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Fed Revises Definition Of "Total Credit", Unexpectedly Discovers Another $2.7 Trillion In Debt

Everyone has seen the chart of "Total Credit Market Instruments", which as of its most recent update on March 31, 2015, was just over $59 trillion, or 330% of US GDP.


For those who have not seen it, as well as for those who are familiar with this chart, take a long look, because this is the last update of this particular data series, pulled straight from the Fed's Z.1 Flow of Funds (section L.1), you will ever see.

So did the Fed spontaneously terminate the reporting of what until the second quarter's update of the Flow of Funds, was the most comprehensive official summary of Household, Financial, Corporate and Government debt in existence? And if so why?

Many Fed watchers assumed that this is precisely what happened, and indeed, searching high and low for the infamous L.1 Section revealed nothing.

We can only assume that the vocal outcry that emerged in the aftermath of the Fed's release of its Q2 Flow of Funds statement missing this most critical of data sets on September 18, was so loud that three weeks later, this past Friday on October 9, the Fed released an official follow up explanation what exactly happened.

Here is what happened to the missing so very critical data series, straight from the horse's mouth:

Q: In the September 18, 2015 release of the Z.1 Financial Accounts of the United States, some tables in the summary section on credit market instruments seem to have disappeared. What happened to these tables and where can I find the equivalent data series?


With the September 18, 2015 Z.1 release, the classic presentation of the instrument category "credit market instruments" has been discontinued and replaced with two new instrument categories, "debt securities" and "loans".  Reporting debt securities and loans separately brings the Financial Accounts more in line with the international standards for national accounts. The debt securities instrument includes open market paper, Treasury securities, agency- and GSE-backed securities, municipal securities, and corporate and foreign bonds. The new loans instrument includes depository loans not elsewhere classified, other loans and advances, mortgages, and consumer credit. Together, debt securities plus loans include all of the financial assets or liabilities previously included in credit market instruments. While the underlying instrument categories that make up the sum of debt securities and loans are the same as those in old "credit market instruments" concept, changes to a few of these categories make the new sum of debt securities and loans larger than in previous publications. 


This change has had three major impacts on the table structure of the publication: (1) summary tables focusing on "credit market instruments" have been eliminated; (2) remaining summary tables have been renumbered; and (3) new instrument tables for debt securities (tables F.208 and L.208) and loans (tables F.214 and L.214) have been created.

That's the "what", as for the why, note what the Fed said above: "the new sum of debt securities and loans larger than in previous publications."

Which means that not only did the Fed stop reporting a consolidated total debt series, it admits that the actual debt was higher. 

Here is the Fed's mea culpa on that particular topic:

Q: Why is the level of total debt outstanding in the September 18, 2015 release of the Z.1 Financial Accounts of the United States so much higher than it was in the previous Z.1 release?


Total debt outstanding was revised upwards due to methodology changes to both Treasury securities and security credit. Total debt outstanding is now the sum of two new instrument categories: debt securities (table L.208) and loans (table L.214). The aggregate of these instrument categories was previously called credit market instruments.


Treasury securities, part of the debt securities instrument category, now include nonmarketable Treasury securities held by federal government defined benefit retirement plans (FL343061145). The inclusion of federal government defined benefit retirement plans resulted in an upward revision to the level of federal government debt of about $1.408 trillion for 2014:Q4. See the published FEDS Note "Federal Government Defined Benefit Retirement Plans" for more details


In the domestic financial sector, borrowing previously classified as security credit liabilities (see release highlights) are now included as part of loans for the securities brokers and dealers sector. These are: (1) U.S.-chartered depository institutions loans for purchasing or carrying securities (FL763067003); (2) foreign banking offices in the U.S. loans for purchasing or carrying securities (FL753067003); and (3) Households and nonprofit organizations cash accounts at brokers and dealers (FL153067005). The revision to broker dealer debt for 2014:Q4 was roughly $962 billion.


Similarly, borrowing previously classified as security credit liabilities of the household sector are now classified as loan liabilities. Margin accounts at brokers and dealers (FL663067003) are now included in the household sector's other loans and advances instrument category. This change resulted in an upward revision of $370 billion to the outstanding amount of household sector loans for 2014:Q4.

The bottom line:

The total revision to the level of debt outstanding (debt securities plus loans) due to these methodology changes is approximately $2.74 trillion 2014:Q4. 

And so the Fed has managed to kill two birds with one stone: it no longer provides a simple, one-stop-shop way to reconcile the total US credit stock, and it quietly boosted total US consolidated credit by $2.7 trillion to $62.1 trillion as of June 30, 2015.

Luckily, for those who still care about such trivial memorandum items as "data", and would like to keep track of total US credit exposure, now better known as total debt and total loans, they can simply add up the two line items, with debt (found here) and loans (found here).

This is how the old and new data look like: as noted, the consolidated total has risen by $2.7 trillion as of March 31, the last time the Fed reported the "old" series, and is currently a total of $62.1 trillion.


Not surprisingly, with GDP not revised higher, it means that the two most important data sets for the US economy, total debt (or credit) however defined, and total GDP, now look as follows:


The end result is that the ratio of Consolidated Credit to GDP, has quietly risen from 330% to 350%, without anyone in the broader public saying a word and without any of the official institutions, so seemingly concerned about the total stock of global debt, even noticing. And why should they: the S&P500 is back over 2000 so all is well.