Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reuters: US and UK on brink of debt disaster

“The United States and the United Kingdom stand on the brink of the largest debt crisis in history. While both governments experiment with quantitative easing, bad banks to absorb non-performing loans, and state guarantees to restart bank lending, the only real way out is some combination of widespread corporate default, debt write-downs and inflation to reduce the burden of debt.

“To understand the scale of the problem, and why it leaves so few options for policymakers, take a look at the chart below which shows the growth in the real economy (measured by nominal GDP) and the financial sector (measured by total credit market instruments outstanding) since 1952.

“The solution must be some combination of policies to reduce the level of debt or raise nominal GDP. The simplest way to reduce debt is through bankruptcy, in which some or all of debts are deemed unrecoverable and are simply extinguished, ceasing to exist.

“But widespread bankruptcies are probably socially and politically unacceptable. The alternative is some mechanism for refinancing debt on terms which are more favorable to borrowers (replacing short term debt at higher rates with longer-dated paper at lower ones).

“The remaining option is to tolerate, even encourage, a faster rate of inflation to improve debt-service capacity. Even more than debt nationalization, inflation is the ultimate way to spread the costs of debt workout across the widest possible section of the population.”

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Source: John Kemp, Reuters, January 21, 2009.

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