I’ve been warning about the danger of the massive debt overhanging the global economy since 2002 to absolutely no avail.
The problem is the giant, stagnant pool of loans that companies and people around the world are struggling to pay back. Bad debts have been a drag on economic activity ever since the financial crisis of 2008, but in recent months, the threat posed by an overhang of bad loans appears to be rising. China is the biggest source of worry. Some analysts estimate that China’s troubled credit could exceed $5 trillion, a staggering number that is equivalent to half the size of the country’s annual economic output.
Official figures show that Chinese banks pulled back on their lending in December. If such trends persist, China’s economy, the second-largest in the world behind the United States’, may then slow even more than it has, further harming the many countries that have for years relied on China for their growth.
But it’s not just China. Wherever governments and central banks
unleashed aggressive stimulus policies in recent years, a toxic debt
hangover has followed. In the United States, it took many months for
mortgage defaults to fall after the most recent housing bust — and
energy companies are struggling to pay off the cheap money that they
borrowed to pile into the shale boom.
Europe, analysts say bad loans total more than $1 trillion. Many large
European banks are still burdened with defaulted loans, complicating
policy makers’ efforts to revive the Continent’s economy. Italy, for
instance, announced a plan last week to clean out bad loans from its
plodding banking industry. Elsewhere,
bad loans are on the rise at Brazil’s biggest banks, as the country
grapples with the effects of an enormous credit binge.
2008 was the first stage, but instead of doing as I recommended,
permitting the bad loans to default, and allowing the banks and other
credit holders to go bankrupt, Ben Bernanke and the Republicans “saved
the economy” by kicking the can down the road just as Alan Greenspan did in 1987.
Granted, they kicked it further than I would have believed possible in 2009, but nevertheless, we’ve now reached it again, and it is bigger and heavier than it was 7 years ago. And the Fed’s metaphorical foot is broken.