Disappearing Credit

All across the banking world – from commercial loans to leases and real estate – credit is collapsing. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing for British newspaper The Telegraph:


Credit strategists are increasingly disturbed by a sudden and rare contraction of U.S. bank lending, fearing a synchronized slowdown in the U.S. and China this year that could catch euphoric markets badly off guard. Data from the U.S. Federal Reserve shows that the $2 trillion market for commercial and industrial loans peaked in December.

The sector has weakened abruptly as lenders tighten credit, especially for non-residential property. Over the last three months it has dropped at a rate of 5.4% on annual basis, a pace of decline not seen since December 2008.


C & I loans, y/y growth. Readers may recall that we recently showed this chart in “Libor Pains”, in which we discussed corporate debt. Actually, y/y commercial & industrial loan growth peaked in early 2015 already, not just “last December”… but lettuce not quibble (Pritchard likely meant to refer to total commercial bank credit, the growth rate of which reached an interim peak in late 2016 – shown further below). The point remains that credit growth is falling fast – click to enlarge.


If new loans aren’t made, the supply of credit money will contract. That’s the “doomsday device” embedded in our credit money system: It is subject to sharp and disastrous drawdowns in the money supply.

When loans are paid or written off, the outstanding credit (money) ceases to exist. This reduces the money supply and triggers corrections, recessions, or market crashes.

Real money doesn’t disappear in a credit contraction. But our fake “credit money” does. This makes the entire system vulnerable to the credit cycle. Credit increases. Then it decreases. And as credit money vanishes, the recession deepens… causing the credit market to tighten further and causing more money to disappear.

That’s why a credit contraction is so dangerous in today’s world. With more than $200 trillion in outstanding debt, even a soft contraction could lead to a worldwide depression.

That’s why the Fed will not risk jacking up interest rates too far, too fast. Instead, it will follow inflation, and then do an immediate about-face when the credit cycle turns around.


Doom Index

A dear reader helpfully suggested that we put together a “Doom Index” – with indicators of an approaching bust. Our research team in Delray Beach, Florida, is working on it.

In the meantime, as to the doom indicator highlighted above, namely the flow of credit: This is an economy that depends on bank lending. If it slows, so does the economy. And credit growth is falling at a rate not seen since 2008.


Bank credit growth at all commercial banks has begun to decline sharply from an interim peak in September 2016. It should be noted that the current decline in the growth rate is taking place against a very different backdrop compared to the last one between late 2012 and late 2013 – which occurred concurrently with QE3 debt monetization running at full blast ($80 billion in asset purchases per month). Consequently money supply growth remained brisk on the latter occasion, while this time, it is slowing down hard, hand in hand with the decrease in bank credit expansion – click to enlarge.


Another indicator that will surely be a part of our Doom Index is the level of margin debt. When an investor buys stocks on margin, he borrows the bulk of the purchase price from his broker.

Because he only puts up a portion of the total amount – the margin – he stands to gain more if the market goes up. But if the market goes down, he gets a “margin call.”

He has to put up his shares as collateral for his loan. His broker can now sell these shares (without notifying him) if he doesn’t meet his margin requirements.

“Markets make opinions,” say the old-timers. When stocks are near an all-time high, investors imagine they will only go higher. But when they go down, all of a sudden they ask themselves why they ever bought them.

Squeezed and panicked, the margin buyer is forced to sell. And the higher the margin debt, the greater the number of shares that must be liquidated, sending the whole market down even further. Today’s level of margin debt has never been seen before.


Margin debt has reached a new record high of $529 billion, while net cash available to investors has plummeted to a record net negative $ -224 billion (i.e., there is actually “no cash available”). This is an insane amount of leverage, to put it bluntly. Eventually it will result in a cascade of forced selling, as it did on the previous occasions visible on this chart – click to enlarge.


The Trump Factor

Margin debt figures are “hard data.” They show, in exact dollar terms, that investors are optimistic. Consumers are optimistic, too. Consumer sentiment figures are “soft data.” They rely on mushy survey results. But the two line up nicely – hard and soft – at 17-year highs.

On the surface, both types of data are remarkable. Why would investors borrow money to buy shares when stock prices are already as high or higher than ever in history?

The way to make money is to buy low and sell high. These investors seem to have it backward. They are eager to buy shares – on credit – at the highest prices ever seen. Consumers should be gloomy, too. In fact, the hard data says they are gloomy. They’re not spending.


As John Hussman correctly pointed out recently: “Multi-year highs in consumer confidence are less a sign of forthcoming consumer spending as a sign of forthcoming investor losses.”  Note also the developing long-term triple divergence between peaks in stock prices and peaks in the consumer confidence index. In our experience such divergences – which usually are hardly noticed by anyone – often prove very meaningful in hindsight – click to enlarge.


