MARKETPLACE CLIFFS © Leo Haviland June 25, 2012

Ongoing and mounting concern regarding European problems, especially within the sovereign debt and banking sector, has distracted many marketplace observers from concentrating closely on similar major American issues. The global economic crisis is a long way from being surmounted. Fiscal, banking, debt, and leverage challenges in Europe and the United States (and elsewhere) remain substantial. For the near term, the international crisis probably will worsen. Many perceive the S+P 500 as a rough benchmark measure for overall economic strength. The S+P 500 will head downhill, perhaps precipitously at times. It probably will decisively break beneath its early June 2012 low at 1267.

The International Monetary Fund’s “Fiscal Monitor” (“FM”, April 2012) provides helpful numbers. Analysts can debate which tables illuminate the situation best. Events since April 2012 would adjust the data somewhat.

The FM “general government” tables include state and local government debt with that of the national governments. Look at Table 1, General Government Balance. The United States was -9.6pc (a deficit) of GDP in 2011. The FM predicts -8.1pc in 2012 and -6.3pc in 2013. The overall Euro area deficit is actually lower for these years than the American one; it was -4.1pc in 2011, with -3.2pc for 2012, and -2.7pc in 2013. The US deficit falls only to -4.4pc in 2017, notably above the Euro area’s -1.1pc that year. What about some specific Euro area nations about which many tremble? In 2012, Italy’s general government balance is -2.4 percent, well under that of America’s. Portugal’s 2012 hole was -4.5pc. Spain’s 2012 balance, -6.0pc, also is beneath America’s (though an update to the FM probably would raise Spain’s deficit, placing it closer to the US 2012 range).

Review Table 7, General Government Gross Debt. The US gross debt was 102.9pc of GDP in 2011 (soaring from 66.6pc in 2006). The IMF predicts it will be 106.6pc in 2012 and 110.2pc in 2013. It stays at a plateau with 2017’s 113.0. Thus there is no progress in reducing it. Moreover, the US gross debt percentage exceeds that of the Euro area. Euro area gross debt was 88.1pc of GDP in 2011. The FM predicts 90.0pc in 2012, 91.0pc in 2013, and 86.9pc in 2017. Thus the US fiscal situation is worse than that of the Euro area as whole from this viewpoint as well.

In addition, note the US’s 2012 out to 2017 gross debt levels in comparison with those of Euro area crisis/bailout nations other than Greece. Admittedly Greece’s gigantic 153.2pc is larger, and its problems interrelate with those of the Eurozone as a whole. In 2012, Italy’s debt is 123.4pc of GDP, Spain’s 79.0pc. That of Ireland is 113.1pc, Portugal’s 112.4 pc. The average for 2012 of Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal is 107.0pc. However, this is almost exactly that of the US’s 2012 debt of 106.6pc.

So this perspective underlines that as the Euro area has a scary fiscal (sovereign debt) problem, so therefore does the US.

Yet travel further and look at US total credit marketplace debt US (nonfinancial, financial, and rest of the world sectors combined), not government debt alone. In 1951, it was about 132.4pc of nominal GDP. It ascended gradually to 168.1pc by 1981. It climbed to 250.8pc in 1995, marching to just under 300 percent in 2002. During the marvelous Goldilocks Era economy, total US credit marketplace debt flew even higher, touching 362.8pc of GDP in 2007. It advanced more as the economic crisis emerged, reaching a pinnacle of 381.6pc in 2009.

So where is this total credit marketplace debt now? At the end of 1Q12, it remained at a very lofty altitude, 353.6pc. Not only does the long run increase in total credit marketplace debt display devotion to (economic reliance on) debt. The only slight slide from the 2009 peak to the 1Q12 level indicates that at some point more debt reduction (deleveraging) for “America as a whole” lies ahead, and thus a significant probability of a weaker economy (and even recession).

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Marketplace Cliffs (6-25-12)