- Toru Hanai/Reuters
Debt will get the US into a monumental pickle, or at least Lacy Hunt thinks so.
Hunt, one of the leaders of Hoisington Investment Management, which manages over $4 billion, said the increasing debt among corporations and the government was going to take the country down a startling path.
“The traditional business cycle model said that recessions are brought in by rising interest rates and rising inflation,” Hunt said this week during an interview at the Mauldin Economics’ Strategic Investment Conference.
“However, when economies are extremely overindebted, the economies can turn down under the weight of the debt. We’ve seen four recession in Japan in the last seven years with interest rates at zero and inflation negative.”
Japan is the classic example of the type of problem Hunt is forecasting. The country’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product is the highest in the world, growth has been anemic, and the country has gone to extreme measures to cure its economic ills.
It’s not that debt is a bad thing necessarily; according to Hunt, it’s the addition of debt without a corresponding rise in growth that’s the core problem.
“Debt becomes very problematic when it does not generate an income stream to replace future interest,” he said.
“Even more problematic is when the debt causes asset prices to rise when corporate profits are falling or when real intrinsic value of some asset such as real estate is falling. Debt can cause a downturn as opposed to inflation and interest rates.”
“It means the average American is not doing that well,” Hunt said. “The standard of living is the same as 20 years ago, and I think that’s why people don’t feel good about things.”
This has lead to numerous ills for the country, Hunt said, including fewer job opportunities, the highest number of people on food stamps in history, and a record percentage of young adults living at home.
To be fair, there is one important place where debt has decreased: households. The average American’s pile of debt relative to income is much lower than during the lead-up to the financial crisis. Additionally, counter to Hunt’s point, the labor market in the US is strong.
Despite this, Hunt believes that the issues facing Americans are primarily coming from the debt that is accumulating.
“These are all manifestations of the fact that debt has restricted the growth in economic activity and the consequences are very real for many, many households in the country,” Hunt said.
When asked what average investors should do to make it through the downturn, Hunt had one reply: Stay out of debt.
Here’s the full interview: