Credit-Driven Train Crash, Part 1, by John Mauldin

Nobody can predict exactly when the train will crash, but it will crash. You can take that to the bank. From John Mauldin at mauldineconomics.com:

In last week’s letter, I mentioned an insightful comment my friend Peter Boockvar made at dinner in New York: “We now have credit cycles instead of economic cycles.” That one sentence provoked numerous phone calls and emails, all seeking elaboration. What did Peter mean by that statement?

I vividly remembered that quote because it resonated with me. I’ve been saying for some time that the next financial crisis will bring a major debt crisis. But as you’ll see today, it is a small part, maybe the opening event, of a rapidly-approaching train wreck. We’ll need several weeks to tease out all the causes and consequences, so this letter will be the first in a series. These will be some of the most important letters I’ve ever written. Something is on the tracks ahead and I don’t see how we’ll avoid hitting it. So, read these next few letters carefully.

Cycling Economies

In 1999, I began saying the tech bubble would eventually spark a recession. Timing was unclear because stock bubbles can blow way bigger than we can imagine. Then the yield curve inverted, and I said recession was certain. I was early in that call, but it happened.

In late 2006, I began highlighting the subprime crisis, and subsequently the yield curve again inverted, necessitating another recession call. Again, I was early, but you see the pattern.

Now let’s fast-forward to today. Here’s what I said last week that drew so much interest.

Peter [Boockvar] made an extraordinarily cogent comment that I’m going to use from now on: “We no longer have business cycles, we have credit cycles.”

For those who don’t know Peter, he is the CIO of Bleakley Advisory Group and editor of the excellent Boock Report. Let’s cut that small but meaty sound bite into pieces.

What do we mean by “business cycle,” exactly? Well, it looks something like this:


Photo: Wikispaces (Creative Commons license)

A growing economy peaks, contracts to a trough (what we call “recession”), recovers to enter prosperity, and hits a higher peak. Then the process repeats. The economy is always in either expansion or contraction.

Economists disagree on the details of all this. Wikipedia has a good overview of the various perspectives, if you want to geek out. The high-level question is why economies must cycle at all. Why can’t we have steady growth all the time? Answers vary. Whatever it is, periodically something derails growth and something else restarts it.

To continue reading: Credit-Driven Train Crash, Part 1

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