just counting the households with credit card debt  balances, the average balance per household is $16,000.  The average household auto loan balance for all households with a car loan is over $29,000.

The data shows a consumer that is buried in debt and will likely begin to default at an accelerating rate this year. In fact, I’d call these statistics an impending economic and financial disaster. Credit card companies are already warning about credit charge-offs. Synchrony (which issues credit cards for Amazon and Walmart) reported that its credit card charge-offs would rise at least 5% in 2017. Capital One (Question: “What’s in your wallet?” – Answer: “Not money”) reported that credit card charge-offs soared 28% year over year for Q1.  Synchrony, Capital One and Discover combined increased their Q1 provision for bad loans by 36% over last year’s provisions taken.

The monthly consumer credit report last week showed a $12.4 billion increase over May. A $16 billion increase was expected by Wall St. Keep in mind that every month of credit expansion is another new all-time high in consumer debt. Credit card debt outstanding increased by $4.1 billion, which is troubling for two reasons. First, it’s likely that financial firms are lending to less than qualified borrowers, as evidenced by the rising credit card delinquency and charge-off rates. Second, given the declining household real disposable income and savings rate, it’s likely that households are using credit card debt to pay for non-discretionary expenses. The smaller than expected increase in credit is being attributed primarily to slower growth in auto loans.

Speaking of the auto industry, Bloomberg reported last week that auto dealers, in a desperate bid to increase sales and reduce inventory, cut prices on new cars and trucks in July by the most since March 2009. It also reported that used car prices dropped 4.1%. This graph from Meridian Macro Research captures the rapid deterioration auto sales (click to enlarge):4

The chart shows rate of change in motor vehicle freight carload volume on a year over year basis vs. per capita auto sales. As you can see, the last time these two metrics were showing negative growth (a decline) and heading lower was 2008. The entire “boom” in auto sales since the “cash for clunkers” program, which ran from July 2009 to November 2009, has been artificially created by a massive expansion in Government-enabled credit and Fed money printing. The impending crash in the auto industry is unavoidable unless the Government resorts to outright “helicopter” money printing (i.e. giving cash directly to households rather than to the banks).

One of the best barometers of consumer financial health is restaurant sales, which are entirely dependent on the relative level of household disposable income that can be allocated to non-discretionary expenditures. Black Box Intelligence’s monthly restaurant industry snapshot,  released Thursday,  showed another monthly decline in restaurant sales and traffic – this one steeper than the past couple of months. I believe this is the 17th successive monthly year-over-year decline. Comp sales (year over year for July) were down 2.8% and comp traffic dropped 4.7%. The latter is more significant, as it better represents actual sales volume because dollar sales are boosted by price inflation. In contrast to these Real World numbers, the BLS reported in its employment report for July that the restaurant industry created 57,000 new jobs. This is not just flagrant misrepresentation of reality for propaganda purposes, it’s outright fraud.

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