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Weekly Commentary: Q4 2018 Z.1 “Flow of Funds”

Weekly Commentary: Q4 2018 Z.1 “Flow of Funds”

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the Fed’s Q4 2018 Z.1 “Flow of Funds” report. It provided the first comprehensive look at how this period’s market instability affected various sectors within the financial system. From ballooning Broker/Dealer balance sheets to surging “repo” lending to record Bank loan growth – it’s chock-full of intriguing data. All in all, and despite a Q4 slowdown, 2018 posted the strongest Credit growth since before the crisis – led, of course, by our spendthrift federal government. 

Non-Financial Debt (NFD) rose $2.524 TN during 2018 (5.1%), exceeding 2007’s $2.478 TN and second only to 2004’s $2.915 TN growth. NFD closed 2018 at a record 253% of GDP, compared to 230% to end of 2007 and 189% to conclude the nineties. By major category, Federal borrowings expanded $1.258 TN during the year, up from 2017’s $599 billion, and the strongest growth since 2010’s $1.646 TN. Year-over-year growth in Total Household borrowings slowed ($488bn vs. $570bn), led by a drop in Home Mortgages ($285bn vs. $312bn). Total Corporate borrowings slowed to $532 billion from 2017’s $769 billion. Foreign U.S. borrowings declined to $207 billion from 2017’s $389 billion.  

On a percentage basis, NFD increased 4.51% in 2018, up from 2017’s 4.10%. Federal debt grew 7.58%, almost double 2017’s 3.74%, to the strongest percentage growth since 2012 (10.12%). Household debt growth slowed to 3.22% (from 3.90%), with Mortgage borrowings up 2.83% (from 3.19%) and Consumer Credit growth easing slightly to 4.88% (from 5.04%). Total Corporate Debt growth slowed meaningfully from 2017’s 5.71% to 3.69%.

For Q4, on a seasonally-adjusted and annualized basis (SAAR), Non-Financial Debt (NFD) expanded $1.390 TN, the slowest expansion since Q4 2016 (SAAR $941bn). This is largely explained by the sharp drop-off in Federal borrowings (SAAR $444bn vs. Q3’s SAAR $1.180 TN). 

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