Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Next Financial Crisis

This week, Suze Orman did a show called "Face it to Erase it". This show was not anything incredibly new but one point that she made toward the end has really made me consider some of the macro economic implications.

For example, there is a significant, nearly 800 Billion dollar outstanding credit card debt in the United States. An entire show was dedicated to people with large amounts of debts, but it became quite obvious to me that the vast majority of these people who were calling in were likely in a position to be unable to repay their debts. And these are not tiny debts. 10, 20, 40, even 80 thousand dollar debts.

Suze made the observation which was quite pointed; this is the next major financial crisis for the United States. This is important because of the fact that credit card companies and banks are in the position of adding a significant burden to individuals here as they significantly raise interest rates and reduce lines of credit. The callers and other information out there has made it clear that this is already happening.

What impact this would include is unclear. But it seems quite certain that there is a significant chance that this will further decrease retail spending over the next 12 months and that this will also increase the rates of bankruptcy. The ripple effects of this kind of situation is not clear. The FED has reduced rates to almost zero, but this does not matter if people cannot get additional lines of credit.

In this environment of decreased leverage, it is hard to imagine what the end-results of this will be....but I think that we're going to see the following trends over the next few years:

-- fewer stores and malls and an increased use of cash for transactions.
-- less consumer options; this will happen as more companies who were operating with little revenue are unable to survive.
-- options that remain will be of lower quality and higher prices as a result of decreased competition and also a desire to "recoup" costs associated with the down markets.
-- an increased interest in "safe" financial instruments like money markets and fixed income securities. Even though many people consider the demand for treasuries to be a bubble, it seems like there is going to be significant demand for government-type, safe, taxing-authority backed instruments. Income from these instruments, when compared with the yields found elsewhere is often as good or better, especially when tax-breaks are considered.

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