Retail stores are closing at a faster rate than any time since the 2008 crisis. Auto sales are slumping (there’s a study from JPMorgan Chase that predicts used car prices will fall by half over the next five years.)

And mortgage payments are now the least affordable, compared to wages, than they have ever been. How to account for such bullishness on the part of consumers and investors? Donald J. Trump.


In spite of being considered a “controversial figure”, the Donald has managed to infect investors, businessmen and consumers alike with his “can do” MAGA optimism. That is not a bad thing in our opinion – but contrary to certain of his predecessors he is sometimes compared to, he has come to power at a time when interest rates have just begun to rise from all time lows, stocks and other assets are at the most egregiously overvalued levels ever and the money supply has grown by more than 140% in a mere eight years. He cannot possibly keep the necessary bust at bay, regardless of which of his economic policies he actually manages to implement. In fact, the earlier the bust  happens, the better it will likely be for him.


No Reagan Redux

Consumer confidence and the stock market shot up after Election Day. Apparently, consumers and investors thought that Mr. Trump would make things better. But how, exactly, this was to happen has never been made clear – at least not to us.

The “Trump Trade” depends on so many unlikely and remote things. Even if Team Trump could make fundamental improvements in regulations, taxation, or the deficit, the results wouldn’t show up for years. It takes years for sensible infrastructure spending to get underway, for example.

After President Reagan took office, stocks fell, not rose. They kept going down for the next 17 months, wiping out 20% of the entire market value. And that was when the Deep State insiders were just getting started.

Thirty-seven years ago, a determined majority, with a solid grip on Congress and a clear idea of what it was doing, could still control the government. Now it’s practically impossible.

And back then, the reformers had the wind at their backs. You could buy the Dow for one ounce of gold (now you need 16 ounces). The nation had less than $1 trillion in debt (now it has $20 trillion). The 10-year Treasury yield was over 15%  (now it’s under 3%).

In other words, investors and consumers had every reason for optimism in the Reagan Era. Things were almost sure to get better. Now, they had better be careful. The winds have shifted. Things are almost sure to get worse.


Charts by: St. Louis Federal Reserve Research, SentimenTrader, John Hussman


Chart and image captions by PT [ed note: we have slightly edited the original text]


The above article originally appeared as “Doom Index Says Beware!and “The Credit Money System’s “Doomsday Device”” at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, 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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9 Responses to “Doomsday Device”

  • TheLege:

    When a loan is issued an asset is created, but so is an off-setting liability (a deposit). Two balancing entries.

    It stands to reason then that when a loan is repaid the off-setting deposit disappears.

    Think about it: if credit money didn’t disappear and instead accumulated, today’s money supply would be orders of magnitude higher — that or accumulated bank capital, as you suggest.

    • RedQueenRace:

      “It stands to reason then that when a loan is repaid the off-setting deposit disappears.”

      The deposit backs the check that is cut to the borrower. That deposit is closed out when the borrower spends the check. The deposit (liability disappears) and associated reserves (corresponding assets reduced) move to another bank, or if the receiver of the spent funds banks at the same bank it moves from one deposit account to another and reserves are unaffected. The deposit account from the loan is long gone well before the loan is paid off. At least that is how I understand it to work.

      When the loan is repaid one asset (“cash”) replaces another (the loan). The borrower’s deposit account is reduced (at that bank or a different one). As I see it, what the bank does with the money received will determine what happens to the money supply. They have to do something with it; it doesn’t just vanish. Other than parking it with the Fed or in the vault where can they hold it where it is outside of the money supply? There are some actions, such as buying government securities, that could reduce the MS (government demand deposit accounts are not part of MS) but that is going to last only until the government spends the money, which won’t take long.

      “Think about it: if credit money didn’t disappear and instead accumulated, today’s money supply would be orders of magnitude higher — that or accumulated bank capital, as you suggest.”

      I didn’t say it can’t disappear, just that it is not a given.

      The argument is made that if all loans were paid off all the money created by them will disappear. Money is created by “flowing” from the bank to the borrower and it is just categorically stated that reversing this has the exact opposite effect. The money supposedly just disappears. How? The “it goes into thin air” statement is presented as if it is axiomatic. If I pay a bank $1000 to pay off a loan and the money just vanished the money supply would indeed be reduced by $1000. But the bank doesn’t burn the check or cash after receiving it. They do something with it. Outside of vault cash and Fed deposits, what could they do with it that permanently reduces MS?

      Every explanation I have seen stops at the money flowing back into the bank and stating that the money supply thus is reduced. But that is not the end of the story as banks don’t emit money into the economy solely through the loan process.

