Q4 2017 Z.1 Flow of Funds

By Doug Noland

So much uncertainty in the world these days. Some things, however, we know with certitude: U.S. Debt, the value of the securities markets and Household Net Worth do grow to the sky. The Fed’s latest Z.1 report documents another quarter of inflating Credit, markets and perceived wealth – three additional months of history’s greatest Bubble.

Total (non-financial and financial) U.S. System borrowings jumped a nominal $495 billion during the quarter and $2.630 TN in 2017 to a record $68.591 TN. Total Non-Financial Debt (NFD) expanded at a seasonally-adjusted and annualized rate (SAAR) of $1.407 TN during 2017’s fourth quarter to a record $49.050 TN (’17 growth of $1.793 TN). Credit growth slowed from Q3’s SAAR $3.007 TN and Q2’s SAAR $1.921 TN, while it was closely in line with Q4 2016’s SAAR $1.435 TN. NFD as a percentage of GDP ended 2017 at 249%. This compares to 230% to end 2007 and 179% in 1999.

By major category for the quarter, Household Debt expanded SAAR $790 billion, a notable acceleration from Q3’s $516 billion and Q2’s $573 billion. For perspective, one must go back to 2007’s $946 billion to see annual growth exceeding Q4’s pace of Household borrowings. For 2017, total Household Borrowings expanded $604 billion, up from 2016’s $510 billion, ‘15’s $403 billion, ‘14’s $402 billion, ‘13’s $241 billion, and ‘12’s $266 billion. Household Borrowings contracted $51 billion in ’11 and $61 billion in ’10.

And while Household Mortgage borrowings increased to SAAR $302 billion (from Q3’s $282bn), the surge in Household Borrowings was led by a record SAAR $292 billion jump in (non-mortgage) Consumer Credit. Consumer Credit rose SAAR $134 billion in Q3 and SAAR $229 billion in Q4 2016. It’s worth noting that Consumer Credit growth posted its previous cycle peak at $181 billion in Q3 2007.

Total Corporate Credit growth slowed markedly during Q4 to SAAR $520 billion, down from Q3’s SAAR $840 billion, Q2’s $808 billion and Q1’s $815 billion – but was ahead of Q4 ‘16’s $314 billion. Total Corporate Borrowings expanded $746 billion in 2017, up from ‘16’s $710 billion but below ‘15’s $819 billion.

Federal government borrowings slowed sharply during the fourth quarter, with massive debt issuance pushed into Q1 ’18. For calendar year 2017, federal borrowings dropped to $447 billion from ‘16’s $843 billion. 2018 federal borrowings will be enormous.

On a percentage basis, Non-Financial Debt growth slowed to 3.8% in 2017, down from ‘16’s 4.6%. But this slowdown was chiefly related to a halving of the growth in federal borrowings to 2.8% from 5.6%. Household Debt expanded at a 4.1% pace, up from ‘16’s 3.6% to the strongest growth since 2007’s 7.1%.

The Domestic Financial Sector expanded nominal $1.832 TN during the quarter to a record $97.041 TN. During the quarter, Agency/GSE securities gained SAAR $302 billion, Corporate & Foreign Bonds SAAR $517 billion, Fed Funds & Repo SAAR $486 billion and Loans SAAR $898 billion.

Bank (Private Depository Institutions) Assets increased nominal $204 billion, or 4.4% annualized, during Q4 to a record $18.925 TN. Bank Loans jumped nominal $167 billion, or 6.3% annualized, to $10.776 TN. Bank Assets were up $852 billion in 2017 (4.5%), an increase from 2016’s $712 billion (3.9%).

From a more conventional perspective, growth in U.S. “money” and Credit doesn’t appear all that remarkable. Yet asset-based lending has quietly gained significant momentum. Total Mortgage Credit jumped $573 billion in 2017 (Q4 SAAR $625bn), the strongest expansion since 2007. Q4 multifamily mortgage growth was the strongest in years. Agency Securities gained nominal $337 billion (3.9%) in 2017 to a record $8.857 TN, with a two-year gain of $688 billion. It’s anything but clear why the GSEs should be growing rapidly at this point. Broker/Dealer Assets jumped nominal $116 billion during Q4 (15% annualized) to $2.229 TN, an almost three-year high. Broker/Dealer assets expanded $206 billion in 2017, the largest expansion since 2010’s $235 billion. Exchange-traded Funds (ETF) expanded $263 billion during Q4 to $3.400 TN. ETFs expanded $876 billion, or 34.7% in 2017, with a two-year gain of $1.300 TN, or 62%.

