While U.S. Consumer credit increased less than expected in January, we are concerned with what we are seeing in consumer loans and debt in general across the world.
With our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme, the average amount financed and the duration of new auto loans continues to rise – same car, bigger loan and for longer means a more highly leveraged car owner.
We also see warnings sign with credit card debt as our Cash-Strapped Consumers struggle to make ends meet. At small banks, the share of outstanding card balances written off as a loss after consumers failed to pay hit 7.2% in the fourth quarter of 2017, up from 4.5% a year ago, according to Federal Reserve data. While overall card losses across all banks remain below the historical average of the last 30 years, they’ve been slowly climbing in the last two years. We believe these smaller banks are canaries in the coal mine as the average charge-off rate at those smaller banks is near an eight-year high, while the 3.5% loss rate at large banks remains well below the 10.6% seen in 2010.
If an effort to compete with the large and increasingly larger banks, some smaller banks have taken to lowering lending standards, which means their credit cards are held by those that are first to feel economic angst. The subprime borrower is always the first to get hit when the economy weakens. For years, wage growth has been slower than the growth in expenditures, forcing many families to take on credit card debt just to pay for necessities. The rising charge-off rates indicate that these folks are in a perilous economic condition if wage growth doesn’t accelerate sufficiently and soon.
Education debt swelled to nearly $1.38 trillion at the end of 2017, with 11% of borrowers 90 days or more delinquent, according to the New York Fed. The U.S. federal government now owns over 30% of total consumer debt in the U.S., thanks to its utter dominance of the enormous student loan industry. Prior to the financial crisis, that number was less than 5%. Think about what that means concerning the reduced firepower of the federal government in the case of another financial crisis.