      • RedQueenRace:

        As an addendum I can accept that money is destroyed simply through accounting entries but I have not seen a good explanation of how this is done. The explanations I have seen, including yours, state that the deposit account liability created when the loan is made is debited (by the principal repayment, I assume).

        But for this to work for me I need to understand how the following works:

        1) I take out a loan to buy a car for $20,000 from bank A.

        2) Bank A creates a deposit account for $20,000 and gives me a bank/cashier’s check.

        2) I give the check to the dealer.

        3) The dealer deposits the check in Bank B.

        4) Bank B presents the check for clearing.

        How does Bank A account for the clearing of this check? What is the source of the funds? If the deposit account is debited, as is my understanding, it will be left with a balance of 0 and there will be nothing to debit against as the loan is repaid. To destroy money it has to be just a bookkeeping excercise but I can’t find a good, thorough explanation of it.

        • RedQueenRace:

          Ok, last one. I’ve tried to find more on this but they all use the same arguments and skip what happens as the loaned funds move on past the borrower.

          I can see how this works if I throw out the debiting of the demand deposit account associated with the loan when the check clears. That contradicts something I read years ago about how these accounts work but more and more I think it was wrong.

          The argument I have made to myself is this:

          1) The account is internal and not accessible by any customer, other than being “drawn upon” by the check.

          2) To satisfy the check the bank merely needs to have sufficient reserves on account with the Fed. There is no requirement to write the demand deposit account to down to 0 when the check is cashed because the remaining “funds” cannot be accessed. This leaves the account to be written down as the loan principal is repaid.

          I had to re-think this and figured something along these lines must take place because I realized that if they did not offset the principal somehow, the bank would essentially monetize the entire loan for themselves. While they have created new deposit liabilities, as long as they were properly reserved they would have been able to hold onto the entire repayment and clearly that can’t be as their only profit is the interest.

          • TheLege:

            So, how do you balance the books then if the loan disappears (having been repaid) but the money stays in circulation (having been created in the first instance in conjunction with the loan)? The books would be perpetually out of whack. What counter-balancing entry does a bank produce in order to fix this problem?

            The key to understanding this is that there is ‘real’ money in circulation along with ‘fake’ money — they are entirely fungible from a practical perspective. The real money remains in circulation always, unless it’s sitting in a vault (as cash) or stored under a mattress. It’s the fake (digital) money that is extinguished and created in large quantities every day. If you walk into a bank and repay a loan with a fistful of cash a bank clerk doesn’t walk out back with it, throw kerosene over it and set it alight. It simply becomes part of the stock of the bank’s cash and a digital ‘surplus’ (of an equivalent amount) gets cancelled out. Again, the books have to balance …

            A bank makes a loan of $10k, creates a asset for itself (the loan) and a liability (a deposit) and the customer pays a motor-cycle dealership the $10k which it then deposits in another bank. Deposits are ‘funding’ and so the original lending bank is now short of $10k in funding …. but it will pay and receive large quantities of currency throughout any business day. It’s only at the end of the day that the bank then tots up all the flows and is left with a deficit or a surplus which it will cover by borrowing (or lending) in the overnight interbank market. This is the cash side of the business and goes on like this in perpetuity. The books though must balance: assets vs liabilities. The money has to go back from whence it came.

            There is a difference between ‘earned’ money that is deposited by a saver and money created from ‘thin air’ by a bank. Have a search for a recent article by Frank Shostak – he makes the distinction between real money (commodity credit) and fake money (circulation credit) and how it all circulates together in the system. Maybe this will clear things up for you.

            The bottom line though is that, if everyone suddenly decided that debt was bad thing and went and repaid all their loans, the money supply would collapse and there would be a violent deflationary spiral as it became apparent to everyone that the amount of ‘real’ money in circulation was far smaller than they’d imagined. In this instance, assets would bid for money and the price of virtually everything would fall very sharply. This is why the financial system is often referred to as a ponzi scheme ….. the money supply must increase in perpetuity in order to keep the entire edifice propped up and this is also why people are stressing about demographics as never-ending growth in global population is essential to keep this going, particularly in light of all the debt saturation in Western economies at present.

            The end game is obvious: money supply decreases will be supplemented with endless central bank intervention until the fiat system collapses.

            • RedQueenRace:

              First off, I appreciate the time you have spent on this.

              I’m not confused, or don’t believe I am, about “real” versus “fake/credit” money. I am however, hung up on how the accounting of this works. Every time I think I see it I come up with something I cannot explain.

              Here’s another example that I cannot reconcile:

              I have a demand deposit checking account. I write a check for $500 to A. “A” brings the check to my bank and cashes it. What I’m expecting to happen is:

              My bank credits “cash and due from banks” for $500.

