Allah’s Credit Card

Today, we were going to talk about stop losses. But we need to look first at what is going on in the markets. In short: Things are starting to happen! The Dow rose 191 points, or 1.1%, on Friday. Gold topped off a 5% rise for the week.

You probably thought we were exaggerating the connection between the Paris terrorist killings and the credit bubble, right? We almost thought so ourselves. But then a report in the French newspaper Libération told us about Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who took hostages at a kosher supermarket and killed four of them.

With no job and no income, how did he finance his life? How did he buy his weapons? He borrowed €6,000 ($6,964) from a consumer credit company, Cofidis, which offers online loans. His attack was financed on credit! And not just his. He also helped finance the brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo. Coulibaly:

 

“I helped him (one of the Kouachi brothers) by giving him a few thousand euro so he could finish buying what he needed.”

 

So, now we see that both sides in the war on terror are financed on credit. But wait. How are those terrorists going to pay back these loans? The local radical imam had a conversation with Coulibaly. Don’t worry about your debts, he told the terrorists, “Allah will take charge of them.”

No kidding. And he’s right, of course. The gods will take care of it.

 

Parking_lot_at_HAA_Kobe-1024x683

Photo credit: Laitr Keiows

 

Deflationary Debt

Getting back to last week’s events, two things happened last week that could signal the beginning of the end of the credit bubble.

First, the price of oil dropped further than almost anyone ever thought possible. Second, the Swiss central bank was the first to give up the fight against the market gods.

Why are these important? Debt is always deflationary. The more people owe, the more of their future earnings they have to set aside to pay it off. After a credit expansion – like a headache after a wild party – comes a credit contraction. You can try to hold it off by raising a glass or two more. But what has to happen will happen sometime – usually at the worst time.

After credit inflation, real prices go down; the gods insist on it. And yet, the strategy of almost every central bank in the developed world has been to keep the bar open as long as possible, hoping the problem will go away. Debt deflation is not permitted. The Fed, for example, has expanded its balance sheet – and the US monetary base – by $3.6 trillion to try to prevent it.

Despite all these free drinks, the party came to an end for oil six months ago. Then commentators – chiefly in the US – were all over the story, telling us what a boon this would be to the US economy. For example, TV’s Larry Kudlow called it “a gigantic tax cut for the American economy.”

The story was simple: A lower price at the gas pumps would leave consumers with more money in their pockets and thereby boost consumer spending in the US. Sounds logical. And it’s a case Chris has been making in our subscriber-only bonus newsletter, The B&P Briefing. But in the economic world there is always “more to the story.”

 

Brent, March 2015 contractBrent crude oil, March 2015 contract – the price decline is equivalent to a big tax cut for consumers, but it isn’t the unequivocal boon it is claimed to be, as shale oil production has been a major driver of reported economic growth (much of it has now turned out to represent capital malinvestment) – click to enlarge.

 

Sub-prime Auto

The markets started to tell that story when the December “core retail sales” numbers – which excludes automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services – were reported last week. Instead of going up, as expected, this measure of spending went down 0.4% for the month. And if you look at all the consumer spending gains during the year, you find the biggest increase in auto sales.

“Ah-ha,” you may say, “a lower price of gas is paying off.” But wait for the rest of the story. Auto sales rose almost 9% last year – an extra $86 billion. But what’s this? Auto debt rose $89 billion. It was like the good ol’ days of the sub-prime mortgage bubble.

Back then, people were “taking out equity” from their houses. Now, they’re taking it out from their cars. They borrow more than the cars actually cost, pocketing the difference.

And delinquencies are already back to 2008 levels, as more and more of total auto debt – expected to reach $1 trillion this year – is sub-prime. Guess what will happen then? The repo men will come out… used cars will hit the lots… prices will fall… and the industry’s collateral will give way.

Who will continue making auto payments on underwater autos?

Allah? Insha’Allah!*

*God willing

 

Loan trouble
US car loan delinquencies after 8 months of taking out the loan. The percentage refers to total car loans outstanding – the percentage of delinquent sub-prime car loans after 8 months (borrower credit score < 620) is much higher at 8.4%. At this rate, Allah will be quite busy.

Charts by: BarCharts, Wall Street Journal
The above article is taken from the Diary of a Rogue Economist originally written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.
 

 

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