Spring! A time for renewal, optimism, sunny skies and an even more burgeoning local economy. According to the El Paso County Assessor, almost every homeowner in El Paso County has made a pile of money as homes magically appreciate. So go ahead and plant an ambitious garden, because even the weather will be on our side — no frost until Nov. 1!
And how do I know? I know what I believe, and what I believe is right, because I say so. The economy is growing at a sustainable 4 percent annually, unemployment is at a 50-year low, Uber is worth $90 billion although it has never made a dime and my house (and everyone else’s) will soon be worth a million bucks and we can all move to Hawaii.
Fortunate times indeed — and no, those aren’t tiny little dark clouds on the horizon. You’re just imagining things, you naysaying sourpuss.
Remember 2007? I thought not. That was a long time ago, and all of the wicked bankers, stock manipulators, and mortgage fraudsters who caused that long-forgotten crisis went broke, went to jail and are probably driving for Uber — so no worries, right?
Wrong. Americans love market bubbles, because they offer the promise of money for nothing. If houses appreciate at 10 percent annually, we want to let the good times roll. We don’t care about inflation, unsustainable public and private debt, dubious monetary policy, 25 percent tariffs on Chinese imports or Trump’s tax returns — we want fun, fun, fun and don’t let Daddy take the T-Bird away!
Buried in the business section of The New York Times on Monday morning was a dreary little item headlined “Leveraged Loans Pass Peak 2007 Crisis Levels.” It appears that loans to heavily indebted companies grew by 20 percent in the last six months, reaching $1.1 trillion. Such loans are generally packaged in derivatives called collateralized loan obligations. And if you think this sounds a lot like the mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligations that featured so prominently in the financial collapse that ignited the great recession, forget it.
The Fed says they’re “structured in a more secure way.” Party on, dudes!
Anyway, $1.1 trillion is comparative chickenfeed. Total student debt is $1.5 trillion, just a small percentage of total U.S. household debt of $13.3 trillion. That’s not a big deal compared to the $21.97 trillion national debt… and what if you include every conceivable kind of debt, unfunded liability and implied promises to various interest groups?
Historically, bubbles burst when particular asset classes are overvalued, be they tulip bulbs (1635), stock in the South Sea Company (1711), silver (1980) or vacant land in Colorado Springs (1988).
Tulip bulbs and silver haven’t done so well since their bubbles burst — at about $15 an ounce, silver is way below its 1979 inflation-adjusted spike of $117. But vacant land and stock in publicly traded companies — doing just fine, thanks!
Is our current boom running on empty, fueled by one-time tax cuts, absurdly low interest rates and reckless government spending? Will it accelerate or collapse when/if Democrats take power in 2020 and turbocharge entitlement spending while raising taxes on the rich (not a problem that journalists have to worry about, I’m sorry to say)?
We’ll see, but local history suggests that we get an economic kick in the butt every 10-12 years. The Pikes Peak region depends disproportionately upon three principal employment sectors: military bases, visitor-related businesses and military contractors ranging from home-based software engineers to national firms. We live by the plans of the Pentagon, the whims of the White House, and the vagaries of Congress. We are not the masters of our fate.
So how do we plan for the next local recession? We don’t know when it’s coming and we hope it won’t. Remember the glorious day when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50? We expected continued success, never imagining that they’d be out of the playoffs for the next three seasons.
Our glory days are right now. Remember the Developer’s Prayer of 2009, when the parks were dry, the streetlights were off and commercial buildings were empty?
“Lord, just give me one more boom and I promise not to waste it this time…”
Your prayers were answered. My advice: Buy Broncos season tickets and plan to be in Miami on Feb. 2, 2020. Current odds: 60-1.