              My bank debits my deposit account for $500.

              Now, just change the $500 check from one I wrote to a loan I received and handed to someone, who cashes it at my bank. The bank still credits “cash and due from banks” for $500. What do they debit on the liability side?

              Note: In searching around I found this:

              “Robert B. Anderson, Treasury Secretary under Eisenhower, said it in 1959:

              When a bank makes a loan, it simply adds to the borrower’s deposit account in the bank by the amount of the loan. The money is not taken from anyone else’s deposits; it was not previously paid in to the bank by anyone. It’s new money, created by the bank for the use of the borrower.”


              So there isn’t even a separate account created, as I had read long ago, at least assuming the quote is right. A loan to me deposits funds in my account. So if that check gets cashed presumably my deposit account gets debited. So now it’s back to “what gets debited as the loan gets written down?” The thing is, a credit to an asset can be offset by an equal debit to another (or new) asset so the books could be balanced without any changes to liabilities whatsoever. The debit to a liability is needed to destroy the money but it is not a requirement to balance the books.

              “A bank makes a loan of $10k, creates a asset for itself (the loan) and a liability (a deposit) and the customer pays a motor-cycle dealership the $10k which it then deposits in another bank. Deposits are ‘funding’ and so the original lending bank is now short of $10k in funding..”

              I’m not following this “shortage.” The settlement should occur at the reserve level (unless the check is cashed – if that happens and the bank has the cash where is the shortage?). The deposit bank’s reserves should be credited and the lender’s debited. There would only be a “shortage” at the lending bank if they have insufficient excess reserves to cover the check as in that case they would be short required reserves.

              • liquid150:

                @RQR when you repay a loan to a bank, you do not pay the loan with cash. You repay the loan with other “deposit money” aka fiduciary media, created by other economic actors, which is destroyed by means of the clearing system at the Fed. A bank’s deposits are merely a list of what it owes to its customers. When you repay a loan with other fiduciary media, the opposite happens. You merely owe the bank less, and the principal portion of the payment is destroyed.

                There are other ways fiduciary media are destroyed.

                This is a good resource: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/quarterlybulletin/2014/qb14q1prereleasemoneycreation.pdf

                • RedQueenRace:

                  Thanks, but since my last post I think I have worked it out.

                  Ultimately I realized the deposit that is destroyed is in the deposit account funding the loan payment, whether the account is at the loaning bank or a different bank. The destruction takes place because the bank receiving the payment does not credit any deposit account. If the bank holding the loan is paid by a check from another bank then the liability debited is at the “other” bank, which debits its deposits liability and credits its reserves asset. The bank receiving the payment will debit its reserves asset and credit the loan asset as far as principal payment goes and shouldn’t be making any adjustments on the liabilities side.

                  Cash doesn’t matter either because again no deposit account is credited at the receiving bank.

                  The one scenario that tripped me up was one in which a smaller bank, say a community bank, cleared the check via a deposit into its demand account at a correspondent bank. I have an idea how this might work but don’t know enough about how these accounts work to be sure. I suspect this is a matter of how the bank subclassifies the deposit assets but am not sure.

                  All this reinforces to me that a loan going bad does not, at least immediately, destroy money as there is no deposit to destroy. I would expect the offset adjustment to the loan write-down credit to be a debit to their allowance for loan losses. If they can recoup some or all of the loss through the sale of collateral or the asset the money could then be destroyed to the extent principal is recovered from the sale

  • RedQueenRace:

    “When loans are paid or written off, the outstanding credit (money) ceases to exist. This reduces the money supply and triggers corrections, recessions, or market crashes.”

    I do not agree that paying off a loan or writing it off unconditionally contracts money supply.

    When a borrower pays off a loan the bank loses the asset but that asset is not itself money. The bank receives money in place of the loan asset. However, that money is not destroyed. It is now the property of the bank. It does not just disappear into thin air. Banks have special monetary creation powers but they otherwise still act in the private sector like other businesses (payroll, utilities, office supplies, taxes, owner profits, etc).

    The money supply could be reduced IF the bank turned around and deposited some or all of the money as reserves with the Fed or stuck it in vault cash. But I would expect it to become part of bank capital and continue to slosh around the system as the bank pays expenses, bonuses, dividends and/or invests some portion of it in debt securities.

    Writing off a loan does not necessarily destroy money either. It destroys the loan asset (again, this is not money) and might impair the bank’s ability to make additional loans but the money created when the loan was opened is still out there. I can see money being destroyed if, because of the loss, the bank must commit some of its own capital to reserves or the bank fails and depositors are not made whole.

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