09 October 2010

¿Desendeudamiento: cuánto tiempo más? Deleveraging: how much longer?

Gillian Tett de Financial Times se preguntó antier cuánto falta para que termine la fase de desendeudamiento:
What is not evident, however, is how much further that debt now needs to decline to produce any sense of normality. We do not know, in other words, how far along we are into this “deleveraging” process, nor what this might mean for growth or asset prices.

The current data on the issue looks mixed. In some respects – and in some sectors – there might seem to be reason for cheer. The latest capital markets monitor from the Institute of International Finance, published this week, reports a “sharp decline in the liabilities of the US shadow banking system this year”, amid “ongoing deleveraging – in particular by US households”.

Total liabilities of the shadow banks have dropped from almost $22,000bn two years ago, to nearer $17,000bn, or where it was five years ago. “Debt levels for US households, businesses and particularly financial institutions continue to decline” the IIF notes, as a proportion of gross domestic product, towards levels seen earlier in the last decade.

A separate recent report from Citi’s European credit team reinforces that point. This data also suggests that a sharp deleveraging has already occurred for banks. And in the non-banking corporate world, net debt to ebitda for S&P non financials is now running at around 140 per cent, down from 210 per cent at the peak in late 2008. For the EuroStoxx non-financials, the ratio has moved from around 230 per cent to 170 per cent.

If the pattern seen in earlier economic cycles were to play out, investors should welcome this news. With debt levels suitably reduced, banks and companies should now feel confident enough to start borrowing again – and thus raising investment, spending and so on. But that does not appear to be occurring: after cutting debt, companies are still (for the most part) sitting on vast piles of cash; so, it seems are households. Meanwhile banks are resolutely refusing to make large volumes of new loans.

Why? One reason may be that the household sector is still running a big debt burden by historical standards, and is beset by unemployment. Another is that regulatory uncertainty is sapping corporate nerves. However, the Citi team thinks the biggest issue is that rising public sector debt is undermining confidence too, or creating a climate of “fear”, as Alan Greenspan wrote in the FT yesterday. Most notably, even as the private sector has delivered, public debt has exploded.

Termina en una nota pesimista:
Thus the total scale of leverage in the system – namely the sum of both non-financial public and private debt – has not fallen markedly in the last two years (in America, for example, it is now running at around 220 per cent, compared to 170 per cent at the start of the decade.). Hence, Citi argues, investors cannot expect a “normal cycle”; companies and consumers alike are too shell-shocked by the recent past – and so uncertain about how governments will deal with all that public debt in the future. The most likely path for the next few years therefore is one of sluggish growth at best.

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