Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Forever Blowing Debt Bubbles... When Will The Latest Burst?

I found myself watching The Big Short again on Saturday, and made a note to catch up on the current state of various debt bubbles that have cropped up in the news during the past few years. The signs are not good, given we're yet to recover from the ill-effects of the last financial crisis. Check 'em out...

UK consumer debt hit new heights in July 2018, and hit a new peak in January 2019, while household savings are at historically low levels. I wonder if there's an event about to hit UK consumers that we should be concerned about...?

Meanwhile, concerns about 'leveraged' corporate loans began circulating in 2018, and a fresh warning came from the OECD yesterday. Not only have companies with lower than investment grade credit ratings been borrowing a lot of 'cheap' money at low interest rates, but about 80% of such loans are also on terms that leave lenders much less protected than usual ('covenant-lite'). So if these less-than-investment-worthy corporate borrowers default, the proportion of loans recovered will be much lower than normal.

Again, is there an event looming that might add to financial stress for corporate Britain...?

Of course these leveraged loans are securitised or packaged into asset-backed securities ("ABS") known in this market as "collateralised loan obligations" or "CLOs") to enable investors to speculate in bonds based on the performance of these loans. I saw analysis last year that suggested recovery rates about 15% lower than lenders would typically expect. Here's a more detailed discussion on that from April 2018 - a picture which will no doubt have worsened since then...

Here’s another problem area: more Americans than ever are 90 days late in paying their auto loans, a trend now in its third year.

Of course, auto loans are also securitised into ABS so investors can speculate on the performance of the underlying loans. The issuance of bonds based on auto loans hit a post-financial crisis peak in 2017 and kept going. Here’s what was said about the ABS market for auto loans a year ago - well before 90 day delinquency hit record highs.

Fasten your seat belts...
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