Ballooning Credit & Rate Cuts: A Perfect Storm for Default

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With consumer debt reaching record levels, the Federal Reserve contemplating rate cuts in 2024, and post-Covid inflation still yet to reach its peak, a storm is indeed brewing.

Price increases on essential goods like food, housing, and fuel are hitting hard for Average Americans. But in its policy to avoid economic reality as much as possible, the Fed’s CPI numbers don’t account for factors such as consumers buying cheap alternatives instead of the name brands that they used to easily afford.

Acting as de facto PR agencies for Federal Reserve monetary policy, some media outlets are claiming that Americans are making headway on their debts, it’s just that higher inflation is obscuring all their great progress. As described by WalletHub editor Christie Mathern:

“When you adjust for inflation to compare this number to past years, our current credit card debt total is actually 15% lower than the highest number in 2008.”

According to that analysis, crippling price increases are causing consumers to take on more loans, but the debt only seems too high because each dollar is worth so much less now than it was 15 years ago. Unfortunately, the economy is now so irreparably distorted that these perceptions of economic pseudo-reality have become the norm. Increasingly severe mental gymnastics are required to continue justifying the position that consumer debt has reached anything but utterly unsustainable levels.

Meanwhile, trillions printed during Covid are still in the economy, meaning inflation will only get worse as Powell waves his magic wand to cut rates in the hopes of “stimulating growth.” If you believe that more debt automatically equals more growth, then Powell might be right. But the real result will be higher prices at the store, more consumer debt, and more previous debts left unpaid. According to a Bankrate survey, over 50 million Americans are carrying credit card balances for an entire year and then some, and other numbers show that around half of consumers are carrying balances from month-to-month.

“Total credit card balances hit a high of $1.08 trillion in the third quarter of 2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — a figure that is up $48 billion over the quarter and $154 billion over the year. Interest on this debt is also increasing, with the Federal Reserve reporting the average APR for revolving credit at 22.77 percent as of the third quarter.”

One has to wonder if maybe consumer defaults are the goal. Perhaps “economic growth,” in the Fed’s eyes, really means crashing it all so that more assets like real estate can be owned by parasitic megabanks. However, the simpler explanation is that backed into a corner with so few weapons in their arsenal to meaningfully stabilize prices or get debt under control, there isn’t much else that the Fed can do other than more of the same.

Delinquencies are already at their highest point in about a decade, and the notion that these debt-addicted spenders are going to borrow less rather than more appears quite unlikely in 2024. Lower interest rates will be too tempting when cash-strapped consumers are already struggling more than ever just to afford rice and beans:

As Peter Schiff tweeted on January 11th, there’s unfortunately no end in sight for consumers who are already borrowing just to finance basic needs.

As he said on last week’s The First TV with Jesse Kelly:

“Americans continue to borrow to buy things that they don’t earn enough money to afford, and all that means (is) more upward pressure on prices — the Fed has done too little, too late…we’re running a trillion dollars in debt every quarter.”

But if the job numbers pick up, maybe consumers can afford more expensive survival needs and finally start paying down those debts…right? Not so fast. 2023 was a big year for layoffs, especially in an overly-frothy tech industry suffering further disruption by AI. And’s recent survey found that almost half of companies are anticipating more job cuts in 2024.

Making matters worse, over 1 out of 4 debtors (especially Millennials and Gen Z) are already saying YOLO and “Doom Spending” their way into an even deeper hole. That’s more than 25% of American consumers throwing in the towel, borrowing like there’s no tomorrow, and all but guaranteeing default at one point or another.

The only question left is when we’ll reach the debt event horizon that sucks the economy into a black hole of runaway inflation and cascading defaults. If the Fed is good at one thing, it’s kicking the can down the road — but at some point, that road leads to a cliff, and from there, there’s nowhere left to go but into the void.

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