Last Week’s Economic Theme: Lending

Multiple articles and data points in the news last week paint a picture of increased demand for borrowing as well as loosening credit standards.  Figures from the Federal Reserve showed that household debt, which includes mortgages, credit card debt, auto loans and student loans increased by $241 billion, or 2.1% to $11.5 trillion.  We pointed out in our 2014 market outlook that consumers are in a much better place this year to borrow based on improved household balance sheets, and they appear to be taking advantage of this creditworthiness.  In addition, lenders are loosening credit standards across many sectors as they compete for market share.  Wells Fargo recently announced lower FICO score requirements for FHA backed mortgages and investment bankers have noted high demand for auto loan securitizations.  On the commercial lending side, last week Credit Suisse was able to issue its first CMBS deal since 2008 for a hotel project in California.  Increased lending generally coincides with stronger economic growth.  The one note of caution in all of the data was in the student loan space, which drove half of the increased consumer borrowing in the fourth quarter.  The New York Times published an interesting article Friday noting a growing trend in this debt’s negative long-term impact on young people’s ability to acquire assets and the recent increases in student loan default rates.  Taking everything together, the data last week were generally bullish for economic growth and give us confidence that our expectation for a steadily improving US economy in 2014 will prove to be correct, despite weather-related weakness in the first six weeks of the year.