After beginning 2008 at $6.051 Trillion (42% of GDP), Treasury Securities ended 2017 at $16.431 TN (83% of GDP). Treasury and Agency Securities combined for $25.288 TN, or 128% of GDP. It’s a staggering amount of so-called “risk free” securities underpinning the entire financial system. Also “staggering” and “underpinning,” global finance pouring into U.S. securities markets is unrelenting. It’s become a primary source of fuel sustaining the Bubble.

Rest of World (ROW) increased holdings of U.S. financial assets by a nominal $646 billion during Q4. For perspective, this is more than triple the Q4 expansion of bank loans. This put 2017 ROW growth at a record $2.817 TN, up from ‘16’s $1.182 TN and surpassing ‘13’s $2.174 TN and ‘06’s $2.125 TN. ROW now holds a record $11.456 TN of U.S. debt securities, $7.888 TN of equites and mutual funds, $737 billion of Repos and $4.699 TN of Foreign Direct Investment. Since the end of 2008, ROW holdings have increased $13.342 TN, or 97%, to end 2017 at a record $27.042 TN. ROW holdings began the nineties at $1.738 TN and ended that decade at $5.621 TN.

Total outstanding Debt Securities (TDS) expanded nominal $441 billion during Q4 to a record $42.826 TN. TDS gained $1.537 TN in 2017, after increasing $1.543 TN in ’16. TDS has increased $11.88 TN, or 38%, since the end of 2008. TDS as a percent of GDP remained constant during Q4 at 217%, after ending 2007 at 200%.

Total Equities Securities (TES) jumped $2.285 TN during Q4 to a record $45.825 TN. TES rose $7.403 TN during 2017, or 19.3%. Since the end of ’08, TES has surged $30.587 TN, or 201%. As a percentage of GDP, TES ended 2017 at a record 232%. This compares to cycle peaks 181% to end Q3 ’07 and 202% during Q1 2000. It’s worth mentioning as well that TES as a percentage of GDP didn’t recover to 100% until Q3 ’95 (106% in 1968). TES as a percentage of GDP ended 1970 at 77%, 1975 at 50%, 1980 at 52%, 1985 at 52%, and 1990 at 59%.

Total (Debt and Equities) Securities ended 2017 at a record $88.651 TN. Total Securities surged to a record 449% of GDP, up from 429% to conclude 2016. For perspective, Total Securities to GDP peaked at 379% ($55.3TN) during Q3 2007 and 359% ($36.0TN) at cycle highs in Q1 2000. Total Securities as a percent of GDP ended 1970 at 148%, 1975 at 122%, 1980 at 128%, 1985 at 155%, 1990 at 189%, and 1995 at 262%.

Massive inflows of international finance have been integral to the U.S. securities market Bubble. Inflating securities and asset prices have inflated perceived household wealth, a dynamic fundamental to the U.S. Bubble Economy.

Household Assets jumped nominal $2.284 TN during Q4 to a record $114.395 TN, with a one-year gain of $7.760 TN and two-year rise of $13.514 TN. For the quarter, Real Estate increased $511 billion to a record $27.848 TN. Financial Assets jumped $1.699 TN in Q4 to a record $80.395 TN, with total equities up $972 billion to $26.562 TN.

With Household Liabilities up $209 billion to $15.650 TN, Household Net Worth jumped $2.076 TN during the quarter to a record $98.746 TN. Household Net Worth inflated $7.162 TN during 2017 to a record 500% of GDP. For comparison, Net Worth to GDP ended 2007 at 459% and 1999 at 445%. Net Worth to GDP ended 1970 at 357%, 1975 at 342%, 1980 at 359%, 1985 at 350%, 1990 at 367% and 1995 at 381%.

I define a Bubble as a self-reinforcing but inevitably unsustainable inflation. Household Net Worth at 500% of GDP is not sustainable. I believe it is unsustainable because I don’t believe Total Securities at 449% of GDP is sustainable. And current securities values are unsustainable because the current financial structure is not sustainable.

Too large a percentage of new Credit creation is financing overvalued assets (securities and real estate, in particular), leaving this key source of liquidity vulnerable to asset price reversals. Too much of the new Credit is Treasury and government-related securities that are grossly mispriced in the marketplace. Moreover, enormous foreign-sourced inflows are having a major (if unappreciated) impact on marketplace liquidity. I suspect that a significant portion of these inflows are related to global QE and, somewhat less directly, to speculative leveraging (“carry trades,” etc.). These sources of liquidity are increasingly vulnerable to central bank “normalization,” higher funding costs and rising global yields.

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