Debt Service, Not So Much…


What’s interesting to think about is where we’re standing versus where we’ve been. In some ways – though certainly not in every way – geopolitical tensions, country risk, and general political risk have an association, or at least some connection, with general economic conditions: the more parlous those economic conditions are, then perhaps the more brittle the conditions for general political stability and direction may be. So, it’s interesting to see where the US consumer presently stands, as he or she represents the one time and perhaps future back-stop for the global economy. In its flow-of-funds data reporting, the US Federal Reserve Board shows a relatively benign picture to date, especially when compared to the on-the-edge-of-the-precipice data recorded during QIV 2007, the period just preceding the Great Recession. The FED reports that QII 2019 showed household debt service at 9.69% of disposable income, with mortgage debt service posting at just 4.13% and consumer debt service at 5.56%. The more comprehensive financial obligations ratio (FOR) registered at 15.03% for the second quarter of this year. By contrast, for QIV 2007, the FOR was 18.13%, debt service stood at 13.22%, while mortgage debt service and consumer debt service were recorded at 7.21% and 6.01%, respectively. Given this data and drawing a comparison, it appears the leverage binding on US households is much less taut. That’s not to say that there is no trade war, that there are no structural issues in Europe and elsewhere, and that there is no corrosive political vitriol coursing through the system. It’s just that at least some fundamentals, namely US consumer leverage, don’t seem too bad.

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