The Corporate Debt Bubble Is A Train Wreck In Slow Motion

Thursday, January 23, 2020
By Paul Martin

Brandon Smith
Alt-Market.com
Wednesday, 22 January 2020

There are two subjects that the mainstream media seems specifically determined to avoid discussing these days when it comes to the economy – the first is the problem of falling global demand for goods and services; they absolutely refuse to acknowledge the fact that demand is going stagnant and will conjure all kinds of rationalizations to distract from the issue. The other subject is the debt bubble, the corporate debt bubble in particular.

These two factors alone guarantee a massive shock to the global economy and the US economy are built into the system, but I believe corporate debt is the key pillar of the false economy. It has been utilized time and time again to keep the Everything Bubble from completely deflating, however, the fundamentals are starting to catch up to the fantasy.

For example, in terms of stock markets, which are now meaningless as an indicator of the health of the real economy, corporate stock buybacks have been the single most vital mechanism for inflation. Corporations buy their own stocks, often using cash borrowed from each other and from the Federal Reserve, in order to reduce the number of shares on the market and artificially boost the value of the remaining shares. This process is essentially legal manipulation of equities, and to be sure, it has been effective so far at keeping markets elevated.

The problem is that these same corporations are taking on more and more debt through interest payments in order to maintain the facade. Over the period of a decade, corporate debt has skyrocketed back to levels not seen since 2007, just before the credit crisis. The official corporate debt load now stands at over $10 trillion, and that’s not even counting derivatives exposure. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the amount of derivatives still held by corporations stands at around $544 trillion in notional value (theoretical value), while the current market value is only around $10 trillion. This is a massive discrepancy that can only lead to disaster.

In terms of debt-to-GDP, the credit cycle peak has spiked beyond any other peak in the past 40 years. This amount of borrowing always has consequences. Even if central banks were to intervene on a level similar to TARP, which saturated markets with $16 trillion in liquidity, the amount of cash needed is so immense and the economic returns so muted that such measures are ultimately a waste of time. The Federal Reserve fueled this bubble, and now there is no stopping it’s demise. Though, they’re behavior and minimal response to the problem suggests that they have no intention of stopping it anyway.

Currently, stock buybacks are set to decline this year, and I don’t think this is because corporations have decided they want to quit the tactic. They have to quit, because the amount of debt they are accumulating is is now outpacing their falling profits. Corporate profits peaked in the 3rd Quarter of 2018 and have been in decline ever since. The Price-to-Earnings ratio as well as the Price-to-Sales ratio are now well above their historic peak during the dot-com bubble, meaning, stocks have never been more overvalued compared to the profits that corporations are actually bringing in.

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