By John Mauldin
It’s time for our Quarterly Review & Outlook from Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Investment Management, who leads off this month with a helpful explanation of the relationship between the U.S. GDP growth rate and 30 year treasury yields. That’s an important relationship, because long term interest rates above nominal GDP growth (as they are now) tend to retard economic activity and vice versa.
The author adds that the average four quarter growth rate of real GDP during the present recovery is 1.8%, well below the 4.2% average in all of the previous post war expansions; and despite six years of federal deficits totaling $6.27 trillion and another $3.63 trillion in quantitative easing by the Fed, the growth rate of the economy continues to erode.
So what gives? We’re simply too indebted, says Lacy; and too much of the debt is nonproductive. (Total U.S. public and private debt rose to 349.3% of GDP in the first quarter, up from 343.7% in the third quarter of 2013.) And as Hyman Minsky and Charles Kindleberger showed us, higher levels of debt slow economic growth when the debt is unbalanced toward the type of borrowing that doesn’t create an income stream sufficient to repay principal and interest.
And it’s not just the US. Lacy notes that the world’s largest economies have a higher total debt to GDP ratio today than at the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, and foreign households are living farther above their means than they were six years ago.
Simply put, the developed (and much of the developing) world is fast approaching the end of a 60-year-long debt supercycle, as I (hope I) conclusively demonstrated in Endgame and reaffirmed in Code Red.
Hoisington Investment Management Company (www.Hoisingtonmgt.com) is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed income portfolios for large institutional clients. Located in Austin, Texas, the firm has over $5 billion under management and is the sub adviser of the Wasatch-Hoisington U.S. Treasury Fund (WHOSX).
Some readers may have noticed that there was no Thoughts from the Frontline in their inboxes this weekend. As has happened only once or twice in the last 14 years, I found myself in an intellectual cul-de-sac, and there was not enough time to back out. Knowing that I was going to be involved in a fascinating conference over the weekend, I had planned to do a rather simple analysis of a new book on how GDP is constructed. But as I got deeper into thinking about the topic and doing more research, I remembered something I read 20 years ago about the misleading nature of GDP, and I realized that a simple analysis just wouldn’t cut it.