Swiping into the Sunset: Credit Debts Climb as Economists Eye Inflation Escape Hatch

Maria Irene
The ticker tape of the global economy is abuzz with alarming statistics—credit card debt in the US surging by $48 billion in the third quarter of 2023, touching a nerve-wracking $1.08 trillion. The average Joe and Jane are now spending a staggering $1,600 monthly on credit card payments, facing an uphill battle against inflation with the plastic in their wallets.

Amidst this financial ferment, the voices of macroeconomic oracles like Raoul Pal echo through the markets, striking an unusually optimistic chord. The idea of central banks playing the hero, wielding the power to inflate their way out of looming debt crises, is turning heads and ruffling feathers in the traditionally staid quarters of financial analysis.

But what does this notion of inflating out of debt entail? Simply put, it’s the economic equivalent of a controlled burn, using inflation to whittle down the real value of debt. It’s a delicate dance on a tightrope, with central banks acting as agile acrobats trying to maintain balance. They have the ability to manipulate liquidity and, by extension, asset values, which can serve as levers to manage the burgeoning debt.

Consider the monumental heaps of credit card debt—a $400 billion jump over the past decade, and a $300 billion climb since the pandemic-shadowed days of 2020. Tack on interest rates on this debt sitting pretty at a historic 25%, and the average consumer’s wallet is undeniably feeling the squeeze.

This is where the central banks’ management begins, according to Pal. By controlling the flow of liquidity—think of it as the economic bloodstream—central banks can cause asset prices to rise. This is crucial because as assets appreciate, the relative size of debt could shrink. Furthermore, if central banks can harness inflation, guiding it to a sweet spot where it’s just high enough to chip away at the value of debt without capsizing the economy, they can effectively lighten the load.

However, Raoul Pal doesn’t just stop at liquidity control. He contemplates a world where central bank balance sheets are hefty shields against deflation. He envisions these financial juggernauts maintaining negative real yields—where inflation exceeds interest rates—as a long-term strategy to lessen debt’s weight across economies.

And then there’s the government’s role in this economic theatre. The COVID-19 era saw direct transfer payments buoy up consumption, inadvertently adding weight to the central bank balance sheets. Pal implies that if this trend continues, the ballooning balance sheets could inject more liquidity into the system, further inflating asset prices as the currency’s value dips in comparison.

But this financial alchemy isn’t without its pitfalls. While painting a rosier picture for debt management, this strategy could lead to currency devaluation and introduce tremors that shake the very foundations of economic stability and growth. The consequences of these tactics, straddling financial repression and savvy strategy, could stretch far into the future, affecting financial development and social equity.

As for the current surge in credit card debt and interest rates, central banks might see themselves as the economy’s emergency response team, keeping the system from collapse—even if it means embracing a swollen debt figure and higher inflation as temporary evils. The question that lingers, though, is how sustainable and effective these measures will be in the grand scheme of things.

It’s a controversial symphony, with central banks conducting an orchestra of economic instruments—interest rates, inflation, liquidity. It’s a tune that may just help us skate over thin ice. Yet, as with any piece of music, the risk of dissonance looms, threatening to disrupt the harmony that keeps the global economy in sync.

A classic example of how central banks can influence asset inflation and manage debt is through the mechanism known as Quantitative Easing (QE).

Quantitative Easing (QE) Explained:
QE is a monetary policy whereby a central bank buys government securities or other securities from the market in order to increase the money supply and encourage lending and investment. When a central bank injects money into the economy, the theory goes, this surplus liquidity lowers interest rates, making borrowing cheaper, which in turn can stimulate investment and consumption.

Real-World Example: Post-2008 Financial Crisis
Following the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed embarked on several rounds of QE to tackle the recession and the freezing up of credit markets. The Fed purchased long-term securities, including long-term Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, effectively increasing the money supply.

How QE Inflates Assets
By buying these securities, the Fed increased demand for them, which raised their prices and lowered their yields (interest rates). With lower yields on government and mortgage-backed securities, investors looked for higher returns elsewhere, leading them to put their money into riskier assets like corporate bonds and stocks. This shift in investment behavior helped to increase the prices of those assets, thereby inflating asset values across a spectrum of investment classes.

Managing Debt Through Asset Inflation:
As asset prices rise, the value of assets held by individuals and firms increases. This can improve balance sheets by increasing the value of asset holdings relative to debt, effectively reducing the debt-to-equity ratio. Companies can use these higher-valued assets as collateral for new borrowing or sell them to pay down existing debt.

Impact on Government Debt:
For the government’s own debt, QE can also have beneficial effects. By buying its own government’s debt, a central bank increases demand for that debt, keeping interest rates on new government bonds low. This means the government can finance its debt more cheaply. Additionally, if inflation does pick up as a result of increased money supply, the real value of government debt can be eroded over time, making it easier to manage in real terms.

However, the QE experience has shown that while it can inflate assets and help manage debt, it also has complex effects on the economy, including potential long-term risks like asset bubbles, income inequality, and currency devaluation if not carefully managed. Furthermore, it may not be as effective in stimulating the real economy if banks choose to hold onto the excess reserves rather than lend them out.

It’s a potent reminder that central banks wield a powerful toolset that can shape economic landscapes, but the effects and outcomes of such policies are often uncertain and carry with them the need for vigilance and adaptation.


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Maria Irene
Maria Irenehttp://ledgerlife.io/
Maria Irene is a multi-faceted journalist with a focus on various domains including Cryptocurrency, NFTs, Real Estate, Energy, and Macroeconomics. With over a year of experience, she has produced an array of video content, news stories, and in-depth analyses. Her journalistic endeavours also involve a detailed exploration of the Australia-India partnership, pinpointing avenues for mutual collaboration. In addition to her work in journalism, Maria crafts easily digestible financial content for a specialised platform, demystifying complex economic theories for the layperson. She holds a strong belief that journalism should go beyond mere reporting; it should instigate meaningful discussions and effect change by spotlighting vital global issues. Committed to enriching public discourse, Maria aims to keep her audience not just well-informed, but also actively engaged across various platforms, encouraging them to partake in crucial global conversations.


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