Back in late 2006 and early 2007 a few (soon to be very rich) people were warning anyone who cared to listen, about what cracks in the subprime facade meant for the housing sector and the credit bubble in general. They were largely ignored as none other than the Fed chairman promised that all is fine (see here). A few months later New Century collapsed and the rest is history: tens of trillions later we are still picking up the pieces and housing continues to collapse. Yet one bubble which the Federal Government managed to blow in the meantime to staggering proportions in virtually no time, for no other reason than to give the impression of consumer releveraging, was the student debt bubble, which at last check just surpassed $1 trillion, and is growing at $40-50 billion each month. However, just like subprime, the first cracks have now appeared. In a report set to convince borrowers that Student Loan ABS are still safe – of course they are – they are backed by all taxpayers after all in the form of the Family Federal Education Program – Fitch discloses something rather troubling, namely that of the $1 trillion + in student debt outstanding, “as many as 27% of all student loan borrowers are more than 30 days past due.” In other words at least $270 billion in student loans are no longer current. That this is happening with interest rates at record lows is quite stunning and a loud wake up call that it is not rates that determine affordability and sustainability: it is general economic conditions, deplorable as they may be, which have made the popping of the student loan bubble inevitable. It also means that if the rise in interest rate continues, then the student loan bubble will pop that much faster, and bring another $1 trillion in unintended consequences on the shoulders of the US taxpayer who once again will be left footing the bill.
Fitch believes most student loan asset-backed securities (ABS) transactions remain well protected due to the government guarantee on Family Federal Education Program (FFELP) loans. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently reported that as many as 27% of all student loan borrowers are more than 30 days past due. Recent estimates mark outstanding student loans at $900 billion- $1 trillion. Fitch believes that the recent increase in past-due and defaulted student loans presents a risk to investors in private student loan ABS, but not those in ABS trusts backed by FFELP loans.
Why is the bubble starting to pop now?
Several macroeconomic factors are putting pressure on student loan borrowers. The main ones are unemployment and underemployment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the current unemployment rate for people 20 to 24 years old at nearly 14% and for those 25 to 34 years old, 8.7%. Underemployment is difficult to measure for these demographics, but it is likely having a negative impact.
Actually, no: the unemployment for 18-24 year olds is 46%. Yup: 46%.
A month ago, Zero Hedge readers were stunned to learn that unemployment among Europe’s young adults has exploded as a result of the European financial crisis, and peaking anywhere between 46% in the case of Greece all they way to 51% for Spain. Which makes us wonder what the reaction will be to the discovery that when it comes to young adults 18-24) in the US, the employment rate is just barely above half, or 54%, which just happens to be the lowest in 64 years, and 7% worse than when Obama took office promising a whole lot of change 3 years ago.
And while technically this means 46% are unemployed, or the same percentage as in Greece, the US ratio, which comes from Pew, shows the ratio as a % of the total population: a very sensitive topic now that every month we see another 250,000 drop off mysteriously from the total labor force. However, unlike those on the trailing age end, young adults by definition are the labor force in their age group demographic, so it would be difficult to explain away this horrendous number by claiming that ever more 24 year olds are retiring. Although, yes, we agree that some may be dropping out of the labor force in order to go to college, incidentally the locus of the latest credit bubble, where they meet a fate worse even than secular unemployment: they become debt slaves of the Federal System, with non-dischargable debt at that, which even assuming they can get a job would take ages to pay back!
But wait: there’s more – of all age groups, this is the one that has actually seen its wages drop the most under the Obama administration.
So not only are they unemployed, young adults are at least poor.
Net result: double the change, zero the hope.
But fear not dear banks: taxpayers got your back, as usual
However, we believe that ABS trusts backed by FFELP loans are unlikely to be affected by employment trends, as they are at least 97% backed by the federal government. In addition, recent securitizations have been structured more robustly and many have backup servicing agreements.
Even so, Fich is covering its bases nonetheless:
While FFELP loans are largely protected from these trends, private student loan ABS trusts, especially those that were structured aggressively and with less stringent credit standards before the recession, are expected to continue experiencing high defaults and ratings pressure. Fitch will continue to monitor these political and macroeconomic factors as they evolve and will determine any impact they may have on ABS trusts.
And as a courtesy reminder to our young up and coming “thinkers”, this is $270 billion in debt that can not be discharged. Go ahead – file for bankruptcy – see what happens.
The question then is – what is the student loan version of the ABX trade. After all if Bernanke is willing to blow another bubble, someone has to be able to profit when this latest soon to be failed attempt at central planning.