Tuesday, January 24, 2012

John Mauldin's Outside the Box: Working Out of Debt

This week we look at a report called “Working Out of Debt,” about debt and deleveraging, from the McKinsey Global Institute. This is a well-done summary of their longer paper, which has been updated, called “Debt and deleveraging: Uneven progress on the path to growth.” I discussed the original paper both in my regular letter and in Endgame. It is one of the best, most definitive pieces on the topic I have read. For those trying to understand how the deleveraging process will affect their particular world, I think it is a must-read. I have been spending more and more time thinking about the whole process of deleveraging, and am coming to think deleveraging is the critical and fundamental factor shaping the economic environment and impacting every decision countries and businesses are faced with. This paper was done by Karen Croxson, Susan Lund, and Charles Roxburgh; and they are to be especially commended for their insight and work.

This summary and the full report look at the relevant lessons from history about how governments can support economic recovery amid deleveraging, and at the signposts business leaders can look for to see where economies are in that process.

Overall, they tell us, the deleveraging process has only just begun: “During the past two and a half years, the ratio of debt to GDP, driven by rising government debt, has actually grown in the aggregate in the world’s ten largest developed economies. Private-sector debt has fallen, however, which is in line with historical experience: overextended households and corporations typically lead the deleveraging process; governments begin to reduce their debts later, once they have supported the economy into recovery.”